Climate protesters pour oil over them

Climate protesters pour oil over them as scuffles between police and protesters broke out with the use of tear gas during a demonstration on the outskirts of the Paris venue for TotalEnergies Annual General Meeting in Paris on May 26, 2023.

(Photo by Geoffroy Van der Hasselt/AFP via Getty Images)

Big Oil's Big Lies Are Catching Up With Them

The American public believes fossil fuel companies should pay for their deceit. Our job is to make sure they do.

For decades, the fossil fuel industry has misled the public about the climate impacts of its products. Internal documents prove companies like Exxon knew since the 1970s that burning oil and gas drives catastrophic global warming. Yet rather than warn society, they denied the science and obstructed climate action at every turn.

This corporate deception continues today, but the public is catching on in a big way. New polling from Data for Progress reveals 70% of Americans support making Big Oil pay for the climate damages their products have caused. With climate disasters growing in frequency and severity, people are fed up footing the bill for Big Oil's greed.

Such greed should disgust us all. But outrage alone achieves nothing.

Critically, the American public believes Big Oil should pay for their lies. The new polling reveals that 77% of Americans agree that if oil and gas companies misled the public about climate impacts, they should help cover resulting climate costs. This consensus crosses political divisions. Agreement spans 91% of Democrats, 75% of Independents, and 63% of Republicans—an exceptionally high level of bipartisan agreement.

The poll also shows a sharp rise in support for making polluters pay over time. Similar polls in 2021 and 2019 found roughly 60% and 57% of Americans backed accountability, respectively. In just a few short years, support for accountability has jumped nearly 20 percentage points. Now near three-quarters of Americans are in agreement around the belief that Big Oil should pay for the harms it sowed through decades of deception.

The costs of warming are no longer abstract statistics. They can be seen in the devastation of communities across America. In 2021 alone, extreme weather fueled by climate change inflicted over $165 billion in damages nationwide. Floods, wildfires and storms killed hundreds and displaced countless more. Low income and minority communities suffered most, abandoned by the very corporations who caused this crisis.

At the same time these climate impacts accelerate, the fossil fuel industry is raking in massive profits. Just last quarter, Chevron pocketed $11.2 billion and Exxon secured $19.7 billion. Rather than invest in renewables or pay for the harms they've caused, they’re doubling down on fossil fuels, scooping up sister-companies and stoking fears of monopolization in the public and leadership alike.

New lawsuits are seeking damages for Big Oil's climate deception, and they’re gaining traction.

By misleading the public on climate science for so long, the industry secured decades of unchecked emissions to swell its bottom line. But now, the deadly consequences of its lies are coming to bear. Record heat, drought and near-weekly hurricanes make clear we rapidly must transition from fossil fuels to avert utter climate catastrophe.

Such greed should disgust us all. But outrage alone achieves nothing. Accountability for Big Oil is long overdue – it’s time to Make Them Pay. Politicians for too long have enabled and protected these polluting companies. But new lawsuits are seeking damages for Big Oil's climate deception, and they’re gaining traction. As you read this, 1/4 of Americans are now represented in lawsuits against Big Oil for climate damages and fraud, with California becoming the latest and largest state to file suit.

The public correctly realizes these corporations should pay for the crisis they knowingly fueled. Our leaders must stand up to polluters and enact policies to rein in their abuses. A future free from fossil fuels is possible, and we now have the political will to make it happen.

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