Email from Bill McKibben: Take ExxonMobil to Task


Notice from "Prophet for the Poor" posted by on-ramp to I-405 Freway

Notice from “Prophet for the Poor” posted by on-ramp to I-405 Freway

Here in the middle of a hot, dry year in Southern California, it’s been hard not to notice how quickly the dominant rhetoric on climate change flipped from denial to despair. Climate denial has never been my thing, but despair lurks for all of us, and is the great enabler of apathy and cynicism.

When the LA Times broke the story this week about Exxon Mobil’s longstanding awareness, public denial, and willful acceleration of the climate crisis, my initial double reaction was “of course they knew” mixed with “so what?” Honestly, I expect nothing less.

This morning, though, I read the mass email I got from Bill McKibben of and felt ashamed of my response. I can’t find the email posted anywhere, so I’m going to post it here:

From:Bill McKibben – <>
Subject: I think we should be angry
Recieived: Today at 8:50 AM
To: Carla Blackmar

Dear Friends,

Earlier this morning, leaders from a wide variety of environmental and civil rights groups sent a short letter Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking for a federal investigation of the allegations that Exxon knew that climate change was real decades ago and lied about it.

This is rare and powerful unity—I don’t remember a moment like it since the first days of the Keystone fight, when the same wide spectrum of leaders wrote a very similar letter.

But encouraging as it is to see this solidarity, the reason for it makes me bitter. Ever since I read the first exposés of Exxon’s mendacity in Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, they’ve haunted me.

A corporation may never have done anything bigger and badder; just think how much would be different if Exxon had told the truth. We wouldn’t fully have solved global warming but we’d be well on the way—there would have been no 25 year phony pretend debate. There’d be a lot more solar panels, and a lot less carbon in the air. There’d be a lot more green jobs, and a lot fewer communities, most of them low income and communities of color, dealing with the terrible health impacts of pollution. None of you would have had to fight simply to get climate change taken seriously; instead we’d all be hard at work on solutions.1

I think we should be angry. I don’t think we should be cynical and say ‘of course they knew.’ This behavior should shock us—it’s shocking. So can you please join us in asking the federal government to investigate Exxon?

Click here to sign a petition to call on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil.

Maybe this will be enough to make sure this industry gets the treatment the tobacco industry got a generation ago. Or maybe Big Oil is so big (Exxon, after all, spent many years as the most profitable company on earth) that it will take more. I’ve already spent an afternoon in jail, charged with “unlawful trespass” at an ExxonMobil station; perhaps, like Keystone, more of us will need to go to jail. (Certainly no responsible person can any longer justify investing in Exxon—this is a potent reminder of why divestment is so key.)

At the very least, please don’t let this story die. If global warming is the biggest thing humans have ever done, then Exxon’s conduct is the single most shameful part of the whole sad story.

So please: sign onto our call to the Department of Justice. If only for the sake of history, let’s stand the hell up.

Bill McKibben for
1. “Imagine if Exxon had told the truth on climate change.” The Guardian.

I’m always amazed at my own conservative impulses. I tend, for example, to believe that we as Americans are collectively responsible for climate change (not that it is just the work of companies like Exxon Mobil). Because we are busy, and we are self-centered, and we are human animals, I work to forgive myself and everyone else for what we’ve done.

I think, however, that this story of Exxon Mobil crosses the line for me. They had time. They had money. They had intelligent people in their employ. And the more I think about it, the angrier I get. It is unforgivable, and I hope you will join me in shaking off the apathy on this one and at least signing the petition.

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