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Exxon Uses Big Tobacco's Playbook To Downplay the Climate Crisis, Says Study

Friday May 14, 2021. 03:00 PM , from Slashdot
An anonymous reader quotes a report from CNN Business: For decades, ExxonMobil has deployed Big Tobacco-like propaganda to downplay the gravity of the climate crisis, shift blame onto consumers and protect its own interests, according to a Harvard University study published Thursday. The peer-reviewed study found that Exxon (XOM) publicly equates demand for energy to an indefinite need for fossil fuels, casting the company as merely a passive supplier working to meet that demand. The study used machine learning and algorithms to uncover trends in more than 200 public and internal Exxon documents between 1972 and 2019. 'These patterns mimic the tobacco industry's documented strategy of shifting responsibility away from corporations -- which knowingly sold a deadly product while denying its harms -- and onto consumers,' the study concludes. 'ExxonMobil has used language to subtly yet systematically frame public discourse.'

The Harvard study described 'propaganda tactics of the fossil fuels industry' aimed at downplaying the climate crisis. For example, the authors said that after the 1999 merger of Exxon and Mobil, the companies began saying in public documents such as paid 'advertorials' that 'climate change was a 'risk,' rather than a reality.' Prior to the merger, 'risk' of climate change was only mentioned once in Exxon's public communications, the study said. From 2000 and beyond, it appeared 46 times, the study found, adding that no other term was more associated with climate change in the company's public statements. The study notes that 'this scientific hedging strategy' was repeatedly used by the tobacco industry in the 1990s.

Moreover, the study found that Exxon has framed the debate around consumer energy 'demand' to build a 'fossil fuel savior' framework that 'downplays the reality and seriousness of climate change, normalizes fossil fuel lock-in and individualizes responsibility.' [Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard research associate and one of the study's authors] told CNN Business this strategy is 'effectively gaslighting the public into thinking there is no alternative, making the blame pill that Exxon is feeding the public easier to swallow.' Supran said it's 'certainly true' that modern society continues to rely mostly on fossil fuels, but added that Exxon's decades-long 'disinformation' campaign is a central reason why it still does. 'We are passively guilty, born into a fossil fuel society,' he said. 'But companies like Exxon are actively guilty for working to keep society the way it is.'

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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