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Criticism intensifies after big oil admits ‘gaslighting’ public over green aims

The Guardian

Criticism intensifies after big oil admits ‘gaslighting’ public over green aims

Fury as ‘explosive’ files reveal largest oil companies contradicted public statements and wished bedbugs upon critical activists

Oliver Milman: Sat 17 Sep 2022 11.00 BST

Criticism in the US of the oil industry’s obfuscation over the climate crisis is intensifying after internal documents showed companies attempted to distance themselves from agreed climate goals, admitted “gaslighting” the public over purported efforts to go green, and even wished critical activists be infested by bedbugs.

The communications were unveiled as part of a congressional hearing held in Washington DC, where an investigation into the role of fossil fuels in driving the climate crisis produced documents obtained from the oil giants ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they wish bedbugs on you, then you win,” said Varshini Prakash, executive director of Sunrise. The organization accused Shell of a “legacy of violence and of ignoring the wellbeing of communities across the globe”.

Several of the emails and memos within the released trove of documents appear to show executives, staffers and lobbyists internally contradicting public pronouncements by their companies to act on lowering planet-heating emissions.

A Shell tweet posted in 2020 asking others what they could do to reduce emissions resulted in a torrent of ridicule from Twitter users. A communications executive for the company wrote privately that criticism that the tweet was “gaslighting” the public was “not totally without merit” and that the tweet was “pretty tone deaf”. He added: “We are, after all, in a tweet like this implying others need to sacrifice without focusing on ourselves.”

The UK-headquartered oil company, which in July announced a record $11.5bn quarterly profit, also poured scorn on climate activists, with a communications specialist at the company emailing in 2019 that he wished “bedbugs” upon the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led US climate group.

Previous releases of internal documents have shown that the oil industry knew of the devastating impact of climate change but chose instead to downplay and even deny these findings publicly in order to maintain their business model.

A Shell spokesman, meanwhile, said the committee chose to highlight only a small handful of the nearly half a million pages it provided to the body on its “extensive efforts” to take part in the energy transition.

“Within that pursuit are challenging internal and external discussions that signal Shell’s intent to form partnerships and share pathways we deem critical to becoming a net-zero energy business,” he said.

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