ExxonMobil wants you to feel responsible for climate change so it doesn’t have to

An illustration of oil pumps superimposed on a world map and covered with an arrow representing profits pointing up and to the right.

Andrii Zorii

A new study reveals how the oil company used “cutting-edge propaganda” to focus on fossil fuel consumption.

To understand why ExxonMobil has been so effective at shaping the US narrative about climate change in the US for some 40 years, look no further than the words of one of the company’s communications strategists, Mobil Vice President of Public Affairs Herbert Schmertz: ”Your objective is to wrap yourself in the good phrases while sticking your opponents with the bad ones,” he wrote in 1986.

From the 1970s through the 1990s, most of the company’s PR efforts focused on casting doubt on the scientific consensus that burning fossil fuels was warming the planet. But by the mid-2000s, it was taking a more sophisticated, nuanced approach.

“Energy-saving consumers can make a real difference,” it said in 2007, listing ways consumers can “Be smart about electricity use,” “Heat and cool your home efficiently,” and “Improve your gas mileage” to address climate change. Another ad in 2008 looks to the auto industry: “It is important we reduce greenhouse gas emissions, too. Improving the efficiency of the vehicles people drive is one way to do so.”

There are many examples in ExxonMobil’s advertising materials and other documents right up to 2019, all doing the same thing: Deflecting attention away from the oil company’s role in fueling climate change by supplying fossil fuels and turning attention toward consumer demand for, and dependency on, its products.

We now have a comprehensive view of this strategy, thanks to a new peer-reviewed study by Harvard research associate Geoffrey Supran and Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes in the journal One Earth. In a painstaking analysis, they show how hard the oil giant has worked to keep the conversation about climate solutions focused on the consumer, effectively individualizing responsibility for the problem.


Via https://www.vox.com/22429551/climate-change-crisis-exxonmobil-harvard-study/

4 thoughts on “ExxonMobil wants you to feel responsible for climate change so it doesn’t have to

  1. yes it is clever and successful, but also inasmuch as people themselves choose to ignore the reality of the science and then support the business model by not seeking and possibly fighting for alternatives. The alternatives inevitably mean less consumption (buying things!) and less of the things we like doing and have gotten very used to (travel, taking the car down the road, the many thousands of pets we keep, etcetc…. yes these companies do have a large responsibility but so do we as individuals. Let’s not avoid that.


  2. I think it’s complicated, Steve, In part because most of the emissions we need to reduce are beyond our control, and in part because a large part are transport emissions low income people can’t reduce without policy changes on the part of government.


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