Ever since the award-winning 2015 series from Inside Climate News, the "ExxonKnew" campaign(s) to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for the disinformation and propaganda they spread as part of the industrial playbook to prevent regulation of their profitable pollution have gotten plenty of criticism from people who are carrying out a role in said playbook.
But now there's a legitimate criticism: The ExxonKnew branding is just too good! And its spread through the media has been so incredibly effective that apparently it risks people thinking that it was only ExxonMobil that researched climate change, found its products were the cause, then told the public the opposite.
"It is now well established" begins the abstract of a new study in Environmental Research Letters, "that fossil fuel companies contributed to undermining climate science and action." So what isn't yet as established? "In this paper, we examine the extent to which American electric utilities and affiliated organizations' public messaging contributed to climate denial, doubt, and delay." Ahh! Turns out it wasn't just the fossil fuel producers, but also the utility industry that "founded and funded front groups that promoted climate doubt and denial."
The team looked at "188 documents on climate change authored by organizations in and affiliated with the utility industry from 1968 to 2019" and found electric utilities were largely following the science in the early, pre-80s days, but it was "from 1990 to 2000" that they launched climate disinformation campaigns like the Information Council on the Environment (ICE) and the Greening Earth Society (GES). "As science increasingly showed climate change existed and was human caused," they write, "some utility industry organizations shifted increasingly toward climate denial."
But after 2000 (when the Bush administration made it clear no federal climate policy was looming), "these front groups were largely shut down, and utility organizations shifted to arguing for delayed action on climate change, by highlighting the responsibility of other sectors and promoting actions other than cleaning up the electricity system."
And despite the pushback that industry voices gave to Rob Meyer for his (great) coverage of the study claiming that they're totally on board with the climate agenda, "since 2015, while much of the industry's messaging has largely acknowledged the scientific fact of climate change, delay messages are still common." What's more, "many of the utilities most engaged in communicating climate doubt and denial in the past currently have the slowest plans to decarbonize their electricity mix."
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