Just days before an undersea gas pipeline burst in the Gulf of Mexico resulting in a fiery vortex that was all too symbolic of the current climate emergency, it was made public that a senior ExxonMobil lobbyist unwittingly revealed how the oil company uses its political influence to undermine climate action. In the secretly recorded video call, courtesy of Greenpeace UK, lobbyist Keith McCoy admitted to “aggressively fight[ing] against” climate science and working with “shadow groups” to combat political action on climate change. All of this was done to maximize profits and “look out for [their] shareholders.”
During the undercover Zoom call that took place in May 2021, the senior Exxon lobbyist divulged a series of manipulative tactics that have effectively prevented any major climate legislation from being passed since Biden took office. These tactics have resulted in devastating climate inaction from Congress.
One of the key issues to come under scrutiny since the release of Greenpeace’s undercover operation was McCoy’s admission that Exxon has been working directly with members of Congress to undercut climate legislation. McCoy proudly named eleven senators – many of them Democratic moderates – but emphasized the importance of conservative Democratic senator Joe Manchin, with whom he apparently speaks on a weekly basis.
Exxon’s anti-climate tactics go further than simply paying off senators. In recent years, Exxon has been two-faced about its position on climate change – publicly supporting a carbon tax, which McCoy himself said “is not going to happen,” while also funneling millions into climate change denying and obstructionist organizations. In a sense, Exxon’s “support” for a carbon tax has been used as a means to justify its opposition to smaller climate policies. Any bills that do manage to get passed have key aspects weakened and watered down by corporations like Exxon prior to approval. As a subtler, but no less effective, means of impeding climate action, in the Zoom call, McCoy proudly refers to this underhanded anti-climate strategy as “death by 1,000 cuts”; the tactic, meant to kill climate legislation, has also caused the deaths of human beings from the effects of climate change.
The plan to split climate legislation into more palatable pieces for Big Oil was most recently employed on President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure bill; a clean energy plan that would have increased taxes on big corporations to fund the repair of roads and bridges and the implementation of widespread electric transport. The bill’s budget was cut down by over half after resistance from Exxon-backed senators like Joe Manchin. McCoy explained that with Exxon’s help all of the “negative stuff” – important climate measures – were cut out.
This flagrant admission of corruption and public deception brings to question the responsibility of the common citizen in regard to climate change. In recent years, Americans and people worldwide have been put upon to be hyper-aware of their environmental impact, use environmentally friendly products, swap plastic straws for metal ones, and pay Elon Musk for expensive electric cars. The onus of “fixing” climate change has been forced on the people rather than the 100 corporations causing 71% of the planet’s global emissions.
To some, the ocean catching fire, alongside historic heat waves, devastating landslides, massive wildfires, and increasingly violent hurricanes, has signaled apocalypse. But surely if these were the end times, they will have been brought by corruption and lies from powerful corporations and the American government, rather than you forgetting to bring a reusable bag to the store.
Oil companies like Exxon have had undeniably negative impacts on the United States and the rest of the world. Suffice it to say that, given the devastation they wreak on the planet, oil companies should not dictate our legislation. According to a study by The Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans believe the government should be doing more to combat the climate emergency. Corporations should not have more influence on elected officials than the people who elected them.
It cannot stand that the American government – the body with the most power to affect meaningful large-scale change on the country and world – is controlled by easily corrupted politicians and corporate lobbyists, whose end goal is merely to make a few rich people richer. How many whirling infernos must erupt in the Atlantic before world leaders stand up to corporations?
Illustration from Grist / Anastasiia_New / Getty Images