"How do these people sleep at night?"
It's the one question we can never answer about professional climate deniers. The best answer to date, which we seem to remember, but now absolutely can not find, is a clip where Bill Nye asked Marc Morano how he sleeps at night, and Morano didn't miss a beat in replying "Ambien."
Fortunately, now there's a slightly better answer, thanks to a new study in Energy Research & Social Science that did the academic version of asking oil industry professionals how they sleep at night, knowing their job is causing climate change.
Seriously. As lead author Krista Halttuen said, they sought to understand how "oil and gas professionals with an understanding of climate change reconcile their job and the growing urgency of the climate crisis?"
The study reports on the results of their interviews with "12 people working in the intersection of climate change and the oil industry," an admittedly "relatively small sample size" that allowed them to get "an in-depth understanding of the specific participants' attitudes" but also "obtain a range of different perspectives while also identifying some similarities between interviewees."
Eight of the subjects are currently employed in the industry, two were retired, and two "left the industry to pursue careers in climate change mitigation."
Overall, the responses fell into two main categories, characterized by the researchers as "strategic" and "defensive" responses, each of which has different manifestations. The strategic responses accept, confront, or transcend the issue. So for example, respondents that accepted the reality of the climate crisis, and said they "don't want to be the bad guys" but it's just that they are "enabling people to better their lives," echoing the industry's propaganda, or that change is necessary and oil companies are leading it, ie. greenwashing.
The other set of response were defensive, more explicitly rejecting the need for timely action on this side of 2050, avoiding their responsibility for profiting off of polluting the atmosphere by shifting responsibility to other companies, blaming the government for not regulating them or public for not buying low-carbon products — "But how willing is Joe Bloggs down the street to give up petrol cars, or have a heat pump?" (Actual quote!)
And it's pretty convenient for an oil executive to blame policymakers for not regulating them, when the industry spends billions on fighting exactly those regulations!
Five were European, three were from the rest of the world, and the findings were "in line with academic literature on cultures in different oil companies: there is a Trans-Atlantic divide in which European IOCs are more up-front about the issue of climate change and the need to change, while American ones are found to more actively downplay the importance of climate considerations." Indeed, "nearly all of the defensive responses were the most strongly expressed by" those not subjected to the EU's climate regulations.
More interestingly, while they were "not aware of literature on the attitudes of people who have left the oil industry," their "results suggest that this group is more critical of the industry than those still employed by it."
Those that had left it were more likely to "call on the oil industry to change."
So to answer, how do these people sleep at night?
Sounds like they tell themselves the industry's fairy tales, in which they're the heroes saving the world (from the problem they're causing) until they can't take it any more, wake up, and quit.