Climate Change: How Exxon Misled the Public


Forty years ago, Exxon carried out several types of research studies that proved the existence of global warming. Moreover, through their research, the company also gained insights into global warming to the earth. Nonetheless, Exxon failed to disclose this information to the public. Instead, they invested in spreading misinformation on global warming, contrary to the findings of their research. The objective of this paper is to present an analysis of the consequences of Exxon’s actions to spread misinformation regarding climate change. Exxon’s actions undermined legitimate research studies on climate change, which in turn, hindered efforts from government and non-governmental bodies to deal with climate change. The company also incurred millions of costs in spreading false information. This paper concluded that global warming would be managed better if Exxon had presented the actual results of their findings.


Exxon is a publicly-traded company that deals with the trade of oil and gas. The company was accused of misleading the public about global warming since the 1970s. During the 1970s, Exxon was involved in research on global warming. Based on the findings from the research, Exxon’s scientists warned the company’s administrators about the potentially disastrous events that occur from fossil fuels being combusted. However, rather than acting upon this information, the company began lobbying against climate change. The organization used millions for its campaigns to disseminate information to halt the action of climate change rather than alarm the public or take steps to find cures. Exxon polluted valid information on climate change and denied the public their right to reliable results. As most oil majors resolved to unconventional energy sources and used green fuel, Exxon was at the head in reaffirming its mission as an oil and gas corporation, because the company was interested in protecting business operations.

Reasons behind Exxon’s False Information

Research by Supran and Oreskes (2017) noted a discrepancy between evidence by scientists from Exxon and what executives in private sectors discussed climate change within private circles and presented to the public. The company used most of the same strategies used by the tobacco industries to deny the relationship between smoking and lung cancer. Being a dealer in the oil industry, Exxon knew that admitting that burning fossil fuel would result in climate change would discredit their operations. Moreover, the information would also discourage consumers from purchasing their products. Therefore, the company cherry-picked information and impugned individuals’ integrity and scientific processes to make information more appealing to conspiracy theories. Exxon created the impression that there were still many unresolved questions; therefore, it was impossible to trust scientists.

Impact of Unethical Communication of Misinformation from Exxon on the Fossil Fuel Industry

There have been several consequences of Exxon’s unethical miscommunication within the fossil fuel industry. First, Exxon’s actions have crippled the formulation and adherence of climate change strategies by multinational oil companies. The company was also against the Kyoto Protocol, a climate change framework developed by the United Nations. Generally, the company was perceived to have adopted a reactive strategy in response to climate change.

The unethical practices by Exxon have also yielded some political consequences. Exxon focused on preventing the development of a firm climate change policy by the United States. The company’s efforts put the entire Kyoto Protocol out of action as the company actively lobbied against any binding timetables and targets for the United States. In opposing the Kyoto Protocol by Washington, Exxon and the U.S. fossil fuel industry played an important part. In comparison, other players in the oil sector, such as BP and Shell, have made attempts to leverage emerging climate change policy funding prospects.

Would Things Be Different Today If Exxon Had Not Acted Unethically?

Exxon’s unethical practices could have been avoided if the government and academics were more proactive in investigating the potential impacts of climate change and whether fossil fuel was safe for use. The media should also have maintained transparency in advocating for the potential impacts of climate change and how it would affect the world as it is today. Our political, media, and other organizations placed their interests first and failed to see the bigger picture in terms of the impacts of climate change.

If people were more aware of climate change’s impacts during the early years, it is possible that most companies within the oil industry would have sought alternative renewable energy. Moreover, there would be various research studies on how electricity could be harnessed to power vehicles. If Exxon had acted ethically, more policies that regulate fossil fuel use, such as the Kyoto Protocol would be implemented. With such guidelines in place, the world would have been different from what we have known now. The impacts of climate change, such as increased temperatures and wildfires as experienced in Australia and sea levels, would have been minimal. Suppressing the potential impacts of climate change 40 years ago crippled the efforts to embrace change and develop long-lasting solutions to climate change.

Impacts of Exxon’s Unethical Communication of Information to the Public

These unethical practices have facilitated the spread of false information to the public regarding climate change. The company spread doubt to the public regarding the impact of climate change. With a lack of knowledge and understanding of climate change’s potential effects, it becomes close to impossible to change the attitudes and perceptions of the public regarding climate change. This, therefore, hinders the willingness of the public to accept and take part in efforts to combat climate changes, for example, switching to renewable sources of energy. Creating awareness would also encourage the public to take more care of the environment because they are well aware and informed of the consequences of climate change on them and their future generations.

Financial Impact of Exxon’s Unethical Communication

During the period between 1990 and 2000, Exxon was responsible for advancing the denial of climate change worldwide. Exxon was vital in preventing the ratification of the United Nation’s Kyoto protocol. Criticizing the Kyoto protocol and trying to report to the public the scientific consensus on global warming resulting from fossil fuels combustion. Exxon channeled more than 8 million dollars to forty organizations that used disinformation campaigns such as skeptic propaganda through journalism to influence the opinion of the public and political leaders about global warming. Exxon also granted $16 million to advocacy organizations that worked on disputing the impacts of climate change. Over the years, the company has spent more than $37 million suppressing climate change information through the organization, research institutes, and government bodies.

Environmental Impact of Exxon’s Unethical Communication

Exxon’s policies have had a major effect on emissions from climate change. As Exxon rejected the consequences of climate change, that meant the continuation of harmful practices by people and industries with important effects on the earth. Exxon’s actions have resulted in the rise of air pollution. The burning of fossil fuels results in the emission of several harmful pollutants that are harmful to the public and the environment, such as Sulphur dioxide and Nitrogen oxide, resulting in acid rain formation when the two components combine.

The actions of the company have further resulted in climatic changes that can be observed in the environment. This is evidenced by the shrinking of rivers, lakes, and glaciers. The impacts that scientists predicted in the past have become more evident, and their effects are more severe. It is also expected that the temperatures will continue to rise; however, this rise will not be uniform across the globe at the same time. Recent research by Lelieveld et al. (2019) found that emissions from fossil fuels accounted for 65% of the excess mortality rate resulting from air pollution.

Climate change also impacts forests. Forests are essential in soaking up carbon dioxide, which is the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming. The impacts of global warming vary depending on the kinds of forests. In tropical forests, for example, the Amazon, the impacts of climate change can result in high extinction rates of species. Climate change has also affected the world’s water systems through frequent floods and droughts. Warmer air can hold higher contents of water, which thus increases the patterns and magnitude of rainfall.

Other Forms of Unethical Communication

There were other forms of unethical communications that Exxon was involved in. A report by Supran and Oreskes (2017) analyzed the public and confidential reports of Exxon. According to Exxon’s results, there were differing opinions between the company’s research findings and the company’s executives discussed within the private and public sectors. The scientific findings of the organization primarily recognized that global warming was real and was a result of human activity. These findings contrasted with Exxon’s advertorials, which emphasized uncertainty and the promotion of doubts that most scientists acknowledged during this period.


Lelieveld, J., KlingmĂĽller, K., Pozzer, A., Burnett, R. T., Haines, A., & Ramanathan, V. (2019). Effects of fossil fuel and total anthropogenic emission removal on public health and climate. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(15), 7192-7197. Web.

Supran, G., & Oreskes, N. (2017). Assessing ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (1977–2014). Environmental Research Letters, 12(8), 084019. Web.

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