Transcript

The Power of Big Oil

View film

Part One: Denial

Chapter i. A Proud History

EDWARD GARVEY, Engineer, Exxon Research & Engineering, 1978-83:

In 1978, my wife and I was just engaged six months prior. So we were going to get married a year after I graduated from college. I was kind of awkward, a little bit reserved. I was definitely a nerd. I mean, I grew up in a blue-collar area in Queens.

EDWARD GARVEY:

I went to Cooper Union, and Cooper Union was very well known. Not to toot my own horn, but you had to be pretty good to get in. So we were a draw for Exxon.

EDWARD GARVEY:

Exxon had a recruiting program. They would go to colleges all around the country, and every year they would take the best graduates from my school. And so when Exxon offered me a position in their research division, and doing environmental monitoring, for me it was a really good fit.

The salary I got offered was about $18,600, which in those days was a lot of money for somebody fresh out of school.

RICHARD WERTHAMER, Manager, Exxon Research & Engineering, 1979-82:

Exxon was not just the largest oil and gas company in existence, it was the largest company, period, in existence. It did business all over the world. It was enormous. And the resources were gigantic. And it had a very good reputation.

At the time I joined it, they had a company making word processors, fax machines. There was a new division of the company, Exxon Nuclear. And they had Exxon Solar.

EDWARD GARVEY:

Exxon wanted to become an energy company. They were flush with funds—the oil business was doing really well in the '70s, and so they wanted to move into other fields related to energy.

The energy projects that they were doing were very well funded. Each one of them would have teams of five to 10 scientists, and then technicians supporting them.

So the project that I ultimately ended up working for them on was really blue sky. They weren't going to make any money on it, it was just research for the sake of doing research. For somebody who was 22 or 23 years old, I was like, wow, am I really happy here. This is a really great place to be working. I was really happy working for Exxon.

MARTIN HOFFERT, Professor Emeritus, NYU:

Back in the mid-'70s, I was working for NASA. It was a very exciting time because NASA was sending probes all over the solar system. And the information that was coming back was very interesting, things that we never knew. For example, we found out that Venus was very hot—it’s at least 700 degrees there—and the most plausible explanation, it came from the composition of Venus’ atmosphere: Venus is almost 100% carbon dioxide.

It was a kind of unified idea in the terrestrial planets of our solar system that greenhouse gas warming was caused by high concentrations of carbon dioxide. At the same time, some research scientists were making observations of carbon dioxide in our own atmosphere. And we have seen this curve of increasing carbon dioxide—it's become a classic icon of the carbon dioxide problem—where CO2 keeps going up and up a few parts per million every year. And we can attribute that to greenhouse gases, primarily fossil fuel burning.

It was a small group, maybe 20 or 30, who were developing models independently and checking each other. All of the models showed that the average temperature of the Earth was going to warm. The things that we didn't know were details. We didn’t know exactly where that was going to happen and how it was going to happen.

The question came up, "What are we going to do?" Over 85% of our energy was generated by fossil fuels. And about that time is when I had the opportunity to work as a consultant with the biggest company in the world at the time, Exxon.

NARRATOR:

Today, the evidence of climate change is everywhere. FRONTLINE has been investigating the role of the fossil fuel industry and one of its biggest players, Exxon, in delaying and preventing action on climate change over the past four decades.

This film is based on over 100 interviews and thousands of documents, many of them newly uncovered.

It’s a story that begins with a small team of scientists inside Exxon.

EDWARD GARVEY:

This is a presentation entitled, “The Proposed Exxon Research Program to Help Assess the Greenhouse Effect.” It’s presented by Edward A. Garvey, myself, Henry Shaw, Wally Broecker and Taro Takahashi at Columbia University.

Exxon wanted to do research related to climate change. But they wanted it to be recognized as something that Exxon could contribute that was unlikely anybody else could do. And the role of the ocean in the global balance of carbon dioxide was not well understood. And so Exxon saw an opportunity, using an oil tanker, to involve itself in that line of research and make a really significant contribution to the understanding of the global cycle of carbon dioxide.

[Reading] “Program Goal: Use Exxon expertise and facilities to help determine the likelihood of a global greenhouse effect. March 26, 1979.”

I wasn't dying to go to sea. I was a city kid, I wasn’t a sailor. But I think I understood from the very beginning that the oil tanker was going to be my baby, so to speak. I was going make it work.

[Reading] “Rationale for Exxon Involvement: Develop expertise to assess the possible impact of the greenhouse effect on Exxon business. Form responsible team that can credibly carry bad news, if any, to the corporation.”

The work that we were doing the company was interested in at the highest levels. They wanted the knowledge.

MARTIN HOFFERT:

We wrote computer programs. We plotted graphs. We analyzed the results. We compared it with data, with what nature was doing. And we would compare our results with others’ results. We would see if there's a consensus. Those papers would then get presented at meetings with the government, people from industry, people from university. And there would sort of be this sort of brick-by-brick advance in our understanding of how the system worked.

Everything that we studied was basically consistent with the finding that the Earth was going to warm significantly. And we just were trying to say how it would warm.

I can only speak about the research group in Exxon Research & Engineering. Everybody there accepted it. Roger Cohen completely accepted it.

Roger Cohen, who was the manager of the group that I was consulting for, passed a lot of our results on to higher levels of management. Because that’s what this is—he’s writing to his boss about what the guys working for him are doing.

[Reading] “There's unanimous agreement in the scientific community that temperature increase at this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the Earth's climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere; that our results are in accord with those of most researchers in the field and are subject to the same uncertainties.”

EDWARD GARVEY:

There was no separation between Exxon's understanding and that of academia. None. Yeah, there were uncertainties. But the uncertainty was, "When?" "How fast?"

That’s what we were looking at. If we didn't reduce fossil fuel consumption in a significant fashion, we were going to be facing significant climate change in the future.

MARTIN HOFFERT:

And here he's saying that we should keep doing the research because it can inform our decisions.

[Reading] “Our ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature; indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon's public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.”

EDWARD GARVEY:

Within the Exxon Research & Engineering Company, at least, we knew that changes were going to be necessary. But I think Exxon was afraid we would change too fast. You just can't shut off the fossil fuels, because all of society depends on it.

I was convinced that Exxon was doing this research to understand it, to get a place at the table, to be part of the solution, not so that we can deny the problem.

California, 2018

Austin, Texas

Exxon Mobil Historical Archives

KERT DAVIES, Director, Climate Investigations Center:

Sometime in the 2000s Exxon give their archives to the library at the University of Texas. Many truckloads of documents. Perhaps it was a PR effort to show that this company has a proud history, and it's all transparent; it's all in the library. And so it was a revelation when journalists uncovered documents showing how deep the conversation was about climate change within Exxon.

NEELA BANERJEE, Inside Climate News, 2015-20:

We came across letter after letter after letter to leaders of the company about carbon dioxide. And not only letters, but we came across a memo that said that if carbon dioxide concentrations continue to grow at this rate, this could be catastrophic. That was the word he used.

Anybody who covered climate knew that Exxon had played a critical role in developing and funding a narrative of climate denial that began in the 1990s. So the fact that Exxon had been doing rigorous peer-reviewed research in the '80s was staggering to me.

KERT DAVIES:

I’ve become a curator of documents. The evidence from the Exxon documents is that there was a cadre of really smart scientists putting Exxon in a position of authority on the science of climate change.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Gasoline and fuel oil prices fell 2% last month, the third consecutive monthly decline in the price of gasoline.

MALE NEWSREADER:

That set the stock market skidding into its worst loss in three months, and the fallout continued as the week progressed.

RICHARD WERTHAMER:

Now we’re in 1982. And in 1982, oil prices dropped.

EDWARD GARVEY:

The bottom fell out of the oil market, and so Exxon was having a hard time staying profitable. And it began layoffs.

RICHARD WERTHAMER:

One of the things that was dropped overboard was the tanker project.

EDWARD GARVEY:

Basically just said, the market’s too poor, we no longer can afford this level of research. We’re going to keep the modeling team together and shut down the tanker project.

RICHARD WERTHAMER:

And by 1984, Lee Raymond was senior vice president with broad oversight for Exxon Research & Engineering. Raymond believed Exxon would always be an oil and gas company. It would never be anything else.

EDWARD GARVEY:

When Exxon retrenched and sold off its research in lithium batteries, sold off its solar energy, it’s like, you're throwing out the baby with the bathwater. These are all important lines of research for the potential for the company, and you're just getting rid of them. You're not trying to shrink them down, say, "OK, we have to make do with a smaller budget." No, this is gone. We're done with this, we're done with this, we're done with that.

Lee Raymond

Interviewed in 2005

CHARLIE ROSE:

Alternative fuels. There was a time in the late '70s that your company, you spent a lot of money at that time to say—

LEE RAYMOND:

Yes, we did.

CHARLIE ROSE:

—is there an alternative fuel that will work so that we don't have to burn fossil fuels and put all that CO2 in the oxygen, in the air.

LEE RAYMOND:

We were the first oil company that really spent a lot of money looking at all that.

CHARLIE ROSE:

And the results were what?

LEE RAYMOND:

None of these technologies—and we looked at everything, I mean, we looked from soup to nuts—that none of these technologies were going to be competitive against oil. The conclusion we came to, Charlie, was that fossil fuels had such an economic—first of all, such an economic advantage, and secondly, such a relatively ease of use that it was going to be very difficult to displace them.

EDWARD GARVEY:

I didn't stay there that much longer after they shut down the tanker project. I know that Exxon did some really good climate-related modeling work and was still funding research at Columbia University, but effectively they turned the corner, and I just—I knew that the place that I worked in was gone. I was heartbroken.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil declined to give us any interviews. In a written response to questions, the company said, "For more than 40 years, we have supported development of climate science in partnership with governments and academic institutions" and "Exxon Mobil has never had any unique or superior knowledge about climate science, let alone any that was unavailable to policymakers or the public."

BENJAMIN FRANTA, Climate historian and activist:

I didn’t learn about climate change until I was in graduate school. These are documents from the '80s, the '70s, talking about climate change, and to only learn about it in 2010 shows that knowledge doesn't necessarily go in a unidirectional fashion. That we lose knowledge, we forget things all the time, both as individuals and as a society.

There are many people working on this now and we’re getting a better and better understanding all the time. We now know that Shell, for example, had a sophisticated understanding of the climate issue also by the end of the 1980s. The coal industry, too. So there is a level of foreknowledge by the fossil fuel industry that business as usual would lead to disaster around the world.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN:

My fellow Americans, with summer coming, a lot of Americans will be driving more than ever, in everything from vans to buses to motorbikes. This is a good time for it, because gas prices continue to fall.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Corporate profits surged in the first quarter. Individual winners were Ford, Exxon, General Motors, IBM, Bell South and AT&T.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Retail sales jumped, reflecting a surge in demand for new cars.

TOYOTA TV ADVERTISEMENT:

We hope to sell thousands more with Sellathon 3! Starlets, Corollas—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Boeing aircraft company unveiled their new 67 jetliner.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Sharp fare reductions by American Airlines underlie—

MALE NEWSREADER:

It may turn out it to be a major turning point in the history of airline pricing.

MALE REPORTER:

Who is making the excess buck here?

MALE VOICE:

Primarily U.S. refiners of petroleum products. Most of these companies have announced huge increases in their refinery profits over the last nine months.

BENJAMIN FRANTA:

Exxon had an idea of how soon governments would start to act about global warming. The company predicted that policy action would occur around the late 1980s, which it did. So this is really when a huge battle began.

1988

Chapter ii. Emphasize the Uncertainty

DAVID HARWOOD, Aide to Sen. Wirth, 1986-93:

1988 was the year that the issue of climate change moved from scientific journals into the realm of public policy.

I was a 26-year-old on the lower end of the totem pole in a Senate office. And Sen. Wirth said, "You want to work on the environment, because that’s where all the action’s going to be."

SEN. TIMOTHY WIRTH, D-Colorado, 1987-93:

[Archive] Our climate is changing very dramatically, and it's time for us to start acting on it.

We identified early on how important this was and were probably one of the first to bang away at it.

DAVID HARWOOD:

Sen. Wirth said, "I want to write a piece of legislation that addresses global warming."

The first person I reached out to was Dr. Hansen, a distinguished senior scientist at NASA.

JAMES HANSEN, Dir., NASA Goddard Institute, 1981-2013:

A lot had changed between the middle 1970s, when we first got interested in the problem, and the 1980s, the late 1980s. Because the real world was beginning to show signs that humans were affecting climate. That implies that we’re really going to get a significant change a few decades downstream.

DAVID HARWOOD:

My response was pretty immediate. "This is a big deal. We need to get working on a hearing."

February 1988

MALE NEWSREADER:

Seattle and other parts of the Northwest had their driest February in history. Irrigation reservoirs are 40-85% below normal levels.

March 1988

DAVID HARWOOD:

By the spring of 1988, there was a full-scale drought.

April 1988

MALE NEWSREADER:

The earliest fire season in memory has been declared.

June 1988

MALE NEWSREADER:

They're dredging around the clock on the once-mighty, now-shrunken Mississippi to free hundreds of barges.

DAVID HARWOOD:

It was my perception that the media wanted to explain this drought and seemed to be at a tipping point on the issue of climate change.

JAMES HANSEN:

The evening before, I was lying on my bed in a hotel in Washington writing my testimony and listening to the Yankees baseball game. And I wrote my testimony out by hand. I do think that scientists have a moral obligation to point out the implications of their findings and try to do it as clearly as possible.

DAVID HARWOOD:

I had a sense that it was going to be a good hearing, and that his statement would be important. And you could feel it in the room, that this was a significant moment.

JAMES HANSEN:

[Archive] Thank you for the opportunity to present the results of my research on the greenhouse effect, which has been carried out with my colleagues at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. I would like to draw three main conclusions. Number one, the Earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements. Number two, the global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe, with a high degree of confidence, a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect. And number three, our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to affect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves. Altogether, this evidence represents a very strong case, in my opinion, that the greenhouse effect has been detected, and it is changing our climate now.

TIMOTHY WIRTH:

That was a kind of a magic sentence. This was not environmental groups. This was not some green cabal. This was a probably the lead climate scientist in the federal government making this statement.

JAMES HANSEN:

I realized I was going out on a limb. Not all scientists agreed with me that we were ready to say those things. But they were based on sound physics and observations and models.

DAVID HARWOOD:

It was as if the rocket had lifted off. I wrote on the hearing transcript, "historic."

MALE NEWSREADER:

Some experts are saying now that the whole world is heating up because of a global greenhouse effect.

MALE NEWSREADER:

And in the long run that could mean devastating changes to all life on Earth.

DAVID HARWOOD:

By the next morning, the story was on the front page of The New York Times.

MALE REPORTER:

There are no easy solutions. We’re talking here about the use of gas and coal and oil.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Scientists urge heavy conservation, a switch to solar energy and a search for new power sources. Pragmatists would argue that we cannot change our energy habits overnight. Scientists say we had better get going.

SEN. AL GORE, D-Tennessee, 1985-1993:

In those years there was still a spirit of bipartisanship. When really important challenges to the public interest appeared, you could work across the political aisle.

DAVID HARWOOD:

I felt like tremendous progress was being made. There was greater awareness. There was public policy emerging. There was international negotiations developing.

TIMOTHY WIRTH:

Momentum is on our side. And it kind of opened up the world, the feeling of "Wow, this is really going to change." But the minute targets and timetables began to appear, those were magic signals to the industry. "Uh-oh, this is serious." Little did we know how devastating the counterattack was going to be.

TERRY YOSIE, SVP, E. Bruce Harrison PR firm, 1992-1997 :

I've collected documents from every place where I've worked. My basement looks like a trash bin and a fire hazard. But nevertheless!

I knew that having access to original documents, that were, in my view critical to certain decisions being made would be enormously valuable.

[Archive] I’m Terry Yosie, vice president for health and environment at the American Petroleum Institute. I want to thank you—

API at that time was tremendously influential. It was the chief lobbying organization for the petroleum industry and had representation from some of the major oil companies—Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP. Companies like that.

By early 1989, the newspapers, the television networks were bombarding API with questions such as, "What do you think of Hansen's testimony?" "What is your view of climate change in general?" "What do you think needs to be done about climate change?" "Terry, what do you make of all of this?"

The decision was made that a briefing needed to be prepared for industry CEOs.

[Reading] “Global Warming: The Knowns and Unknowns. By Terry F. Yosie, American Petroleum Institute."

[Reading] “There is scientific consensus that the atmosphere is changing due to human activities. There are three schools of thought that characterize the scientific and public debate over global warming. The first is that a crisis exists and that immediate measures are needed to ameliorate it through strong government actions. The second school of thought is that the problem will go away by itself. The third school of thought, and one that reflects API's present thinking, was expressed by a scientist named Patrick Michaels in a recent article in The Washington Post. ‘Our policies,’ noted Michaels, ‘should be no more drastic than the scientific conclusions they are based upon.’"

PROF. PATRICK MICHAELS, Univ. of Virginia, 1980-2007:

I’m not—I hate this word—I'm not a denier. I'm a lukewarmer. Totally different. And people get that wrong. The lukewarm view on climate change, which means climate change is real, people have something to do with it, but it's probably not the end of the world. I'm probably a lukewarm libertarian, too.

[Archive] There is a real problem with this so-called global warming apocalypse projection. The Earth may in fact be going in the other direction, and until we solve that, it seems to me that we ought not take any very expensive remuneration.

TERRY YOSIE:

Pat Michaels was not a major voice in the scientific community on climate change. But I think he was primarily useful to the industry as an external voice of doubt creating more skepticism about policymakers taking action.

[Reading] “In that vein, API must become an active participant in the scientific and policy debate. We are well on our way to doing that. We must make policymakers fully aware of the uncertainty surrounding the global warming issue.”

KERT DAVIES:

It's amazing. I mean, it's a call to action. They're realizing it's going down, we need to be in the room talking about uncertainty and downplaying the urgency, effectively. That that is the call.

JANE McMULLEN, FRONTLINE producer/director:

Can I ask you to take a look at the document in front of you?

KERT DAVIES:

This thing?

JANE McMULLEN:

Yeah, which we found in the Exxon archives.

KERT DAVIES:

This says it all right here. This paragraph starts, "Exxon’s long-term public presence and contributions to the scientific field give us unique credibility within the petroleum industry. We served on a task force of the American Petroleum Institute and contributed significantly to the development of the API position on climate change.”

So essentially what we see as the API position is the Exxon position on climate change.

[Reading] "Our advice and input influenced the positions of NAM—the National Association of Manufacturers—CMA—the Chemical Manufacturers Association—and the Global Change Coalition," which is probably the Global Climate Coalition.

These trade associations are key. They are working with other shields and other umbrellas. Their focus is trying to emphasize uncertainty. And we can show that they pretty much did that in following years.

NARRATION:

In response to questions, API said critics were "cherry-picking information from decades ago to support a misleading predetermined narrative," and that as climate science has evolved, so has the industry.

Exxon Mobil has denied that its policy at that time was to emphasize uncertainty.

1992

Chapter iii. The Environmental Presidency

GOV. BILL CLINTON, Arkansas, 1983-1992:

The man standing beside me today has what it takes to lead this nation from the day we take office. Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.

MARC CHUPKA, White House economist, 1993-94:

When Bill Clinton announced that his running mate was going to be Al Gore, that was very exciting.

There was an anticipation of a much greater effort to tackle climate change.

BILL CLINTON:

We will finally give the United States a real environmental presidency.

AL GORE:

Then President-elect Clinton understood clearly that that's why I was on the ticket. That's why I agreed to run as vice president.

MALE NEWSREADER:

He has won this presidential race, along with Sen. Al Gore, now the vice president-elect.

JANE McMULLEN:

Now you’re in the White House—

AL GORE:

Yeah.

JANE McMULLEN:

—to tackle it. Did you feel a sense of responsibility?

AL GORE:

Oh, absolutely. That was the principal task that I set for myself entering the White House. And I went to work right away to try to get a carbon tax in our first budget plan.

MARC CHUPKA:

Sen. Gore asked me to produce some quantitative results of how much various energy taxes would reduce emissions.

Feb. 17, 1993

PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON:

Our plan does include a broad-based tax on energy, and it is environmentally responsible. It will help us in the future as well as in the present with the deficit.

MARC CHUPKA:

I was excited that a fairly bold step had been proposed.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It’s called a "BTU tax."

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The tax is likely to be levied at the producer or distributor level, though consumers would feel it as energy companies passed it along in their prices.

MARC CHUPKA:

It’s a tax policy. You don’t expect everyone to love it. But the opposition to this particular proposal was very strong, very strident, very aggressive.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Koch Industries has been called the biggest company you never heard of. The sprawling giant includes pipelines, petrochemicals, asphalt plants, trading floors. Based in Wichita, Kansas, it sells everything from gasoline to beef.

JEFF NESBIT, Comms. Dir., Citizens for a Sound Economy, 1993:

I would say that virtually no one in the early 1990s had ever heard of Koch Industries.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Koch's core business is distribution. It owns 37,000 miles of international pipeline.

JEFF NESBIT:

They can take the heaviest oil, the dirtiest oil, the hardest to turn into a useful product and refine it. And they became the best in the world at doing that. I think it's still probably the second-largest privately held company in the world.

The two brothers who ran Koch Industries were Charles and David Koch. They had their sights set on how they were going to deal with issues that were existential to their industry. It's the heart of what they do, so they're going to fight and hang on to that till the bitter end.

JERRY TAYLOR, Cato Institute, 1991-2014:

The Cato Institute was a public policy think tank. It was founded by Charles Koch. And Charles was heavily invested in energy policy discussions back in that time, particularly the emergence of climate change.

The Cato Institute position was that climate change is real, but the climate change that we're seeing today is far, far more modest than what the computer models say we should have seen by now. We need to know a lot more before we should be spending trillions of dollars to address it.

JEFF NESBIT:

So the Kochs had funding directed at the Cato Institute as a libertarian think tank; they also had funding that went to Citizens for a Sound Economy, which was built for a slightly different purpose, which was to be a quote, grassroots mobilizer.

JERRY TAYLOR:

Coming out of the gate, we then get served up with a proposed BTU tax. It was obvious to us at the Cato Institute that once that tax is in place, it's going to be very hard to get rid of.

JEFF NESBIT:

We walked over from Citizens for a Sound Economy over to the American Petroleum Institute, and we met with the entire leadership of API. And the meeting was all about, let's just knock out the BTU tax in its infancy.

JERRY TAYLOR:

We would be meeting in various locales in Washington with over 100 people in the room. It was a real war room situation.

JERRY JASINOWSKI, President of the National Association of Manufacturers :

[Archive] This coalition is one of the fastest growing and strongest that I've seen. We will stop the BTU tax and I believe substitute spending cuts in its place. Thank you very much for coming.

Oklahoma

RON HOWELL, Former consultant, Koch Industries:

We were known, and I think we made ourselves known that way, as the oil capital of the world. Almost everywhere you'd look had behind it oil industry dollars.

I thought that the tax was a bad idea for America, but predominantly a bad idea for Oklahoma. Oklahoma was not in a good spot at that time at all. Oil wells were being shut. That meant a lot of lost jobs, a lot of lost companies. And this was putting the heel of the boot down hard.

I got a call from Koch Industries telling me the industry is very concerned about this, but we're worried that this word isn't getting out. Our particular goal was to focus on Sen. Boren.

JEFF NESBIT:

David Boren was a moderate Democrat who chaired the relevant committee that would deal with the Clinton budget.

RON HOWELL:

We were hearing that he wanted to be left to do his own revising of it behind closed doors.

JEFF NESBIT:

They basically said if we can get David Boren to flip, we win. So they said, we're going to do whatever it takes.

RON HOWELL:

We set about what I would call a grasstops and a grassroots campaign. The grassroots were encouraged to call Sen. Boren and let him know that you do not want a tax, after seeing an ad that showed "take shower, pay a tax; start your car, pay a tax."

JEFF NESBIT:

Everybody was given their marching orders out of this playbook. People would stand up behind politicians with signs about no BTU tax. There were rallies.

ENERGY INDUSTRY SPOKESMAN:

—cost to the average household in Oklahoma is going to be roughly about $500 a year.

RON HOWELL:

My main role was what I would call the grasstops. You may be a civic leader, you may be a CEO. Often it would be Mr. Koch would call them, or myself, and talk them through "Did you know it does this, this, this and this?" Encourage strongly Sen. Boren kill it.

JEFF NESBIT:

What they told the public and what the policymakers were led to believe was that there was an army of folks who were ready to march in the streets. Maybe there were a handful of folks who thought, "Oh, gosh, I should call my senator and register my complaint," but they had no such grassroots army. It was funded and fueled by the corporate interests.

MALE NEWSREADER:

CSE says its work isn’t done yet. It’s joined forces with other lobbying groups, stoking the flames of the prairie fire, hoping they’ll spread and burn the BTU tax for good.

RON HOWELL:

I remember a very late night or early morning phone call, and it was actually Sen. Boren's communications guy. "We want those ads to stop. And we want the CEOs to quit calling us, and in return, Sen. Boren’s going to announce his intentions to vote against it."

SEN. DAVID BOREN, D-Oklahoma, 1979-94 :

Our proposal is fairer than that put forward by the administration—that is the BTU tax, which is the tax which is a part of the administration's plan that does hit lower- and middle-income Americans.

JEFF NESBIT:

He folded right away. It’s like wow, this can really work. We can pick our targets strategically and win, even when we’re not in political power.

NARRATOR:

At the time, David Boren disputed he was influenced by the oil industry. He said he was responding to concerns from the American public, and he opposed the tax because it would hurt consumers and businesspeople.

MALE NEWSREADER:

President Clinton has pulled the plug on his proposed BTU energy tax.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Critics said it would cost jobs and devastate the economy, and there weren't enough votes in the Senate to pass it. Besides, who the heck knew what it was?

MALE NEWSREADER:

This is after all a nation addicted to its cars and to the idea of driving down the open road.

AL GORE:

It was extremely disappointing to not get the votes. It was just the raw power of all the money that they threw into this. But we just decided to regroup and try to skin the cat a different way.

MARC CHUPKA:

They never proposed another energy tax. It was just considered radioactive.

JEFF NESBIT:

I think some of the leadership of the Koch network were really quite excited that it worked so well. So that's how that playbook first began. It was developed right then. What I didn’t know at the time was that it would become the beginning of something much bigger. And that playbook is still in use today.

I don't feel embarrassed or regretful. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done that. There's no question I shouldn't have done that. But they were my client. I was a contractor. I was paid, I'm going to do my job. And my job was to do that.

NARRATOR:

Charles Koch did not respond to questions about the campaign against the BTU tax. In 1994, a top Koch executive said, "Our belief is that the tax, over time, may have destroyed our business."

Central China, 2021

ENERGY INDUSTRY PROMOTIONAL VIDEO:

As more and more scientists are confirming, our world is deficient in carbon dioxide and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very beneficial.

DAVID HARWOOD:

I was aware that this emerging industry of naysayers was growing, this effort to cast doubt. You had reams of material coming out of the government. They were at NOAA, at NASA, this expanding network of people working on this day in and day out, saying that this was a legitimate issue and that we needed to do something about it. And on the other hand, you had two or three guys who went around to conferences and said, "Oh, I'm not sure. Oh, maybe there's clouds?"

Prof. Patrick Michaels, 1992

PATRICK MICHAELS:

I would like to show you the warming that satellites sensed over the same region from 1979 to now, which is the next slide, if you could. Thanks. Nothing.

DAVID HARWOOD:

It quickly became apparent that these were private interests who had a stake in the status quo.

Prof. Fred Singer, 1991

FRED SINGER:

A respectable body of opinion in the international scientific community believes that any climate warming is as likely to be beneficial as harmful.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO, Founder, Ozone Action, 1992-2000:

I remember seeing in the press this skeptic, Fred Singer, saying that global warming was not a problem for the planet. You saw that he had worked on tobacco and a number of other issues. He was sort of a specialist in denial. I thought, that’s odd. When I brought that up to some of my peers in the environmental movement, they really didn’t think it was that important.

But then every time a new piece of science comes out, the same story will have somebody you'd never heard of saying, "No, that's completely wrong." So you start to think, well, who are these people, and where are they coming from? Oh, interesting. They're funded by Exxon’s foundation. And then you see this pattern repeated over and over and over. It was coming from the coal-fired power utilities, Western Fuels Association, the Koch brothers, Global Climate Coalition. And they’re funding climate deniers.

JOHN SHLAES, Executive Director, Global Climate Coalition:

[Archive] We are not an ad hoc group anymore, but as a matter of fact the Global Climate Coalition formalized not too long ago.

TERRY YOSIE, SVP, E. Bruce Harrison PR firm, 1992-97:

The Global Climate Coalition consisted of every major manufacturing trade association that produced or consumed fossil fuels and every major company that was in the fossil fuels industry. And so it’s a considerable coalition of business interests.

The Global Climate Coalition put out a bid for a contractor to provide communication services. I had left API in the late spring and I had come over to the Harrison firm, a public relations firm devoted exclusively to environmental issues.

[Reading] “Communication Proposal Prepared for the Global Climate Coalition by the E. Bruce Harrison Company.”

I was asked to be a part of the pitch team because I was well known in the petroleum industry.

DON RHEEM, E. Bruce Harrison PR firm, 1993-97:

Everybody wanted to get the Global Climate Coalition account because it was a coalition of the biggest industries in America.

I was brought in to handle press relations for the Global Climate Coalition. A lot of reporters were assigned to write stories, and they were struggling with the complexity of the issue. So I would write backgrounders so that reporters could read them and get up to speed.

TERRY YOSIE:

[Reading] “It is important for GCC to continue to emphasize the scientific uncertainty surrounding climate change.”

[Reading] “Scientists, economists, academics and other noted experts carry greater credibility with the media and general public than industry representatives.”

[Reading] “Communication efforts should be directed toward expanding the platform for third-party spokespersons.”

The idea behind a third party is that you form a relationship with somebody who already has some stature or standing around a particular topic, in this case climate change, and you recruit that person, you pay that person to give a speech or write an op-ed. The Global Climate Coalition would do the background work of placing that op-ed or maybe editing it.

DON RHEEM:

I met some really brilliant climatologists and meteorologists. I met Pat Michaels. He'd struck me as someone who was very smart. He loved talking about this issue.

JANE McMULLEN:

What was your relationship with the GCC? Global Climate Coalition?

PATRICK MICHAELS:

Oh, God. Not much.

JANE McMULLEN:

You were on their scientific advisory board.

PATRICK MICHAELS:

Yeah. What does that mean? I don't think we ever had a meeting.

JANE McMULLEN:

I understand you did.

PATRICK MICHAELS:

We did? It wasn't much of a relationship at all. I mean, when you bring up GCC, it's like, "Oh, wait a minute, who were those guys?"

JANE McMULLEN:

How did the funding that you received from the fossil fuel industry impact what you were able to do work-wise and impact the views that you took?

PATRICK MICHAELS:

Didn't change what I do, didn't change the way I think.

JANE McMULLEN:

How much do you think you did receive from industry?

PATRICK MICHAELS:

I don’t know.

JANE McMULLEN:

Do you feel like in a way you were sort of used by them, that you were—

PATRICK MICHAELS:

No, I was using them. You got that wrong. What—I mean—I'm somewhat verbal, and I like to write, and I have an overestimation of my ability, my sense of humor. But can you imagine somebody giving you a little bit of money to say "Write whatever you want every two weeks?" We had a blast doing that. We weren't doing what we were told; we were doing what we wanted.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

The Global Climate Coalition is seeding doubt everywhere, sort of fogging the air with these counterarguments that are contradictory and nonsensical. Running this propaganda across the country, putting millions of dollars into this media effort. And environmentalists really don't know what's hitting them.

JANE McMULLEN:

Did it cross your mind or give you any late-night worries that you were being paid by a group that had a vested interest in delaying action, blocking action, creating doubt in the minds of the public and policymakers?

DON RHEEM:

The backgrounders I was writing, the narrative that I represented as the communications lead for the Global Climate Coalition was not a popular narrative. There's no question about that. Was there truth in all the materials? Yes, there was. There was a lot we didn't know at the time, and part of my role was to highlight what we didn't know. It wasn't just that we, that is the Global Climate Coalition, needed to come up with contrarian voices. The media needed them to have balance.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

You want to make an assumption that it's a meritocracy. A good argument will prevail, and it will displace a bad argument. But what the geniuses of the PR firms who work for these big fossil fuel companies know is that truth has nothing to do with who wins the argument. If you say something enough times, people will begin to believe it.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Finally tonight, some new word on the temperature of the world. Charlayne Hunter-Gault has that story.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT:

It's warmer than ever, and last year set a record. That's what British meteorologists reported—

MALE NEWSREADER:

They say that 1995 was the warmest year since records first were kept in 1856.

MALE SPEAKER:

You have ice slowly melting. You have sea levels rising. You have places like the Maldive Islands, that’s only a meter above sea level, that could be completely underwater.

BENJAMIN SANTER, Lawrence Livermore Natl. Laboratory, 1992-2021:

We knew. We knew in '95 that humans were affecting the global climate. In 1990, the First Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, concludes that it's too soon to tell definitively whether there is or is not a human-caused global warming signal. Five years later, a very, very different finding: People at different institutes, using different statistical methods, different models, formally identified a human-caused global warming signal. This was a paradigm shift in scientific understanding of the reality of human effects on climate.

I was 40 years old. I had spent 1 1/2 years working as convening lead author for Chapter 8 of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report, "Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes."

We were in plenary in the beautiful Palacio de Congresos de Madrid, delegates from nearly 100 countries. We're all there to discuss the language that was relevant to Chapter 8. Some of the industry scientists were involved in the process. Haroon Kheshgi from Exxon was there from the beginning of our work on Chapter 8 right through to the end.

The Global Climate Coalition and the Saudis and Kuwaitis dominated the plenary sessions, saying,

"If you say something's uncertain, then it can be overturned." Which led to all of these sometimes heated exchanges, because uncertainty is an irreducible part of climate science. The notion that uncertainties mean you can't say anything useful about anything is preposterous.

There were these extraordinary back-and-forth discussions. And my job was to implement those changes that we had discussed and agreed upon. I think the most critical part of the changes after Madrid was the deletion of the concluding summary.

Chapter 8 had a summary up front and a summary at the end. No other chapter had a summary at the end. Now the second summary discussed many of the uncertainties, essentially repeating much of the up-front summary. So some of the government comments that we received said, "You need to delete the second summary." Which we did.

The bottom-line finding agreed upon by all countries present in Madrid was 12 words: quote, the balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate, unquote.

Madrid was a triumph of the science. The science won. It was a big deal.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Hi, I’m Joie Chen. An international panel of scientists agrees we can blame ourselves for global warming.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—in Madrid, where 2,500 scientists from around the world have finally agreed with one another and are convinced that burning oil and coal is causing the world's temperature to rise, which may bring with it environmental disaster.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT:

How do you think this is going to affect policy action on this?

MALE SPEAKER:

It's certainly ammunition for those that would like more government regulation of industry to move away from fossil fuels to other forms of energy.

BENJAMIN SANTER:

In retrospect those 12 words were the handwriting on the wall.

What happened next was that the Global Climate Coalition really came onto my radar screen. In the spring of 1996, they published this report, "The IPCC: Institutionalized 'Scientific Cleansing.'" They were arguing that I had purged all discussion of uncertainty from the document, which was patently untrue. Twenty percent of Chapter 8 was specifically devoted to the discussion of uncertainties.

[Reading] "The changes quite clearly have the obvious political purpose of cleansing the underlying scientific report of important information and scientific analysis that would lead policymakers and the public to be very cautious, if not skeptical, about blaming human activities for climate change over the past century."

I had grandparents who were "cleansed" because of their religion in the Second World War. People were being cleansed because of their religion in Bosnia. And the Global Climate Coalition, through this odious "scientific cleansing," was arguing that I was guilty of a crime.

[Reading] "These revisions raise very serious questions about whether the IPCC has compromised or even lost its scientific integrity."

DON RHEEM:

Um, I certainly had a, probably a role in the creation of this. There's a level of detail here I just, I don't remember. But what I do—I do remember the gist of this, where things were said at one point in the process and then they disappeared at the next, and that struck me as troubling. And so I noted that to the folks in the Coalition.

BENJAMIN SANTER:

This stuff caught on like wildfire. Patrick Michaels devoted substantial time to amplifying the Global Climate Coalition’s allegations. Others picked up that report and repeated bits of it verbatim. Things became worse when Prof. Frederick Seitz wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. I was accused of the worst abuse of the peer-reviewed system that Prof. Seitz had seen in his 60 years as a scientist. Folks were calling for my dismissal with dishonor from my position. A gentleman intimated that I was about to be indicted by the Hague International Court of Justice for quote, falsification of international scientific documents.

JANE McMULLEN:

That document set in motion a number of public attacks on the lead scientist, the lead author of that chapter.

DON RHEEM:

Oh.

JANE McMULLEN:

He was particularly shaken by the accusation that he was guilty of scientific cleansing. He found that hard to take.

DON RHEEM:

Yeah, that wouldn't have been terminology, by the way, that I would have used. How this was used and what others did with it was outside of my control and purview. And it troubles me to hear that this had such an impact on an individual. That's not something I would want to do to anybody.

BENJAMIN SANTER:

This attack on individuals, on their integrity, decency, honesty, involved high personal cost, and the Global Climate Coalition knew what they were doing. Sow those seeds of doubt, and watch them grow and mature. And they did.

KERT DAVIES:

Clearly, one of the GCC’s main missions was to blunt the scientific urgency driven by scientific reports.

Simultaneously, there's an assessment done, written by a Mobil scientist within the GCC. So it says, "Can human activities affect the climate?" And the answer is, "The scientific basis for the greenhouse effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on the climate is well established and cannot be denied."

What's really interesting about this document is the back six pages—and this is just a draft; this was never published as far as we know. [Reading] "Several arguments have been put forward attempting to challenge the conventional view of greenhouse gas-induced climate change."

Patrick Michaels is named as one of the people putting forward these arguments and concludes, "They do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change." So don’t use don’t use their voice!

NEELA BANERJEE, Supervising Climate Editor, NPR:

The science was growing more certain, and Exxon's own scientists were working with scientists in academia to discern the human fingerprint on a changing climate.

I'm looking at an article written by Lee Raymond, who was chairman of Exxon Corp., and it looks like this is from the mid-1990s. "Global warming: who's right? Facts about a debate that's turned up more questions than answers."

Lee Raymond was certainly the person with the greatest stature in the oil industry to push for this narrative, that the science around climate change was uncertain and therefore we shouldn't act precipitously to address it.

PROF. MARTIN HOFFERT, Exxon consultant, 1981-87:

What's the date of this? My God. Is this '82? No, this says 1996. We—[laughs] I am just flabbergasted by this.

[Reading] “The unproven theory [laughs]—This policy, if implemented, has ominous economic implications, yet scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate.”

It's just total baloney. This person should never be the CEO of an energy company. I think it's outrageous that he would say such a thing because he has a world-class climate and carbon cycle research group in his own laboratory in Exxon Research & Engineering. He could pick up the phone and ask one of the people in that group if that statement is true, and they would tell him that it isn't.

He's using something which is a lie to justify a policy which is bad for the world. And I would have to say that on an ethical basis, it's actually evil. I think he should be ashamed of himself. And I think he should apologize to the world for saying that.

NARRATOR:

Lee Raymond did not respond to interview requests.

In its statement to us, Exxon Mobil insisted that its "public statements about climate change are, and have always been, truthful, fact-based, transparent and consistent with the contemporary understanding of mainstream climate science."

Until his retirement in 2005, Lee Raymond continued to publicly question the science of climate change.

Lee Raymond

Interviewed in 2005

LEE RAYMOND:

There is a natural variability that has nothing to do with man.

CHARLIE ROSE:

What would that be?

LEE RAYMOND:

The climate has changed every year for millions of years. Now the question is, is part of what's happening related to something other than natural variability? And if so, how do you determine what that is? And the reality is, the science isn't there to make that determination.

Chapter iv. The Grand Fog

March 17, 1995

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE, 1993-2001:

Two weeks from now, this issue of global climate change will be discussed by more than 120 different countries in Berlin. This administration will be at the forefront of this global effort.

I wanted the United States of America to lead the world community to agree on a set of global initiatives and policies.

[Archive] The United States is committed to reaching 1990-levels of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000. Let us make sure that our next steps are the right ones. Thank you very much.

DAVID HARWOOD, State Dept. Special Adviser on Env., 1993-97:

We said that the United States was prepared to engage in targets and timetables. I mean, that was obviously a massive threshold for us to cross.

U.N. CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN:

I declare open the first session of the Conference of the Parties. The convention is coming of age.

DAVID HARWOOD:

The question was, who goes first?

AL GORE:

It was in no way possible to get a global treaty with a proposal that the poorest countries in the world would have to take the same obligations that the wealthy countries were undertaking.

DAVID HARWOOD:

And the idea was, those who developed the most and had contributed historically the most to the problem should step up to the plate first in the effort to reduce emissions.

U.N. CONFERENCE CHAIRMAN:

I should bang the hammer now.

AL GORE:

That was the formula that the world agreed was the only way to make progress toward a truly global agreement.

MALE NEWSREADER:

At a follow-up in Kyoto, Japan, negotiators hope to agree on binding limits.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The negotiators did agree they would exempt developing countries from the caps negotiated in Kyoto.

AL GORE:

But the fossil fuel companies took that feature of the agreement and made that a bete noire. They made that a politically salient issue that they used to great effect.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO, Former Exec. Director, Greenpeace USA:

This is a plan from the PR firm E. Bruce Harrison, after Berlin, prepared for the GCC board. This is the strategy of the grand fog. [Reading] "Third-party recruitment and op-ed placement efforts will continue, although with a new emphasis on economists." So the strategy is evolving.

PAUL BERNSTEIN, Charles River Associates, 1996-2004, 2006-11:

In 1996, I had finished up grad school and accepted a job at Charles River Associates. We were doing work for the American Petroleum Institute, so they had a particular point of view. If the U.S. goes ahead and reduces its emissions, and countries like China and India don't do anything, the U.S. puts itself at a competitive disadvantage. To try and put numbers on what those damages would do, how much they were hurt, I think is important, right?

We wrote a couple papers on our findings. I had general surprise of how much attention it got. It was finding its way into the airwaves.

FEMALE ADVERTISEMENT VOICE:

Our president must decide if he'll sign a U.N. climate treaty that could increase the cost of gasoline by 50 cents a gallon and raise electricity and natural gas prices by 25 to 50%. Meanwhile, countries like China, India and Mexico are exempt.

MALE ADVERTISEMENT ACTOR:

We pay the price, and they're exempt?

FEMALE ADVERTISEMENT VOICE:

It’s not global, and it won’t work.

PAUL BERNSTEIN:

There's great pressure that came from the clients to talk about jobs. We tried to tell clients we really can't measure jobs accurately. But you have to get paid at the end of the day. So we ended up doing the best we could talking about jobs. But you don’t really—you don't really know.

ROBERT MURRAY, CEO, Murray Energy:

[Archive] The first people that will lose their jobs are the American coal miner.

JOHN SHLAES:

[Archive] It would cost probably 5, 6, 700,000 jobs a year.

ANDREW CARD, President, American Automobile Manufacturers Association:

[Archive] And that would hurt the U.S. automobile industry, and it would hurt the U.S. economy.

WILLIAM O’KEEFE, Vice President of American Petroleum Institute:

[Archive] Every independent—and I say every independent economic study has come to the same conclusion: that the impact is negative, and it's going to cost jobs.

BENJAMIN FRANTA, Graduate fellow, Stanford University:

Although the studies themselves acknowledge their funding from the industry, that funding is often not acknowledged when the results are presented to the public through advertorials that oil companies would take out in big venues like The New York Times without saying that the industry had paid for the study or what the limitations of the studies were. So it gave an impression that there were independent economists coming to this conclusion, when in reality they are hired by the fossil fuel industry. The analysis completely ignored the benefits of taking action about climate change.

NARRATOR:

Neither the API nor Charles River Associates responded to questions about their work together.

PAUL BERNSTEIN:

I had misgivings about just telling half the story. What do we get? If we reduce emissions, we get less damage from climate change. And we’re not putting that in there.

Yeah, I wish I weren't a part of that, looking back. I wish I weren't a part of delaying action. Clearly on the wrong side of history.

Louisiana, 2021

MALE NEWSREADER:

Eighteen weather- and climate-related disasters, with a damage total of more than $1 billion each.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Global damages estimated at around $280 billion.

MALE NEWSREADER:

These natural disasters could push the nation's infrastructure to the brink.

November 1996

MALE VOICE:

Please welcome our chairman, Lee Raymond. Lee?

LEE RAYMOND:

Right now, a United Nations effort is moving toward a decision in 1997 to cut the use of fossil fuels, based on the unproved theory that they affect the Earth's climate. If implemented, such a policy could inflict severe economic damage. So it's critical that we in the industry provide a voice of common sense on this important issue.

It means cooperating more closely with other associations within our industry. And it extends to the circle of logical allies outside our industry that stand with us on any given issue. One example is our close cooperation with the automobile industry. Recently, they have become engaged in the global climate issue and are active, aggressive allies.

If we all work toward the same goal, I believe we can change the perceptions of the American people about energy.

KERT DAVIES:

It's a call to arms. He's trying to rally the oil industry to speak as one to oppose climate change action—to fight, basically, the run-up to the Kyoto Protocol.

This is when it really ramps up. We know Exxon has been funding a bunch of right-wing and libertarian conservative think tanks. Suddenly, in '97, the sums in those grants goes way up. They know that this is the big fight.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

In the run-up to Kyoto, you're seeing these ad campaigns, the denial ad campaigns. You're seeing TV ads, you're seeing print ads. There's op-eds.

KERT DAVIES:

Millions and millions of dollars worth of advertising. "Why is the U.S. being obliged to do more than everyone else?"

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

"It's not global, and it won't work." And everybody sung from the same song sheet.

JERRY TAYLOR:

The administration had just completely misread the political situation. There was no way in heck that the American public was going to accept regulating greenhouse gases in a fashion which would disadvantage American industry. That's an easy argument to make politically. You can make that in your sleep.

FRED SINGER:

[Archive] The biggest loser in all of this will be science. And I'm here to defend science.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

And then the Senate issues this Byrd-Hagel Resolution, which passes 95 to zero.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-Nebraska, 1997-2009:

[Archive] S. Res. 98 puts the administration on notice that an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of the United States Senate rejects its current negotiating position on a proposed new global climate treaty.

For me, it was a big deal. As a freshman senator, it was my first year in the Senate, with Bob Byrd.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD, D-West Virginia, 1959-2010:

[Archive] Any effort to avoid the effects of global climate change will be doomed to failure from the start without the participation of the developing world.

CHUCK HAGEL:

[Archive] This treaty would be a lead weight on our nation's future economic growth, killing jobs and opportunities for generations of Americans to come.

Byrd-Hagel got 95 votes—95 senators. Nobody voted against it.

[Archive] Even using conservative assumptions, Charles River Associates, a leading economic modeling firm, for example, has estimated that holding emissions at 1990 levels would reduce economic growth by 1% a year, rising to 3%—

I was not going to support a treaty that would affect our economy and everything else when we didn't have the absolute scientific evidence, first of all, to prove it, and second, and maybe even more important, let all these other countries off.

[Archive] If anything has become clear during congressional hearings on this issue, it is that the science is unclear; is that the scientific community has not even come close to definitively concluding that we have a problem.

I'm not a scientist. I'm not a climatologist. I listened to a lot of people. I asked for a lot of opinions. I had scientists coming in, I had other people come in.

JANE McMULLEN:

We unearthed documents that show a series of meetings and briefings.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

Oh, wow. It's quite amazing. Here's a memo from the American Petroleum Institute. They're putting on a luncheon, they're hosting Sen. Hagel and they're going to brief him. [Reading] "Scientists do not have a precise understanding of this issue." Doubt, doubt.

Meeting with Sen. Hagel and the Ford Motor Company. This is the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. The Aluminum Association. Chemical Manufacturers Association.

You know, I'm emphasizing Sen. Hagel, but this is happening all throughout the Senate. Ninety-five senators voted this certain way. But if you pull that lens back, you’re going to see they're working politicians with the most sophisticated legislative campaigns.

JANE McMULLEN:

What were they saying to you in those meetings? And did you learn anything that did help to shape your views?

CHUCK HAGEL:

Well, they made their case, they made their point. So you listen to them like you would anybody. I wasn't surprised by anything I heard.

JANE McMULLEN:

You met Lee Raymond, the chairman and CEO of Exxon. What kind of relationship did you have with him?

CHUCK HAGEL:

Well, Lee Raymond was a South Dakota boy. I remember that. I didn't have a close relationship with him. But I listened to him. He's head of the largest oil company in the country. I listened to everybody's opinions.

KERT DAVIES:

So this is a page from a briefing document. And it’s—the title is "The Dilemma for Congress." [Reading] "Draft resolution is attached for your consideration."

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

So the American Automobile Manufacturers Association is putting forth, on behalf, I think, of the Global Climate Coalition the draft resolution for the Senate to preemptively kill the Kyoto Protocol.

CHUCK HAGEL:

You mean the Byrd-Hagel Resolution? They didn't draft that. We had many people coming forward with written examples—"Why don't you do this?" That's not unusual at all. Because our staffs work with them and so on. But that resolution wasn't an AMA resolution. That resolution was decided by us, by the senators.

December 1997

MALE NEWSREADER:

Vice President Al Gore is on his way to Kyoto, Japan, to attend the global warming summit. Now the goal of the conference is an international treaty to protect the environment, but so far, it's been hard to find anything the diplomats can agree on.

TIMOTHY WIRTH, Undersecretary of State, 1993-Nov. '97:

I think Byrd-Hagel really destroyed any hope of getting something done in Kyoto. There was no argument by the administration against the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. The Clinton administration certainly didn’t want to go into open war.

AL GORE:

[Archive] To those who seek to obfuscate and obstruct, we say we will not allow you to put narrow special interests above the interests of all humankind.

MALE PROTESTER:

Corporate American leadership will not save the world!

JOHN PASSACANTANDO:

It was just an unbelievable mess. He did broker a deal and got as much out of Kyoto as he could have. But we were not going to get steep cuts in CO2 emissions out of a global agreement with all the industry fighting against them.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Delegates from the U.S. and 149 other countries have approved the treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. President Clinton is praising the agreement, but he may have trouble getting it ratified.

JERRY TAYLOR:

The Clinton administration never even put the Kyoto Protocol up for a vote in the Senate. It was DOA. And I think they understood that within a week of return from Kyoto.

DAVID HARWOOD:

I feel that at the end of the day, the Clinton-Gore administration was not able to deliver on the lofty promise of American leadership. The door closed for the next 10 years. So it was a significant missed opportunity.

JERRY TAYLOR:

When I became part of that world, we thought the odds were pretty long against us. We did not expect to prevail in the climate debate.

[Archive]—to protect against a problem that most scientists don't say exist.

By the end of the decade, however, the climate skeptics and denialists were in a position of strength. Now, they had pretty much run the table. In every decisive fight, we had won.

AL GORE:

They won the battle. I was intent that they would not win the war. It became clear to me at that point that it was going to be a longer war.

NARRATOR:

We approached multiple members of the industry coalition that campaigned against Kyoto. None would sit for an interview. For its part, Exxon Mobil has stated publicly that "we recognize that our past participation in industry coalitions to oppose ineffective climate policies subjects us to criticism by climate-activist groups" and that the Kyoto Protocol was "unrealistic" and "economically damaging."

Central Japan, 2021

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It is unequivocal that human activities are responsible for climate change. That’s the finding of a new study by the U.N.’s intergovernmental panel on climate change.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A dire warning and a stark reality. The head of the U.N. referred to this as "code red" for humanity.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Global temperatures are the hottest in 100,000 years, and many effects of climate change are already irreversible.

MALE NEWSREADER:

If we want to avoid catastrophe, we have to drastically cut emissions—now.

JANE McMULLEN:

We now know that Exxon was making a concerted effort through the 1990s to cast doubt on the science. Do you feel that you were misled?

CHUCK HAGEL:

Well, what we now know about some of these large oil companies’ positions, they lied. And yes, I was misled. Others were misled. When they had evidence in their own institutions that countered what they were saying publicly—I mean, they lied.

JANE McMULLEN:

If they had said that, if they had held their hands up then and said, "Yes, this is real," could it have been different?

CHUCK HAGEL:

Oh, absolutely. It would have changed everything. I think it would have changed the average citizen’s appreciation of climate change.

JANE McMULLEN:

And yours?

CHUCK HAGEL:

And mine, of course. It would have put the United States and the world on a whole different track, and today we would have been so much further ahead than we are. It’s cost this country, and it cost the world.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil continues to defend its record on climate change.

Congressional Hearing

October 2021

DARREN WOODS:

My name is Darren Woods. I'm the chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Exxon Mobil has long recognized that climate change is real and poses serious risks. But there are no easy answers. Our position in this space has been consistent with the general consensus in the scientific community.

MARTIN HOFFERT:

I’m 83 years old. Three or four decades ago, we predicted it. As a scientist, to have those predictions come true, that's sort of the golden icon that you look for. However, as a human being, and as an inhabitant of planet Earth, I'm horrified to watch the lack of response to this. I’m trying as much as possible to distance myself emotionally.

JANE McMULLEN:

So you're angry.

MARTIN HOFFERT:

Yes. I'm furious.

EDWARD GARVEY:

It's heartbreaking to me. I saw all of that potential there, at least at that point in time, to really solve the problem in many different ways. Had Exxon chosen to pick up the ball then and begin to lead, the discussions would have been about how to do it. We had solar scientists doing research. We had lithium battery chemists doing research. Think of how important these sciences are to the world currently.

Parts of the world are going to suffer enormously, unnecessarily so, and for something that we could have done something about. Not doing anything for decades, that—that's just squandered time, and we're going to pay for it.


Part Two: Doubt

KERT DAVIES, Director, Climate Investigations Center:

In 1998, there was this meeting in D.C. It's convened by the American Petroleum Institute. Exxon is in the room, Chevron, Southern Company, with various think tank officers, communications professionals and right-wing libertarian professionals. They're hatching a plan to stop people from worrying about climate change.

NARRATOR:

Less than a year earlier, some of those in the room had helped block American participation in a major international attempt to combat climate change. They feared more threats on the horizon.

KERT DAVIES:

The plan is a wide and concerted effort to install uncertainty around climate science, to decrease political pressure by sowing doubt around the science. Their targets include media, members of Congress, schoolteachers, average citizens. The plan right at the top says, "Victory will be achieved when recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the quote, conventional wisdom." They said that it was never implemented, but what it shows is an intentionality—we need people to not care so much about climate change. We need uncertainty to rule the day.

2000

AL GORE, Presidential candidate, 2000:

[Archive] Our country faces a big choice about the future. We are truly at a fork in the road.

GEORGE W. BUSH, Presidential candidate:

With the help of Congress, environmental groups and industry, we will require all power plants to meet clean air standards in order to reduce emissions.

NARRATOR:

The new millennium began with a presidential campaign. One candidate had long advocated for action to combat global warming.

AL GORE [campaign ad]:

In this election, the environment itself is on the ballot, and there’s a big difference between us. I’ll never put polluters in charge of our environmental laws.

NARRATOR:

His Republican rival was an oilman from Texas who was also talking about action on climate change.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Look, global warming needs to be taken very seriously, and I take it seriously. Both of us care a lot about the environment. We may have different approaches.

AL GORE:

During the campaign of 2000, George W. Bush put out a position paper and a speech and a statement saying that he was all in favor of putting limits on carbon emissions. And he was in favor of all kinds of government measures. It dampened the sharp contrast that I had thought [laughs] was going to be very clear.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Whenever there’s a transition of power in Washington, D.C., there’s a great deal of talk about a change in the culture as well.

NARRATOR:

Bush had pledged that he would place a national limit on America’s carbon dioxide emissions.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Gov. Whitman reflects a growing consensus in this country about environmental policy. She and I share the same point of view.

NARRATOR:

Once in office, President Bush tapped Christie Todd Whitman to run the Environmental Protection Agency to turn his pledge into action.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, EPA Administrator, 2001-03:

We had talked about it before I accepted the position. Some sort of a cap on carbon that limits the amount of emissions is what's critical. And the president agreed with me; we were on the same page.

I thought that this was our opportunity, that we could really get it done.

NARRATOR:

Less than two months after the inauguration, Whitman prepared to travel to a gathering of environmental ministers from eight of the world’s largest economies.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

Before I went to my first G8 environmental ministers meeting in Italy, I went to the White House and I basically said, "Look, I am going to say we'll put a cap on carbon," because that had been in the campaign literature. And I ran that all the way up the flagpole at the White House to make sure it was OK and—"Fine. Go ahead."

Trieste, Italy

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

[Archive] The president has indicated he acknowledges that global warming is of primary importance. It’s at the top of his agenda.

NARRATOR:

But while Whitman was in Italy, a very different message was being promoted through the top ranks of the Bush administration. Haley Barbour, an influential Republican and energy lobbyist, had written to Vice President Dick Cheney, questioning whether the carbon cap idea was “eco-extremism” and risked exacerbating the country’s energy problems. Other prominent voices, some from think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry, joined in, too, opposing climate action.

BILL O’REILLY, FOX News:

This global warming controversy is unprovable, but that doesn't stop people on both sides from swearing they know what the heck is going on. Joining us now from Washington is Jerry Taylor, the Cato Institute’s director of natural resource studies.

JERRY TAYLOR, Cato Institute, 1991-2014:

My objective while at Cato was to demonstrate to smart, engaged people that the case against climate action was far stronger than they realized. And I honestly and in good faith felt that the arguments against climate action were far, far stronger. And so that was my job. And I did it well.

For most people, if things are very uncertain, they're not going to commit a lot of resources to address them until that certain uncertainty clears up.

BILL O’REILLY:

Do you believe that the people of the United States should do anything because of the weather?

DEB CALLAHAN, League of Conservation Voters:

You know, in fact, EPA Administrator Christie Whitman—

JERRY TAYLOR:

Debate is performance art. I was pretty good at that performance art. I was the good communicating gunslinger.

DEB CALLAHAN:

Things that will save money and save the environment.

BILL O’REILLY:

Mr. Taylor, last word.

JERRY TAYLOR:

[Archive] We've already had about a third of the amount of warming that we're going to get this century. It's already happened, and crop yields are up, life expectancy is up.

BILL O’REILLY:

All right. So you’re fine and Ms. Callahan is battening down the hatches. Well—

JERRY TAYLOR:

[Archive] Things are fine so far.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

When I returned from Italy, I heard some rumors that all of a sudden we weren't going to go forward with a cap on carbon. So I asked for a meeting with the president, went over and met with him. And it was a done deal.

In fact, as I walked out of the office after that meeting, the vice president was just coming by and said, "Do you have the letter for me?" I didn't know what letter he was talking about. He asked the secretary, and they handed him an envelope. And he was on his way up to the Hill. And it was the letter that said, "We're not doing a cap on carbon—too bad, rest of the world."

MALE NEWSREADER:

The president claims he dropped the plan because it would drive up already inflated energy costs. But the announcement left his EPA chief, who had vigorously promoted the curbs, twisting in the wind.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

I was really blindsided when I found that we were backing out of that pledge. I was monumentally disappointed. The administration was extremely close to the energy industry. The vice president was industry, through and through. And he was very persuasive in his arguments, as were the some of the Republicans on the Hill about how this was going to kill the economy, that we needed more energy. We could not start to put a cap on carbon. And so there just was no appetite, economically, politically or otherwise, to go forward with a cap on carbon.

NARRATOR:

The vice president was stressing the need for more fossil fuels.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY:

Some things about the future we cannot know. Years down the road, alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful than they are today. But we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and our way of life on that possibility. For years down the road, this will continue to be true.

NARRATOR:

The president, too, veered from the tone he’d struck as a candidate and was emphasizing the uncertainty of climate science.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world. We do not know how fast change will occur or even how some of our actions could impact it.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

It really was a tragedy. If President Bush had gone forward with a cap on carbon, it would have made an enormous difference. It would have been a huge signal coming from a Republican administration.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced her resignation today. Christine Whitman said she wanted to spend more time with her family.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN:

Once we'd gone through this what I would call a debacle over the cap on carbon, there was no appetite for addressing climate change at all. It wasn't going to be the number one issue. It just wasn't. That was it. I mean, you just didn't talk about it. The industry was winning a lot of battles that I was losing. I mean, ultimately, that's what led me to leave the administration. I wasn't going to just be a rubber stamp for industry. And I just had had enough.

MALE NEWSREADER:

History’s biggest merger created America’s largest company, and together Exxon and Mobil will be the biggest oil company in the world: 123,000 employees, $200 billion in revenue and 47,000 gas stations worldwide.

NARRATOR:

The Bush administration’s U-turn was a victory for Big Oil—especially Exxon Mobil. Its CEO, Lee Raymond, was close to the vice president, who’d been an oil industry executive himself.

RUSSELL GOLD, The Wall Street Journal, 2000-21:

These men were business associates. They were friendly. They were part of the same fraternity—the oil fraternity.

Corporate citizenship award presentation, 2003

DICK CHENEY:

You rolling?

MALE VOICE:

Yes, sir.

DICK CHENEY:

As chairman and chief executive officer of one of the world’s leading energy companies, Lee Raymond has helped to improve the lives of countless people all over the world. And as the head of a major science and knowledge-based corporation, Lee understands the critical importance of science and technology to continued progress and economic growth, both at home and abroad.

KERT DAVIES:

I've been investigating the fossil industry for decades, and Exxon was a ringleader. And they were at the center of the campaigns that were around in the late '90s, early 2000s, to stall climate policy.

Exxon had emerged as the real bully on climate change, headed by Lee Raymond, who was a hardened denier.

Shareholder meeting

LEE RAYMOND:

Number two, please.

MALE SPEAKER:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to comment on the findings of fact about the relationship between the burning of fossil fuels and of climate deterioration. I understand that the corporation's policy is that this remains in the realm of the unproven, but I would like to state from the broad scientific community that this is, in fact, a well-established fact.

LEE RAYMOND:

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gases is causing or will in the foreseeable future cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.

NEELA BANERJEE, Supervising Climate Editor, NPR:

Lee Raymond is salient because he kept hammering away at the idea of scientific uncertainty about human activity driving climate change, even as the science grew more certain.

LEE RAYMOND:

There is a substantial difference of view in the scientific community as to what exactly is going on. I could assert to you that I don't think this is happening. My mind is open enough to say I’m going to listen to the science.

KERT DAVIES:

From 1998 to 2014, Exxon alone put over $30 million into think tanks that were proffering uncertainty, that were questioning the climate science, questioning policies that were being proposed, really casting doubt on anything to do with climate change at the state level, at the national level and internationally.

BILL HEINS, Geoscientist, Exxon Mobil, 2001-19:

I started working at Exxon Mobil shortly after the merger. At the turn of the century, they were making on the order of $5 billion a year.

NARRATOR:

Geoscientist Bill Heins had spent years studying past climate change before joining Exxon Mobil.

This is the first time he’s been interviewed about his experiences at the company.

BILL HEINS:

I'm disappointed, I'm angry, I'm disenchanted at the duplicity exhibited by Exxon Mobil to say one thing internally and to say a different thing with a much different consequence in the political arena.

NARRATOR:

He’d been hired to use his expertise in climate change to help discover new oil deposits.

BILL HEINS:

My ambition when I joined Exxon was to keep doing my science. And I was blown away, doing all kinds of really interesting earth science research at technical levels above what was happening even in top universities. And not only was it appreciated, but it was for a reason: People need energy to live. And we were providing that energy.

NARRATOR:

Heins says scientists at the company had developed a deep understanding of climate change and the role of burning fossil fuels.

BILL HEINS:

This was real fundamental earth science. We really tore apart "How does the Earth work?" And climate is a really important part of that system. So you’ve got to understand the climate system to search for oil and gas. The fundamental idea that we put CO2 in the atmosphere, and that makes the temperature go up, and that's bad, everybody understands that, completely, clearly.

NARRATOR:

He says he quickly saw signs of a disconnect between what he and his colleagues knew and the position the company wanted to stress.

BILL HEINS:

Shortly after I joined Exxon Mobil there was a presentation by Art Green, who was the chief geoscientist of Exxon Mobil Exploration. All the scientific staff are there, and Art got up and gave his presentation about how ice core records were unreliable. And here were temperature excursions in the past when there couldn't possibly be any human influence. And here's all these reasons why we really don't have to worry about climate change. He didn’t clearly state it, but the subtext appeared to be that his bosses didn’t believe that climate change was something to be concerned about.

There was kind of stunned silence in the room. And Exxon Mobil is a very polite place. In that context, the reaction was quite remarkable. Translated in modern parlance, if my children were explaining the reaction, they would say, "Are you nuts? No, we don't believe you! We're scientists here, we don’t want to hear this stuff."

NARRATOR:

Arthur Green is retired from Exxon Mobil and did not respond to requests for comment.

The company would not grant us any interviews but said in a statement that it “has long acknowledged the reality and risks of climate change, and it has devoted significant resources to addressing those risks.” And it said that “it should not be surprising that there are competing views about how best to address the risks of climate change.”

MALE NEWSREADER:

Hurricane Mitch smashed homes, wrecked crops, killed thousands of people.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Twenty-five people were killed by mudslides in southern Italy caused by two days of torrential rain.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The people had no warning of the deluge. It came in the dead of night as they slept.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Record temperatures in Italy, Kosovo and France have also sparked blazes.

NARRATOR:

Michael MacCracken was one of the government’s senior scientists investigating climate change during the Bush administration.

MICHAEL MacCRACKEN:

My career was in climate modeling. From 1997 to 2002, I was in charge of helping make the first climate assessment on the U.S., what would be the impacts. And what we found is that there was no question that it was rising concentrations of CO2 doing that.

[Archive] If we really want to do something significant to slow this so that our grandchildren don't face a changing world, we're going to have to do a substantial movement away from the key fossil fuels of coal and oil, particularly.

NARRATOR:

In January 2001, MacCracken participated in a headline-grabbing report for the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC said there was now “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.”

MICHAEL MacCRACKEN, U.S. Global Change Research Program, 1993-2002:

The statement that came out of the IPCC said, "Look, humans are the main cause." And that turned out to be very controversial.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil’s response was severe. A company lobbyist faxed the Bush administration demanding MacCracken and several others who worked with the IPCC be removed, accusing them of scientific bias.

MICHAEL MacCRACKEN:

The fax was sent by Randy Randol, the senior environmental adviser to Exxon Mobil. It says, “The U.S. was represented by Clinton-Gore carryovers with aggressive agendas.” And so he offered his thoughts on what should be done.

Exxon just didn’t like the science that was coming out and so was basically calling for a complete replacement of those who were leading the scientific enterprise.

NARRATOR:

Within two years, the scientists that Exxon Mobil had named, including MacCracken, would retire or be replaced.

MICHAEL MacCRACKEN:

Exxon Mobil tried to control the discussion in the United States and then put off the problem. We'll make our profits now and we'll slowly change, but we won't do anything urgent enough as the science was indicating.

And so I chose to write a letter, directed to Lee Raymond as chairman and chief executive but copied to everybody else.

[Reading] "Dear Mr. Raymond. While my departure may be satisfying to Exxon Mobil, I can assure you that this will not make the scientific challenge of climate change and its impacts go away. That 150 countries unanimously agree about the science of this issue is not because of some green conspiracy, but because of the solid scientific underpinning for this issue. To call Exxon Mobil's position out of the mainstream is thus a gross understatement."

And then a few weeks later, I received a response from Kenneth Cohen, who was vice president for public affairs.

[Reading] "In summary, we regret that you apparently don't understand the company's actions and activities related to this complex issue. Possible human-induced climate change is a long-term risk that we at Exxon Mobil take very seriously."

They had to write something. [Laughs]

MALE TV ANNOUNCER:

From our studios in New York City, this is Charlie Rose.

CHARLIE ROSE:

Lee Raymond is here. Exxon Mobil is having a record year in 2005. His career has been a remarkable financial performance. He retires at the end of this year. Welcome back.

LEE RAYMOND:

Sounds ominous, Charlie. It's good to be here, thank you.

CHARLIE ROSE:

The environmental community thinks you are part of the problem.

LEE RAYMOND:

Mm-hmm.

CHARLIE ROSE:

They say the following: Global warming is produced by CO2 emission in the air.

LEE RAYMOND:

Do I disagree with the premise that the Earth is getting warmer?

CHARLIE ROSE:

Yes, sir.

LEE RAYMOND:

No, I really don't disagree with that. The climate has changed every year for millions of years. If we weren't here, the climate would change. There have been times in the Earth's history where there has been no ice on the Earth. No ice on the Earth. Man didn't have anything to do with it.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil itself had been reinforcing this kind of message, using “advertorials”—advertisements with the appearance of editorial content—in major newspapers. They promoted the idea that the science of climate change was still too uncertain to limit the use of fossil fuels.

BILL HEINS:

When I looked at those advertorials at the time, I didn't take them as being that important. Sitting inside the organization and doing good science, I thought, "We’re for good science." I averted my gaze.

So this one about "unsettled science" is highlighting uncertainties or variabilities that are true, but they’re not important to the issue. It's not something that deflects us from the basic idea that more CO2 changes the climate in a bad way. They were sowing doubt. It was not just public posturing, it was truly casting aspersions on science.

NARRATOR:

Lee Raymond did not respond to our request for an interview.

In its statements to us, Exxon Mobil said, “There is no truth to the suggestion that Exxon Mobil ever misled the public or policymakers about climate change." And the company said it has been consistent with the “contemporary understanding of mainstream climate science.”

BILL HEINS:

So it would be correct to say that Lee Raymond was consistent with science in saying that we don't quite know exactly what the answer is. But he was out of sync with the science of the time, which said, "If you keep going in this direction, it's going to be bad." That is a different thing than the strictly legalistic argument about being consistent with the science.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Scientists are telling us that these kinds of events will become more frequent and probably more intense.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Extreme drought conditions are providing dangerous fuel for wildfires.

MALE NEWSREADER:

There are many predictions that Hurricane Katrina will turn out to be the nation’s most expensive natural disaster.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Hurricane activity, that's gone up so much in correlation with the rise in tropical ocean temperatures, which globally is attributable to global warming. The signal is pretty unmistakable.

NARRATOR:

As the science and the warnings became clearer and more urgent, some of the fossil fuel industry’s most reliable allies started having doubts.

JERRY TAYLOR:

I look back on the work I did at that time with a lot of regrets. If I had known at the time what Exxon Mobil internally knew, as we are becoming increasingly aware, no, I would definitely have been in a different place.

[Archive] Well, sure, you can run through your parade of horribles that we've heard about over the years. We were told that there would be massive die-offs from overpopulation and famine, and then that never happened. And people would starve, and that never happened. And now we’ve got a global warming situation, allegedly.

It became increasingly clear to me that as I debated smart people on the other side, using state-of-the-art information that was being generated in real time in the academic literature, that my job became increasingly difficult. The arguments weren't holding up. That began my move away from climate skepticism. Because as the 2000s play out, the arguments for action on the scientific front become stronger and stronger and stronger.

CROWD [chanting]:

What do we want? Clean fuel. When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Clean fuel. When do we want it? Now!

NARRATOR:

At Exxon Mobil, under a new CEO, Rex Tillerson, they had now made a public acknowledgement that the risks of climate change justified taking action. But at the same time, they were still raising the uncertainties and funding groups who disputed the scientific consensus.

Shareholder meeting press conference

MALE REPORTER:

Is Exxon still funding organizations and individuals that consistently put forward the view that global warming is not caused by human activity?

REX TILLERSON:

I don’t really read that. And when I read what these groups are publishing, what they're examining are holes in science, gaps in the science, things that don't have a good scientific basis.

NEELA BANERJEE:

Under Rex Tillerson, what they said was, "We just don't know, and do we really want to overturn our economies and upend things to address growing CO2 levels when we just don't know?"

REX TILLERSON:

As I said earlier, I think having a good debate on this is what's sorely needed. And this rush to everyone wanting to say "We've got it figured out," that's just—I hate to say it, but that ain’t so.

JERRY SEINFELD:

And the Oscar goes to An Inconvenient Truth, Davis Guggenheim.

NARRATOR:

In 2006, Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, sounded the alarm to a widening audience, warning of a "planetary emergency."

“An Inconvenient Truth” trailer

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE, 1993-2001:

[Archive] All over the world we need to solve the climate crisis. We have everything we need to get started, with the possible exception of the will to act. That’s a renewable resource. Let's renew it.

We had reality on our side. And tragically, the felt consequences of the climate crisis were growing in intensity and frequency and severity. It was time to regroup again and double down.

NARRATOR:

The president wasn’t persuaded to pursue legislative action but by now had publicly stated that humans were causing climate change. Other Republicans were shifting their positions, too.

REP. BOB INGLIS, R-SC, 1993-99, 2005-11:

For my first six years in Congress, I said that climate change was nonsense. I didn't know anything about it except that Al Gore was for it. That was the end of the inquiry. But then our son, the eldest of our five kids, had just turned 18, so he was voting for the first time. And he came to me and he said, "Dad, I'll vote for you, but you're going to clean up your act on the environment." So that was step one of a metamorphosis for me. Step two was going to Antarctica with the Science Committee, seeing the evidence in the ice core drillings. In that mile of ice is an amazing record of the Earth's atmosphere. What it shows is stable levels of CO2 and then an uptick that coincides with the Industrial Revolution.

We make climate science sound so complicated. It's really not.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS, Congressional staff, 2007-14:

In 2007, climate change was at its most bipartisan level that I think it ever was. You had Republican members of Congress introducing bills about it. Politically, sort of public awareness-wise, this was a bit of a golden era in the United States.

Alliance for Climate Protection promotional video

NANCY PELOSI:

Hi, I'm Nancy Pelosi, lifelong Democrat and speaker of the House.

NEWT GINGRICH:

And I'm Newt Gingrich, lifelong Republican, and I used to be speaker.

NANCY PELOSI:

We don’t always see eye to eye, do we, Newt?

NEWT GINGRICH:

No, but we do agree our country must take action to address climate change.

NANCY PELOSI:

We need cleaner forms of energy, and we need them fast.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

One of the first things that Nancy Pelosi did as speaker was to create the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and I was lucky enough to land my dream job and be a staffer on this committee. This is where laws would be made to deal with what I believed was an existential crisis for humanity.

NARRATOR:

The committee picked up the idea of a carbon cap that the Bush administration had rejected years earlier. They wanted to set a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions and require companies to trade amongst themselves for how much each could emit.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

The ultimate goal of the bill was to reduce carbon emissions by 80% below 2005 levels by 2050. And that's a lot of fossil industry. A lot of oil and gas producers—the coal miners, the coal companies, refineries. It was going to hit someone’s pocketbook.

NARRATOR:

The plan emerged as the 2008 presidential campaign was ramping up. Republican candidate John McCain came out in support of the cap and trade approach.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN, R-Arizona:

The facts of global warming demand our urgent attention, especially in Washington.

NARRATOR:

So did his opponent, Democrat Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-Illinois:

I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.

HEATHER ZICHAL, Environmental policy director, Obama campaign:

Having worked on many presidential races and around presidential politics, that was the first year where we really saw climate change as something that American voters really wanted to hear from candidates on. It was interesting, because we were not necessarily having a debate about whether or not climate change was real. It was really, "How collectively can we make a meaningful contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the economy?"

NARRATOR:

Shortly before the presidential election, Exxon Mobil contacted corporate responsibility specialist Bennett Freeman.

BENNETT FREEMAN, SVP, Calvert Investments, 2006-15:

I had an informal conversation in the back of a limousine with Ken Cohen at Exxon Mobil, who was essentially their chief policymaker and public affairs officer. I think the observation that got Ken Cohen's attention was that we had this unprecedented situation where both the Republican and the Democratic nominee for president both committed to the climate agenda. And we had a pretty frank conversation about the implications for the company, particularly on climate.

I thought that Exxon was shamefully out of the action because it had become so apparent that climate science was real. So my advice to Ken was for the company to finally take a public position on climate policy. To make an unequivocal statement accepting the reality of climate science. To make a unequivocal commitment to not fund any more climate denial research, which Exxon was infamous for supporting, for funding directly. And to take a positive, proactive position supporting action at the U.S. federal level.

NARRATOR:

Two weeks before President Obama was inaugurated, Exxon Mobil CEO Tillerson would give a speech that went farther than the company had ever gone on the urgency of the climate change issue.

BENNETT FREEMAN:

Amazingly, that speech happened.

January 2009

REX TILLERSON:

Globally, the outlook for energy expects energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to rise by an average of 1% per year through the year 2030. These two fundamental realities, meeting enormous demand growth and managing the risk of greenhouse gas emissions, are the twin challenges of our time.

BENNETT FREEMAN:

It was, I think, the first time that at least at the CEO level, they started, just started to take a policy position that was potentially constructive. It's important to acknowledge that this was an initial step. But it's equally important, even more important, in my opinion, to emphasize that it was a step that was little and late.

RUSSELL GOLD, FRONTLINE consultant:

I covered Exxon Mobil at The Wall Street Journal at that time, and Rex Tillerson was a breath of fresh air. He starts talking about the importance of pursuing a lower carbon path. But at the end of the day, I can't really point to anything substantive that changed.

NARRATOR:

Rex Tillerson did not respond to interview requests.

Despite his speech, Exxon Mobil did not endorse cap and trade. The bill, sponsored by Democrats Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, narrowly passed the House.

MALE SPEAKER:

Yeas are 219, nays are 212. [Applause] The bill is passed.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The president won a victory in the House of Representatives on a sweeping climate bill.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

June 26, 2009. It was a big day. It was the culmination of years of work. Inside, I think there was a lot of relieved and happy people, because this was the end of a very long road. It was a huge moment.

NARRATOR:

It was the first legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions to pass the House of Representatives. Now the bill needed to get through the Senate.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

We were optimistic that the Senate would pick up the bill that summer. And I think we were a little bit naive about that.

HEATHER ZICHAL, Obama adviser on climate & energy, 2009-13:

When somebody's business model is deeply affected or felt to be affected, there are always going to be well-funded interests that make the case "don’t take any action, do not regulate us."

Promotional video

KOCH INDUSTRIES PROMOTIONAL AD:

One of our nation’s largest private companies is proudly built on American values and skill. Koch Industries started in the heartland—

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil and other companies continued their opposition to cap and trade, but the fiercest pushback came from another powerful force in the industry.

KOCH INDUSTRIES PROMOTIONAL AD:

You may not always see our name on the products you use—

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD, Author, Kochland:

In 2009 Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company in the United States, whose annual sales are bigger than that of Goldman Sachs, U.S. Steel and Facebook combined.

Koch is just deeply embedded in the fossil fuel infrastructure. It trades, ships and transports natural gas, oil, gasoline. So when you think about anything that would reduce demand or increase the price for fossil fuels, it's a tremendous threat to Koch's business.

This was a moment when the potential for passing climate change regulation was more real than it has ever been in U.S. history, full stop. That's why you saw the Koch political machine kick into high gear.

MALE VOICE:

Do you believe in anthropogenic climate change?

CHARLES KOCH, Chairman & CEO, Koch Industries:

[Archive] I mean, there are such a thing as greenhouse gasses, and they're contributing to that, but I don't think anybody knows how much. I don’t think science is settled. I mean, how could it be? As a matter of fact, science is never settled.

NARRATOR:

David Hoffmann was an environmental lawyer at Koch Industries. This is the first time he has spoken on camera about his work there.

DAVID HOFFMANN, Senior counsel, Koch Industries, 2005-10:

My father-in-law, basically his message to me was, "Don't work for the devil. This is a company that doesn't care about the impact they're having on the world, in the world." It encouraged me even more to work for Koch Industries, because I felt like, maybe I can convince people within Koch Industries that environmental compliance is not such a bad thing.

NARRATOR:

Hoffmann was given the job of assessing what the cap and trade bill would mean for Koch Industries. He met with a team of senior Koch lobbyists.

DAVID HOFFMANN:

I was invited to this meeting. The discussion quickly turned from the possibility that this bill might pass and what we should be doing to prepare for it to a discussion about how are we going to prevent it from passing, who are vulnerable Republicans that we need to target to make sure that they don't vote for this bill. We cannot let this bill pass. We won't let this bill pass, and we have to do everything in our power to prevent it from passing.

MALE ANNOUNCER:

Welcome to Americans for Prosperity Foundation's "Defending the American Dream" summit.

NARRATOR:

The Koch-funded organization Americans for Prosperity spearheaded the effort to stop the bill in the Senate.

DAVID KOCH, Former EVP, Koch Industries:

I can’t tell you what a thrill it is for me to be here this morning. Five years ago my brother, Charles, and I provided the funds to start Americans for Prosperity. And it’s beyond my wildest dreams how AFP has grown into this enormous organization—800,000 activists from nothing five years ago.

NARRATOR:

AFP had begun rallying opposition on the ground across the country. Steve Lonegan, a senior staffer at AFP, helped mobilize the movement.

STEVE LONEGAN, Americans for Prosperity, 2006-13:

[Archive] This country is heading in the wrong direction. But like Americans have always done, we're going to rise to the occasion. You know that. We're not going to let this cap and trade bill pass. Each and every day, I urge every single one of you to get up and think about what you can do that day, what action you can take to change the course of history.

Americans for Prosperity emerged at a time when America was being challenged by the climate change argument. It became very obvious that the Republican Party was not prepared or willing to fight the fight. And Charles Koch, who in my opinion is a hero and a visionary, saw this problem.

[Archive] We as Americans have reached a moment of realization that the very core values and principles are under attack like never before in our lifetime.

We had a multifaceted, hard-hitting approach, pressuring Republicans who were weak-kneed

and Democrats who were vulnerable whose states would be impacted by this.

If you're going to go into a war, like this was, the first thing you need to do is get your troops marching, get them energized. And that's what we did in that summer.

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD:

This was a volatile time in American life. We had just had the biggest economic collapse since the Depression. The Tea Party movement was animated by a lot of genuine political passion. Koch very cunningly stepped in and channeled that energy to Koch’s ends. Koch took that passion and also told these people, "Oh, hey, by the way, the government is trying to regulate greenhouse gases, which is another form of socialist tyranny, and they're trying to take your country away from you."

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

All of a sudden, people started to get really energized about climate change, and not in a positive way.

FEMALE PROTESTER:

No Obamacare! No cap and trade!

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

They are people screaming, and they're animated about cap and trade. And it's like, what? What just happened? How did this happen?

From the summer of 2009 through the winter, into the spring, we gradually saw the U.S. Senate back away from climate, basically because the handful of Republicans who we thought would engage on this issue saw what was happening. They don't want to be one of these people who just voted for the climate bill and now have angry protesters storming down their door. It was a bucket of cold water.

STEVE LONEGAN:

We stopped the bill from even going to a vote in the U.S. Senate. So it died its own death. I think we recognize the moment of relief as when we realized they didn't have the votes to pass it, and the thing just fell apart. There was just too much pressure. There were Democrats who weren't voting for it in key energy states, and at that point, everybody knew it was over. Back to the drawing board for the progressive left.

JONATHAN PHILLIPS:

I was demoralized. [Laughs] I think we all knew this was the end of climate legislation in the U.S. Congress for a long time. We had a shot at it, and we got beat.

NARRATOR:

No one from Koch Industries would agree to an interview or respond to questions.

CROWD [chanting]:

You work for us! You work for us!

NARRATOR:

The cap and trade bill was dead. Meanwhile, the Kochs and Americans for Prosperity had been pursuing another goal: purging the Republican Party of lawmakers who didn’t espouse their skeptical views on climate change.

MALE SPEAKER:

I'm actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to vote you out of office next time. [Applause] Global warming, it's all a hoax. [Applause]

STEVE LONEGAN:

The Republican Party needed to be shored up, it needed to be propped up, it needed to be given a backbone. Primaries are the most important part of our election system. You know, some incumbent can be sitting there all fat and happy thinking they're ensconced and can't be beaten and someone can come out of nowhere, knock them out in a primary. It happens all the time.

MALE PROTESTER:

You'll get your just desserts!

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD:

This is where you saw the perfection of the primary strategy, whereby Koch would would give money to a primary opponent to take out a congressperson that had crossed Koch on climate change.

NARRATOR:

Bob Inglis was one of those targeted. He says suddenly Koch Industries stopped supporting him and backed an up-and-coming conservative opponent.

BOB INGLIS:

My most enduring heresy against the orthodoxy at the time was just saying climate change is real and let's do something about it. They didn't want their money being spent on somebody that was talking what I was talking.

One very memorable occasion was [laughs] a big tent meeting. All of my primary opponents were there. The guy asking the questions was a local Christian radio talk host, and his question for me was, "Is climate change human caused, and do you support a carbon tax?" And so I said yes and yes.

[Archive] I do believe that humans contribute to climate change, and—actually, let me strike that. I don't really believe it; it’s not an article of faith for me. All of my faith tells me to look at the data. The data says that’s happening.

And then it goes to the guy that we were concerned about, because he's very capable fella.

TREY GOWDY:

[Archive] No on cap and trade, no on carbon taxes. I have been a prosecutor for 16 years. I'm used to having things proven to me and proving it to other people. Global warming has not been proven to the satisfaction of the constituents that I seek to serve. [Applause]

BOB INGLIS:

[Laughs] I remember thinking, that was a particularly good political answer, but—it won't win you a profile in courage, but, you know, a good answer, politically.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Let's go ahead and take a look at the numbers. It is a huge margin of victory. Inglis lost every county in the district. He is a seasoned congressman going down to a huge defeat tonight.

BOB INGLIS:

You know, it's quite a spectacular face-plant to get just 29% of the vote after 12 years in Congress. And it became a lesson to others, that you toe the line.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

House Democrats of every stripe were voted out of office last night.

MALE NEWSREADER:

It was a bloodbath for Democrats last night. It was historic.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Sweeping, stunning Republican victories all across the country.

NARRATOR:

Many of the Republicans who won the 2010 midterms had signed an AFP pledge opposing climate change legislation and openly challenged the climate science that had been accepted by some in their own party and the industry.

STEVE LONEGAN:

The achievement of 2010, the newly elected Republicans, the vast majority of which signed our carbon pledge, was to put an end to the whole climate change argument. Since then till now, it’s been a dead issue.

MALE REPORTER:

Are you proud of what Americans for Prosperity has achieved this year in the election?

DAVID KOCH:

You bet I am. Man, oh, man. We're going to do more, too, in the next couple of years, you know?

CHRISTOPHER LEONARD:

Koch Industries was able to reshape the Republican Party into one that identified with the idea that climate change is not real, that the science is a hoax. And that is a position of zero compromise and total opposition, not only to any laws, but even to an acknowledgement that the problem is real.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

… U.N. report released just this morning says climate change is accelerating and we are running out of time to stop it.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Punishing and extreme weather once again putting lives at risk.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Climate change is now widespread, rapid and intensifying. That human activities—

BILL HEINS:

The world, as an ecosystem, as an entity, is in big trouble. To think about the fact that we are making it worse, that's a hard thing to wrap your head around.

If I could have seen earlier that the hydrocarbon industry writ large was responsible for distracting attention from climate change, I would have taken a different path. I bear responsibility for having created bad outcomes. I consider often what kind of world are my grandchildren going to live in. Fifty years from now, they will rightly look back and say, "What were you thinking?"


Part Three: Delay

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, 2009-17:

Hey, guys! Nice night, huh?

RUSSELL GOLD, Author, The Boom:

There's this great irony of the Obama administration. He comes in promising to be the climate president. He's going to address these issues. And at the same time, we're in the middle of a recession, and one of the few rays of job growth is in oil and gas.

BARACK OBAMA:

Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.

RUSSELL GOLD:

The country’s down on its heels, and here comes the oil industry, generating lots of oil, generating tax revenue. It was a great story for the oil industry to sell.

BARACK OBAMA:

Over the last three years, we've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration.

IVAN PENN, The New York Times:

The potential for natural gas was huge.

BARACK OBAMA:

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.

SHARON WILSON, Earthworks:

When Obama said we had 100 years of natural gas, we panicked, because we knew the climate was changing so fast.

PROF. TONY INGRAFFEA, Cornell University:

We didn't take the alternative path of drastically increasing investment in renewables.

BARACK OBAMA:

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

It should have happened in the Obama years. And we’ve exacerbated the climate change problem for 10 years when we could have been diminishing it.

RUSSELL GOLD:

The Bible says, "No man can serve two masters." Well, we kind of had two masters at that point. We were trying to be a climate leader, but we were trying to be an energy superpower. It's impossible, really, to be both.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

There are massive fracking booms happening in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio. I mean, just look at that. It's much of the middle of this country.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

It's led to unprecedented expansion in towns from Cotulla to Beeville—

MALE NEWSREADER:

—the oil fields fueling a red-hot energy boom in the U.S.

NARRATOR:

During the early years of the Obama administration, despite widespread concern about climate change, the fossil fuel industry was experiencing an historic boom, with tens of thousands of new wells across the United States. It was driven in large part by a new technology for extracting oil and natural gas. It would be a turning point for the fossil fuel industry and the fight against climate change.

Tony Ingraffea had helped make it happen—

TONY INGRAFFEA:

I certainly didn't grow up questioning fossil fuels. It was just 1950s USA. Everything was automatic and wonderful. We didn’t realize it at the time, but fossil fuels were driving what we call Western civilization, and still today I value what fossil fuels have done for the world.

NARRATOR:

In the early 1980s, Ingraffea was part of a team of U.S. government engineers tasked to solve a problem.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

U.S. oil and natural gas production had just fallen off, right off the end of the table, since the oil embargo.

MALE SPEAKER 1:

All out! That's it, all out of gas!

MALE SPEAKER 2:

What is this? I’m in a line two hours here and I can’t get gas? This is baloney.

NARRATOR:

America was becoming increasingly dependent on imported oil and gas from unreliable sources after its own reserves declined.

MALE SPEAKER 3:

No gas.

NARRATOR:

There was a quest to unlock new domestic fossil fuels.

MALE SPEAKER 3:

No gas, forget about it.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

Nobody had thought about spending a lot of money trying to get oil and gas out of shale. Nobody knew how to do it, and most people in the industry, the vast majority of the people in the industry, said it couldn't be done.

NARRATOR:

Ingraffea’s team began devising new ways to extract large deposits of oil and gas trapped in shale rock formations across America. They called it fluid-driven fracture, now known as fracking.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

Even in this small piece of Marcellus Shale there is stored methane, which becomes natural gas when it's produced. And if one were to estimate the total amount of methane, thousands of square miles under all these states, it's many, many trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

Energy. How do you get energy out of the Earth? It all comes by cracking rock. Oil embargo, energy crisis, crack rock—help.

NARRATOR:

It would take decades before fracking technology was perfected. The process was complicated and expensive, and the urgency eventually abated.

That changed when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The latest information from the National Hurricane Center puts Katrina on a path headed for New Orleans.

MALE NEWSREADER:

We're expecting winds there up to 145 mph, with gusts up to 170.

NARRATOR:

The storm was part of an emerging trend of extreme weather events. It devastated the Gulf Coast and damaged oil and gas production. Natural gas prices surged, making it more attractive to use new drilling and fracking technologies to get oil and gas from shale formations.

RUSSELL GOLD:

You have this amazing irony of this huge hurricane, this climate event, causing natural gas prices to go up.

FEMALE REPORTER:

Do you have a figure or an estimate of how high we might see natural gas prices go?

MALE VOICE [on phone]:

We’ve seen prices double over the last couple of years, and then with Hurricane Katrina prices have doubled yet again.

RUSSELL GOLD:

All of a sudden these companies are saying, "Wow, we're getting huge profits." The climate crisis was creating a huge market boom, which was being solved by people going out and drilling more natural gas, which was feeding into the climate crisis. It was a self-contained cycle.

NARRATOR:

Wall Street took note. Over the next several years, investors would begin pumping billions of dollars into companies with fracking operations.

Russell Gold covered the boom for The Wall Street Journal and worked with us on this film.

RUSSELL GOLD:

Most people in the oil and gas industry, most reporters like myself that were covering it, thought that oil and gas in the United States was over. We had found all the good reserves, we had drilled all the big wells. But shale changed all that. It was unexpected. It was dramatic. And it was lubricated by billions and billions of dollars coming out of Wall Street.

American Clean Skies Foundation promotional video

AUBREY McCLENDON:

[Archive] Thanks to record-breaking U.S. production, natural gas will continue to be a bargain. At Chesapeake Energy we explore for American natural gas exclusively.

NARRATOR:

No one would be more responsible for driving the fracking boom than Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy.

DENISE BODE, CEO, American Clean Skies Foundation, 2007-08:

Aubrey McClendon was a great visionary. He was a bigger-than-life individual.

Congressional hearing, 2008

AUBREY McCLENDON:

If there's one message I’d like to effectively communicate today, it’s that America is at the beginning of a great natural gas boom, and this boom can largely—

DENISE BODE:

He believed that natural gas was the fuel of the future. He called it that all the time.

AUBREY McCLENDON:

The technological breakthrough that we have developed in finding gas from shales changes everything about what you think about natural gas scarcity in America.

NARRATOR:

With the growing awareness about fossil fuels’ effect on the climate, McClendon believed that natural gas, which releases less CO2 than oil or coal when burned, could be marketed as part of the solution.

DENISE BODE:

He said, “What do you think? Do we need an association or an organization just focused on the gas opportunities out there?" So we started the Clean Skies Foundation. It was just doing everything we possibly could to get out the message.

American Clean Skies Foundation promotional video

FEMALE VOICE:

What if America had its own clean energy, abundant and available for the next century or more? And possibly indefinitely?

RUSSELL GOLD:

The fossil fuel industry tries to make this argument that we can be part of the solution.

FEMALE VOICE:

A world of good.

RUSSELL GOLD:

We can be a force for good on climate. That we’ll go out and we'll drill the natural gas, which is going to help us lower our emissions.

FEMALE VOICE:

Doing a world of good for our economy, energy security and our irreplaceable planet Earth.

NARRATOR:

At the time, most of the country’s power was generated by coal. McClendon saw an opportunity to position natural gas as a clean alternative.

RUSSELL GOLD:

He starts courting probably the most prominent environmentalist in the country, Carl Pope at the Sierra Club.

CARL POPE, Exec. Director, Sierra Club, 1992-2010:

We were working with Chesapeake to kill coal, and they were providing us with financial support. I think it was quite clear that Chesapeake’s objective was to build markets for natural gas at the expense of coal. The concept that we were trying to convey was to say eventually we have to be off all fossil fuels, but we have to get off coal first, oil second and gas third.

[Archive] So we have the opportunity to replace a very dirty fossil fuel, coal, with a much cleaner fossil fuel, natural gas, for the next 20 or 30 years, and that’s going to make it even cheaper to decarbonize our economy.

MALE REPORTER:

Now, you're a major environmentalist—

NARRATOR:

With the Sierra Club behind him, McClendon had laid out a powerful marketing strategy for natural gas—a strategy that would be embraced by Exxon Mobil.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

X certainly marks the spot. Exxon Mobil announcing it is buying XTO Energy, and it's a $41 billion deal, including some debt.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Exxon Mobil is making a bet here on natural gas.

XTO promotional video

NARRATOR:

In 2010, Exxon Mobil purchased fracking company XTO for $41 billion. Overnight, it had become America’s largest natural gas producer. But inside the company, some engineers were concerned about the sudden move into fracking.

DAR-LON CHANG, Mechanical engineer, Exxon Mobil, 2003-19:

Exxon Mobil felt that they had to get into the shale gas game in order for Wall Street to see them as a growth prospect.

NARRATOR:

Dar-Lon Chang had joined Exxon Mobil after getting his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. He worked on conventional natural gas projects abroad before becoming part of the company’s fracking push in the U.S.

DAR-LON CHANG:

My peers, when they were recruiting me, they told me that Exxon Mobil was going to be part of the energy transition over my career. They talked about the excitement of having gas be a bridge fuel to the future of energy.

Exxon Mobil ad

FEMALE SPEAKER:

I think one of the biggest challenges that the world is facing today is to develop all the energy we need in an environmentally friendly way.

DAR-LON CHANG:

The fact that natural gas was much cleaner-burning than coal, that it produced half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, those were very appealing to me.

NARRATOR:

But Chang knew that the methane in natural gas had the potential to do significant damage if allowed to leak into the atmosphere.

DAR-LON CHANG:

Natural gas is primarily methane, and methane, when it's leaked out into the atmosphere, can have orders of magnitude more global warming impact than carbon dioxide.

NARRATOR:

Chang worried that the thousands of new, lightly regulated fracking operations in the U.S. could be leaking massive amounts of methane and turbocharge the climate crisis.

DAR-LON CHANG:

Shale gas was like the Wild West. There was already a perception that these smaller operators were not acting responsibly with the shale gas wells. I already felt that having many methane gas wells was a ticking time bomb for methane gas leaks. The more engineering infrastructure, the more wells and the more pipes, the more potential there is for leakage.

When they were marketing natural gas as clean energy, they didn't really know what they were talking about because they were fixated on the idea that natural gas, when burned, produces half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. But without measurement devices to verify that you're not significantly leaking, you can't be sure that your natural gas is actually giving you less of a global warming impact than coal.

The industry was not monitoring methane leakage, so they did not have data about how much was leaking. And there wasn't much appetite from management to measure methane leakage, because if they found out there was a problem, they would have to do something about it.

NARRATOR:

At the time, Exxon Mobil and others in the industry said they were working to reduce methane emissions, which were already within limits set by the EPA.

But on the ground, some in the environmental community were witnessing widespread leaks.

SHARON WILSON:

I am hunting for methane that is escaping from oil and gas facilities, because that’s what I do. I'm a methane hunter.

NARRATOR:

Sharon Wilson worked at an environmental watchdog group in Texas documenting methane emissions.

SHARON WILSON:

All of these pieces of equipment have got leaks. There’s a lot of methane going off the flare. This is just a really, really dirty site.

This is an optical gas imaging camera, and it makes the invisible methane and volatile organic compounds from oil and gas facilities, it makes those visible.

These emissions, what's coming out of oil and gas sites, the fact that it's invisible has helped them be able to expand and helped them maintain that narrative of being clean when that is not the case.

The tanks are venting.

NARRATOR:

Wilson traveled the country, gathering evidence of methane leaks at fracking sites—including Exxon Mobil wells.

SHARON WILSON:

We need to move about where that telephone pole is.

NARRATOR:

She’d send her findings to regulators and the press.

SHARON WILSON:

It's just disbelief that you can show someone video after video, proof after proof after proof, and they still do nothing. I sure can't compete with the oil and gas industry PR budget that they use to pump propaganda at us.

That tank is emitting a lot of methane.

I'm showing their dirty secrets that can't be seen without this optical gas imaging camera.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil would not grant us any interviews. In a statement, it said it has been an industry leader in the effort to reduce methane emissions and has been advancing technology to detect leaks.

As Sharon Wilson was sounding the alarm, a growing number of scientists were waking up to the dangers of methane—including the man who'd helped pioneer the process of fracking.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

I became very much more concerned about climate change when I realized what shale gas and oil was going to unleash. That’s the right word, "unleash"—this is trite, unleash a tsunami of oil and gas. Yes [laughs], that’s what it did.

That's when I started feeling contradictory regret and pride. [Laughs] Pride that we had done good engineering work to help somebody eventually figure out how to do it, regret that we had helped somebody figure out how to do it. [Laughs]

By going to shale, we're going to prolong the fossil fuel industry, and by prolonging the fossil fuel industry, we're going to exacerbate climate change.

NARRATOR:

By now, Tony Ingraffea was a civil engineering professor at Cornell University and had spent years advising oil and gas companies. In 2011, he and colleagues published a critical report on the climate impact of fracking.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

What Bob Howarth and I locked on to was this very crucial point, which is it's not just CO2 that's driving climate change. It's also methane. The paper said the climate impact of shale gas is such that it's worse than coal, worse than oil. And the reaction to the paper was disturbing. I had never been a co-author of a paper that created a political firestorm.

NARRATOR:

The criticism came from many sides, including the National Academy of Sciences and the leading industry group, America's Natural Gas Alliance. They claimed the report had overestimated the level of methane leaks and overstated methane's impact as a greenhouse gas.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

At first we were pilloried, then we were ignored. We had to endure a lot of personal attacks, for no good reason. I can understand people saying to me, “You’re a traitor. You took their money for 25 years, you did their research and now you're saying 'stop.'” Yeah, OK, I am.

NARRATOR:

Criticism of the Cornell report also came from another academic institution: MIT’s influential Energy Initiative, which had just published its own report promoting natural gas as a bridge to get away from burning coal and a way to reduce CO2 emissions.

PROF. ERNEST MONIZ, Founding Director, MIT Energy Initiative:

Methane emissions are a very important greenhouse gas that needs to be addressed. It’s just that methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are actually a minority of methane emissions. There are some very, very tough problems: agriculture, dairy farms—enormous methane emitters. Fortunately, in contrast to carbon dioxide, methane has a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere. That doesn't mean one should ignore it. It means that one better eliminate new emissions.

NARRATOR:

Ernest Moniz led MIT’s Future of Natural Gas study, which said the Cornell work was based on "unsubstantiated" estimates.

Moniz would not talk about it in our interview. Nor would he answer questions about the funding for the study, other than to say it was "transparent."

ERNEST MONIZ:

The point is, we always believe in transparency, and so that’s—yeah.

NARRATOR:

The MIT report’s major sponsor was Aubrey McClendon’s American Clean Skies Foundation.

DENISE BODE:

We really wanted MIT in particular, because they had been the authoritative source testifying before Congress on all these other energy. And we thought we want the gold standard. And we said we believe this is the next big thing.

NARRATOR:

Denise Bode was on the advisory committee for the MIT study.

DENISE BODE:

We made our case that it was a valid emerging issue that they could add credibility to, and then they accepted it.

NARRATOR:

Bolstered by the MIT study, the industry narrative on natural gas would take hold in Washington.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, Speaker of the House:

I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the president of the United States. [Applause]

NARRATOR:

It became part of President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, where he unveiled his ambitious new energy policy.

BARACK OBAMA:

This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.

NARRATOR:

He would push for investments in renewable energy. But he also doubled down on oil and natural gas.

BARACK OBAMA:

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. [Applause] And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.

HEATHER ZICHAL, Obama adviser on climate & energy, 2009-13:

Natural gas, from an economic perspective, the costs that were passed on consumers in terms of lower energy bills was a net plus. And then we saw that fitting squarely in the climate agenda.

IVAN PENN:

Renewables weren’t quite there yet. The nuclear projects were just proving to be too expensive. And natural gas could provide continuous 24-hour generation.

BARACK OBAMA:

Thank you. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

RUSSELL GOLD, The Wall Street Journal, 2000-21:

We became an oil and gas country. It affected our politics, it affected our economy and it begins to really affect how we look at the world, the United States looks at the world.

NARRATOR:

The U.S. had become the largest producer of natural gas in the world, helping spark a decline in CO2 emissions, even as studies were piling up showing a dangerous rise in methane emissions.

HEATHER ZICHAL:

Doing something for the first time, taking advantage of this new resource, you don't always know what you don't know. And over time, what we learned about methane emissions, as it relates to natural gas, is very, very scary.

NARRATOR:

Heather Zichal would go on to advise the natural gas industry, then lobby for renewables.

HEATHER ZICHAL:

I think the Obama administration tried to be very conscious of everything, all the implications of the shale revolution. But at the time, I think, early Obama administration years, we didn't have access to the kinds of information that we would have liked to and needed to have had to take the proper regulatory steps to ensure as safe and climate-friendly production as possible.

NARRATOR:

At MIT, Ernest Moniz says they’ve also learned a lot since their early research.

GESBEEN MOHAMMAD, Producer:

Were you aware how large the methane leaks could be or would be when producing natural gas?

ERNEST MONIZ:

No, I think it's come much more into focus recently. We were concerned about leaks, but I think the quantitative scale of the issue has become more clear in recent years with better measurement devices, including atmospheric measurements, which are now becoming much more commonplace.

NARRATOR:

Moniz would become energy secretary in Barack Obama’s second term, where he helped advocate for the natural gas boom. But by then natural gas had lost its support from the Sierra Club and Carl Pope, who had allowed the group to take millions of dollars from Chesapeake Energy.

CARL POPE:

The natural gas industry—excuse me, the gas industry—but you know, they've trained me to call it the natural gas industry. Nothing natural about it.

I didn't understand how strong they were. I thought the big player was oil; I thought gas was kind of a junior cousin. Gas turns out to have an awful lot of political strength. And Americans had been more fully sold on the myth that gas was green.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Firefighters are worried that a deadly Southern California wildfire could continue to spread this afternoon.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Nine major wildfires that are burning right now across the state of California.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

2012 is shaping up to be one of the worst fire seasons on record.

RUSSELL GOLD:

By the second term of the Obama administration, his administration was starting to get more serious about climate. You know, if sort of it's climate versus energy production, he's starting to lean more on climate.

MALE PROTESTER:

President Obama, do the right thing!

NARRATOR:

There had been mounting public pressure to take on the industry—

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the pipeline! Yes, we can!

RUSSELL GOLD:

There really was a multipronged attack on the oil and gas industry, but specifically at this fundamental nature of the oil and gas industry.

CROWD [chanting]:

Stop the pipeline!

RUSSELL GOLD:

You’ve been around for a long time, but your products are problematic and you’ve known that they’ve been problematic. You don’t deserve to continue operating in the long term.

NARRATOR:

Obama would begin a major climate push that would lead to the historic Paris Agreement in 2015.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

In Paris this morning, a potential landmark deal is being revealed on climate change.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The first global agreement to limit carbon emissions.

NARRATOR:

Under the binding international treaty, countries pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Paris Agreement is adopted.

BARACK OBAMA:

I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.

NARRATOR:

Back at home, the Obama administration was already taking steps to meet the treaty’s obligations, proposing new climate regulations, including limits on methane gas emissions. He was pursuing a major plan to move away from fossil fuels like coal and promote renewables like wind and solar. It was called the Clean Power Plan.

IVAN PENN:

President Obama's Clean Power Plan. The idea was that by 2030, could reduce the carbon emissions by 32% compared to 2005 levels. That was an ambitious, ambitious effort.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil and others in the fossil fuel industry had publicly come out in support of the Paris Agreement. But almost immediately, Obama’s new climate agenda came under attack from Republicans around the country.

SCOTT PRUITT, AG, Oklahoma:

He declared a war on fossil fuels. He's all about an anti-fossil fuel strategy to shut down coal generation and fossil fuel generation and the generation of electricity, and you should be very concerned about that, because what is it going to be replaced with? If it’s renewables, wind, the cost of that is going to be insurmountable for this country. And I’m so thankful that we have attorneys general across this country who have been on the front line holding the president accountable as he’s acted in that fashion.

Republican Attorneys General Assn. video

LUTHER STRANGE, AG, Alabama:

It may be the most critical time in our nation’s history to have a group of conservative, rule-of-law, Republican attorneys general in office.

SCOTT PRUITT:

These issues matter—

NARRATOR:

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt rallied a coalition of like-minded Republican AGs.

ALAN WILSON, AG, South Carolina:

—whether it involves fighting the EPA, fighting the National Labor Relations Board, combating—

NARRATOR:

The coalition was backed by coal, oil and natural gas companies and their allies, including Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries.

PAM BONDI, AG, Florida:

We are pro-business. We believe—

RUSSELL GOLD:

The oil and gas industry, they shifted into counterattack. They were not going to let someone else run the narrative, so they fought back with tooth and nail.

DEREK SCHMIDT, AG, Kansas:

Every Republican attorney general matters, but as a group—

NARRATOR:

The attorneys general sued the administration, claiming the federal government was overstepping its authority and infringing on states' rights.

MALE SPEAKER:

In my state, I’ve filed 30 different lawsuits against EPA. Almost every one of those has been in concert, in collaboration with the other attorneys general.

NARRATOR:

They argued that methane emissions from oil and gas had actually been going down in the U.S., even though numerous studies showed them rising.

JACK GERARD, President and CEO, American Petroleum Institute:

[Archive] Natural gas is a key opportunity to further improve environment. Methane emissions are down in the United States, yet they're pursuing a methane regulatory regime. Why do we need to go out and regulate it even more than it already is?

SHARON WILSON:

The industry came out fighting those methane regulations like crazy. They said that they didn't need rules. They could do this voluntarily.

I'm going to just set up here.

They were marketing natural gas as part of the climate solution. All the while, I was collecting more and more evidence out on the ground, out in the middle of it, of these horrible, horrible emissions. I went to D.C. more than once and testified for the Obama rules. The industry was saying one thing, and I was presenting this evidence that showed that what they were saying was not true. It was never true.

NARRATOR:

The industry was also going after another key part of Obama’s agenda: the push to support renewable energy sources.

PATRICK WOODSON, Renewable energy entrepreneur:

We were going gangbusters trying to put as many products on the ground as possible. It seemed like the greatest time to be in renewables.

NARRATOR:

Patrick Woodson had been building wind farms across the U.S. for years with bipartisan support.

PATRICK WOODSON:

Both parties were talking about how great wind was and how great renewables were. Then you started to see the political camps shift, and all of a sudden, Democrats became for renewable expansion and many Republicans became against.

NARRATOR:

Obama’s Clean Power Plan was giving wind and solar a financial boost against less-expensive fossil fuels like natural gas. It would cause a long-lasting backlash.

Texas Public Policy Foundation ad

MALE SPEAKER:

The false promise of renewable energy in Texas is taking billions of dollars from consumers and taxpayers. More than $13 billion of your money is being diverted to government-subsidized wind farms.

PATRICK WOODSON:

There started to emerge national opposition to projects.

MALE SPEAKER:

—negatively impacting property values and the environment while at the same time—

PATRICK WOODSON:

Groups were banding together that were funded in large part by certain members of the oil and gas community.

All of a sudden you realize there was a playbook now. They generally would start with the idea that the turbines were too noisy, that they were eyesores. Eventually, if they couldn't get traction with those arguments, they would move on to "they're dangerous, they cause disease, there's not a study behind them." Mostly there were efforts to derail local permitting. Ultimately, they would also try and put roadblocks in to how you built them—create distance barriers or noise barriers or other things to make it harder to put projects together.

BARACK OBAMA:

When you start seeing massive lobbying efforts backed by fossil fuel interests or conservative think tanks or the Koch brothers pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that's a problem.

NARRATOR:

Charles Koch has said he was not trying to prevent clean energy from succeeding and he was “all for” any kind of energy business that could succeed in the marketplace.

Exxon Mobil did not respond to questions about its support for the Republican AGs that opposed the Clean Power Plan but said it backs a variety of organizations that “promote sound public policy.”

Obama’s Clean Power Plan would get stalled in the legal fight with the attorneys general, and his presidency would end with his climate agenda in peril.

MALE SPEAKER:

The 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. [Applause]

NARRATOR:

The next president would finish it off.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We will determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Mr. Trump, who once called global warming a hoax, signed a sweeping executive order this week calling for regulators to rewrite President Obama’s climate change policies.

NARRATOR:

Two months after he became president, Donald Trump joined Scott Pruitt, his pick to head the EPA, to kill President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

PATRICK WOODSON:

Trump immediately scrapped that plan, so that dampened any growth that would have come from that effort. We had to sort of go on the defensive again. Trump’s vocal opposition to renewables and lack of faith in science and technology were big concerns for a number of us.

SCOTT PRUITT, Administrator, EPA:

[Archive] There's been a change of direction. The president has sent a very clear message that the last eight years, where we had to choose between jobs and the environment, those days are over. The war on coal ended. The war on fossil fuels ended.

MALE TALK SHOW HOST:

All right. Scott Pruitt, thank you very much.

SCOTT PRUITT:

It's good to see you. Likewise.

FEMALE TALK SHOW HOST:

Thank you so much.

RUSSELL GOLD:

And you look at the Trump administration, who they brought in. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon. Heading up Department of Energy, Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas. There were a lot of friends of the oil and gas industry that went to Washington, D.C., with the Trump administration.

DONALD TRUMP:

And how about these Democrats. They want to get rid of oil, they want to get rid of natural gas. They want to go to wind. "Darling, I just can’t watch the show tonight. The wind, it just stopped blowing."

NARRATOR:

Trump attempted to roll back the Obama climate agenda. His administration delayed or repealed more than two dozen environmental rules and regulations, including those on methane emissions.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A reversal of tougher Obama-era standards for rules on greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A plan that would dramatically weaken pollution limits on coal-fired power plants.

MALE NEWSREADER:

New rules making it easier for oil and gas companies to release methane.

NARRATOR:

Pressure on the industry eased off even more when President Trump pulled out of the Paris Agreement.

DONALD TRUMP:

We withdrew from the one-sided, horrible, horrible, economically unfair, close your businesses down within three years, don’t frack, don’t drill, we don’t want any energy—the horrible Paris climate accord that killed American jobs and shielded foreign polluters.

IVAN PENN:

To pull out raises a question of where does the whole effort to reduce emissions go?

RUSSELL GOLD, Senior editor, Texas Monthly:

That sent a clear message, globally, that the United States was not going to play a role as a leader on climate. Those were very good years for the oil and gas industry in the United States.

DONALD TRUMP:

The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.

NARRATOR:

The industry’s success would continue into a new presidential administration—

PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN:

We've won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket.

NARRATOR:

—despite growing pressure to move away from fossil fuels.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Plans have been unveiled to rewire the global financial sector—450 firms and financial institutions which control $130 trillion have pledged to stop investing in fossil fuels.

NARRATOR:

And despite demands for accountability.

MAURA HEALEY, AG, Massachusetts:

Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable.

NARRATOR:

Across the country, attorneys general—this time Democrats—have been filing lawsuits against Exxon Mobil and other companies.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The Minnesota attorney general is suing big oil companies, claiming they lied to Minnesota consumers about climate change.

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil has fought back, claiming the litigation is “politically motivated” and “without merit.”

But the pressure is continuing in the courts and now in Congress.

MALE NEWSREADER:

—a hearing on Capitol Hill today, the CEOs of the world's biggest oil companies—Shell, Exxon, Chevron and BP.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

A landmark hearing that puts a spotlight on the role fossil fuels have played in accelerating climate change.

MALE NEWSREADER:

Apparent knowledge of it, disinformation, misinformation.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY, D-New York:

The committee will come to order. This is a historic hearing. For far too long, Big Oil has escaped accountability for its central role—

NARRATOR:

In October 2021, top oil executives were questioned under oath about the industry’s long history of casting doubt on fossil fuel-driven climate change.

REP. RO KHANNA, D-California:

We won't solve the climate crisis unless we solve the misinformation crisis.

CAROLYN MALONEY:

I now recognize Mr. Khanna, who is the chairman of the subcommittee on the environment.

RO KHANNA:

[Archive] Thank you, Madam Chair. First let me thank—

We initiated the investigation to find out what the misinformation was. What these companies knew, when they knew it. And it marks the beginning of scrutiny on them. They've been able to avoid it, duck it, not have to deal with it. And now they’re realizing they’re not going to get away with this.

[Archive] What do you have to say to America's children born into a burning world? Find it in yourself today to tell the truth. It will be better for your companies’ futures, and it will be better for humanity's future.

DARREN WOODS, Chairman and CEO, Exxon Mobil:

My name is Darren Woods. I'm the chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. Exxon Mobil provides an essential component of modern society: affordable, reliable and abundant energy. Exxon Mobil has long recognized that climate change is real and poses serious risks, but there are no easy answers. Exxon Mobil is committed to being part of the solution.

RUSSELL GOLD:

It was nice political theater. The Democrats calling the big oil and gas companies before them, question them about their history with climate, what they're doing right now.

RO KHANNA:

[Archive] I don’t even want to argue that, Mr. Woods. I don’t even want to argue that. Can you just acknowledge that it was a mistake?

DARREN WOODS:

I don't think it's fair to judge something—

RUSSELL GOLD:

I'm sure Darren Woods, the CEO of Exxon, doesn't like to be called before Congress and yelled at and berated, but I also don't think he's losing sleep over it. If he is losing sleep, he's probably losing sleep over whether his investors really want to stick with Exxon over the long term and whether they have a plan to make money in a world where maybe oil and gas is a declining source of energy.

DARREN WOODS:

We launched a low carbon solutions business to commercialize carbon capture and other technologies.

NARRATOR:

In his testimony, Woods touted Exxon Mobil’s investment in technology to reduce CO2 emissions.

Exxon Mobil ad

FEMALE VOICE:

Carbon capture and storage can remove more than 90% of CO2 emissions from these carbon-intensive—

NARRATOR:

Exxon Mobil has announced plans to spend billions on technology that captures CO2 and stores it in the ground. Just as the industry did with natural gas years before, they’re promoting it as a climate solution.

PROF. CHARLES HARVEY, MIT:

It's not at all surprising that fossil fuel companies would promote ideas and policies that enable the continued use of fossil fuel so that they can sell these fossil fuels.

NARRATOR:

Charles Harvey is an expert on carbon storage and was a scientific adviser to a carbon storage company. He calls the industry’s current carbon capture push a “false solution” because it is diverting needed investment away from renewable energy sources.

CHARLES HARVEY:

There's sort of a happy story here that carbon capture and sequestration is a way to reduce emissions and keep our existing fossil fuel companies going. But it's not actually the direction to go. It's sort of the easy direction to propose to go, but it's not the direction to go to actually stop climate change or prevent global warming.

MALE NEWSREADER:

A dire warning and a stark reality.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

There's really one key message that emerges: We are out of time.

MALE VOICE:

Drive, bro!

MALE NEWSREADER:

Atmospheric methane is skyrocketing.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

The International Energy Agency says the world needs to stop drilling for oil and gas to save the planet.

NARRATOR:

The warnings about climate change are at their most intense ever. But the industry is now raising its own intense warnings—about the perils of moving away from fossil fuels.

CHARIF SOUKI, Exec. chairman, Tellurian:

Everybody's saying that we need to be conscious about climate. Yeah, I agree. But there's consequences to actions.

NARRATOR:

Charif Souki is one of the titans of the natural gas export business in the U.S.

CHARIF SOUKI:

I think we're dealing with a world where we've decided to make the hydrocarbon industry the enemy, because we've convinced ourselves that we must decarbonize.

NARRATOR:

His company, along with Exxon Mobil and others, are embarking on massive natural gas expansion projects.

CHARIF SOUKI:

We’ll be able to produce over 20% of the world market.

Nobody has been confronted with what the cost of this energy transition is. You still need to increase energy by 50% in order to satisfy the aspiration of 90% of the world. Eighty-five percent of the world's energy is hydrocarbons. There is no realistic way by which you can say we're going to eliminate hydrocarbons out of the energy mix. Renewables is about 5%. So before it becomes a significant piece of the energy mix, it's going to take decades. It's not going to happen overnight.

NARRATOR:

And unpredictable world events—like the war in Ukraine—make it even harder.

MALE NEWSREADER:

As a global energy crisis emerges, exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine—

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Oil prices have been significantly impacted by the war in the last few weeks.

MALE NEWSREADER:

The economic toll on Americans only getting worse.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

President Biden is acutely aware of this. He has said he will do everything he can.

NARRATOR:

In his 2022 State of the Union address, President Biden outlined his response to the new energy crisis.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

Tonight, I can announce the United States has worked with 30 other countries to release 60 million barrels of oil from reserves around the world. [Applause] America will lead that effort, releasing 30 million barrels of our own Strategic Petroleum Reserve. And we stand ready to do more if necessary, united with our allies.

NARRATOR:

At the same time, the president is pursuing a climate agenda more aggressive than any of his predecessors, pushing the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050—a goal known as "net zero."

RUSSELL GOLD:

The irony of a climate president and presidents who are pushing for more climate action is that we all want a clean climate, but what we want more than that is to be able to fill up our cars below $4 a gallon. And when prices start to creep up, people get unhappy.

The way I think about it is that we're still very much in the fossil fuel age. As much as they talk an aspirational game about net zero by 2030 or 2040, we're not there yet. And a lot can get in the way. As we sit here in 2022, we still need oil.

PATRICK WOODSON:

I'm terrified that we're not going to do nearly enough, fast enough. The clock is ticking. It's been ticking for some time. I'm not terribly optimistic that America is going to get its act together in a way that's going to allow us to make a meaningful difference.

TONY INGRAFFEA:

I'm worried we wasted the decade, and now we're playing catch-up.

What climate change means to me is looking in the eyes of my grandchildren and wondering what kind of hell they're going to pay.

1h 48m
4108_SG_017
Global Spyware Scandal: Exposing Pegasus
In a two-part documentary, FRONTLINE and Forbidden Films explore how the powerful spyware Pegasus, sold to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group, was used on journalists, activists, the wife and fiancée of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and others.
January 3, 2023