The youth speak: It’s time oil companies were held accountable for their climate change lies

A gas flare from the Shell Chemical LP petroleum refinery illuminates the sky on Aug. 21, 2019 in Norco, Louisiana. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

We’re youth pushing for climate justice and a healthy future for everyone.

Scientists at leading fossil fuel companies have known for decades that their products caused climate change. But the evidence is clear that industry placed its own profits over our planet and has spent that time creating propaganda and promoting false information to benefit its bottom line and stop climate action.

We are two young people living through this worsening climate crisis. We want Big Oil to finally be held accountable for destroying our environment, and lying to the generations before us about climate change. Although we are scared for our future, we also want to acknowledge the valiant efforts of state and local officials across the country that are stepping up and taking Exxon and other fossil fuel companies to court to hold them accountable for their deception. We particularly want to applaud what Attorney General Ketih Ellison is doing in Minnesota to fight for justice by suing Exxon, the American Petroleum Institute (API), and Koch Industries for violating our state’s consumer protection laws.

These companies have been aware for decades about the harmful effects of their products and have been creating false marketing campaigns since the late 70s. In 1979, Henry Shaw, a scientist working for ExxonMobil, wrote a memo to his colleagues about fossil fuels leading to increased CO2 levels and urged the company to create an aggressive defense campaign against climate change research. Roughly 80% of ExxonMobil’s internal documents proved the actuality of climate change, but 81% of advertorials created by the industry showed suspicion of climate change’s existence, according to Minnesota’s lawsuit.

Besides demanding that they pay their fair share for the damage they caused, Ellison’s lawsuit calls on Exxon, Koch and API to fund fact-based public education on the climate crisis. This is extremely important for us because it assures future generations are taught science and not climate denial. With historic climate-driven wildfires, floods and superstorms engulfing the nation, that education is more vital than ever for students everywhere. But it’s important to acknowledge the knowledge we and generations before us have missed as a result of the Big Oil’s propaganda campaigns.

Today, climate change presents a catastrophic challenge to the world, yet the U.S. is poised to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord even as most countries are not on track for their climate goals. This is due in great part to the vicious, false marketing campaigns of ExxonMobil, API and Koch Industries. If in the 1990s — by which time these companies had been putting out false information for decades — we reduced carbon emissions 2% every year until the new millennium, we may have mitigated 2 degree celsius warming could have been mitigated. Now there is only a 5% chance that we could reach that goal today. Like climate scientist Michael Mann has said, “There’s a huge procrastination penalty when it comes to emitting carbon into the atmosphere.” Our generation will have to pay the penalty these industries forced on us.

Even as we view the future with trepidation, we’re trying to fight against what seems inevitable. We and many others in our generation are organizing to fight for climate justice. We are protesting against the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline, and for the use of renewable energy instead of natural gas. We lead workshops for our peers about climate justice and issues surrounding it in Minnesota. We have stepped up, and we hope the adults in power can too. There is a better future possible, but we all must come together to stop it. Climate change will push us all to adapt beyond what we thought possible.

In the end, we must have the hope possible to make a radically better future — a safe and healthy future for all people. Who will stand behind us?