The climate deception dossiers: internal fossil fuel industry memos reveal decades of corporate disinformation

Fossil fuels Climate change Coal Mineral industries

This report presents seven “deception dossiers”—collections containing some 85 internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. While many of these documents have been analyzed by others (Oreskes 2011; Oreskes and Conway 2010; Gelbspan 1998), these dossiers offer the most complete and up-to-date collection yet available.

Excerpts of the documents are provided in the report’s appendices; the complete dossiers—totaling some 336 pages— are available online. Each collection of internal documents reviewed here reveals a separate glimpse of a coordinated campaign underwritten by the world’s major fossil fuel companies and their allies to spread climate misinformation and block climate action. The campaign began decades ago and continues today. The fossil fuel industry—like the tobacco industry before it—is noteworthy for its use of active, intentional disinformation and deception to support its political aims and maintain its lucrative profits.

The following case studies show that:

  • Fossil fuel companies have intentionally spread climate disinformation for decades. The roots of the fossil fuel companies’ deception and disinformation run deep. Internal documents dating back to the early 1990s show a series of carefully planned campaigns of deception organized by companies and by trade groups representing the industry. As the scientific evidence concerning climate change became clear, some of the world’s largest carbon producers—including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and Shell—developed or participated in campaigns to deliberately sow confusion and block policies designed to reduce the heat-trapping emissions that cause global warming.
  • Fossil fuel company leaders knew that their products were harmful to people and the planet but still chose to actively deceive the public and deny this harm. The letters, memos, and reports in the dossiers show that company executives have known for at least two decades that their products—coal, oil, and natural gas—cause harm to people and the climate.
  • The campaign of deception continues today. With documents made public as recently as 2014 and 2015, the evidence is clear that a campaign of deception about global warming continues to the present. Today, most major fossil fuel companies acknowledge the main findings of climate science. Many even say they support policies to cut emissions. And yet, some of these same companies continue to support groups that spread misinformation designed to deceive the public about climate science and climate policy.
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