Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog recently considered the impact of recent revelations that Exxon had covered up–lied about– decades of its own research on climate change.
In a move that echoes similar scandals involving the tobacco industry and cancer research, Exxon conducted research into fossil fuels and global warming, discovered it had a major problem that threatened public safety, and quickly decided to start intentionally misleading the public and peddling doubt and uncertainty rather than confront the problem.
Exxon could have chosen to expose the problems with fossil fuels and become the world’s leading investor in and producer of renewable energies. It would have been risky and reduced short-term profits, but it would potentially have set the company up for massive long-term growth. It would also, of course, have been the right thing to do. But that’s not the path Exxon chose. Exxon chose to lie, cheat, cover up, collude with other oil companies, and bring the entire world to the brink of global climate disruption and destruction.
When does a company’s efforts to protect its bottom line become criminal?
When small businesses engage in fraudulent behaviors–the auto mechanic who lies about the work your car requires, the doctor who performs unneeded procedures, the jeweler who sells you a “gold” necklace that isn’t–we prosecute those responsible.
The powers-that-be have deemed certain financial institutions “too big to fail”– and also, evidently, too big to prosecute. Is “big energy” similarly exempt from the laws that govern the rest of us?
Does the sheer magnitude of the harm they’ve done somehow insulate them?
What’s the real bottom line?