Mighty Exxon Mobil now finds itself in federal court, finally being called to account for the true cost of the damage that its oil and gas operations are doing to our climate.
This lawsuit points out that it is easy to be exorbitantly profitable if you don't have to include your enormous pollution costs on your corporate books. Technically, the lawsuit charges that Exxon kept two sets of financial books—one acknowledging internally that its pollution was devastating our climate and would eventually cost both shareholders and taxpayers a fortune, and the other a rosy public presentation hiding those costs in order to puff up profits and claim that fossil fuels are more cost-effective than wind, solar and other clean energy sources.
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This blatant deceit has defrauded shareholders about the actual value of their investment, diverted public policy from non-polluting fuels and accelerated the radical impacts of climate change. While the lawsuit will largely focus on arcane aspects of securities law, it's fundamentally about corporate morality. As environmental activist Lee Wasserman recently put it, "we're victims of a small group of gargantuan companies that recklessly and deliberately ignored the implications of their own science and worked to deceive the public." Indeed, their recklessness continues—even though Exxon now admits the damage its products are causing, Wasserman notes that the behemoth "is planning to increase its oil output by 25 percent by 2025."
Of course, any monetary fine the corporation might have to pay will only be a tiny fraction of its yearly income, so that's not the real deterrent. Rather, the real punishment is that Exxon and its executives are finally being revealed as the same morally repugnant profiteers as the soulless tobacco industry has been.