Did The Onion Predict the #ExxonKnew Campaign?

“We’re actually looking at a situation where a select group of individuals…are singlehandedly responsible for global warming and are refusing to do anything about it.”

Does this sound familiar? It’s not a quote from the latest environmentalist report blaming energy companies for global warming, nor is it an anti-fossil fuel activist blaming “Big Oil” for supposedly hiding climate change from the public. It’s actually a quote from The Onion, a satirical newspaper.

It turns out a 2013 article in The Onion inadvertently telegraphed how environmental groups would roll out ridiculous reports to accuse people they disagree with of knowing about global warming and doing nothing about it (see also: #ExxonKnew). The similarities between this parody article and the presumably serious recent campaign against “climate deniers” are both hilarious and terrifying.

The Onion‘s headline, “New Report Finds Climate Change Caused By 7 Billion Key Individuals,” makes the salient point – lost on environmental activists – that we’re all responsible for climate change merely by going about our daily lives:

Researchers have isolated numerous instances of environmentally harmful activity committed by these 7 billion perpetrators in the past few decades alone, identifying practices such as using electric lights, shipping packages, traveling by car, traveling by air, buying clothes, washing clothes, using heat, using air conditioning, buying food, buying water, eating meat, commuting to work, shopping, exercising at the gym, disposing of waste, operating computers, operating televisions, operating other household electronic appliances, and showering—alarming activities that experts say show no signs of remitting.

Meanwhile, the #ExxonKnew activists in particular have become a parody of themselves, accusing an ever-increasing number of companies and organizations of somehow knowing about climate change at a time when the public was apparently well-informed of the phenomenon. Even the environmentalists at Grist had to admit that “#EVERBODYKNEW” [sic].

Meanwhile, Bill McKibben likes to argue that if ExxonMobil had only talked more about climate change a few years ago we would have all gotten our act together and solved climate change by now (never mind that ExxonMobil was publishing peer-reviewed studies on climate change at that time). Here’s an example from a piece McKibben wrote for the Huffington Post last year:

And here’s the bottom line: had Exxon told the truth about what it knew back in 1990, we might not have wasted a quarter of a century in a phony debate about the science of climate change, nor would anyone have accused Exxon of being “alarmist.” We would simply have gotten to work.

That sounds a lot like what The Onion was parodying four years ago:

“Our research has proved conclusively that, year after year, the acceleration of the rate of global warming and the damage caused by this man-made acceleration can be clearly linked to 7 billion main culprits,” explained lead author Dr. John Bartlett, noting that many of these individuals have links to climate change going back nearly a century. “Worse, the significant majority of damage was done within the past two decades, when the consequences of climate change were widely known and yet these specific individuals did nothing to curb or amend their practices.” (emphasis added)

In late 2015, a post on Greenpeace’s website read: “Exxon Knew Climate Change Was Coming, but What Matters Is What Exxon Did.” The Union of Concerned Scientists said ExxonMobil and other energy companies “knew about global warming…and did worse than nothing.”

Jumping back to The Onion, fake researcher John Bartlett said:

“Now that we’ve done the hard work of identifying the key players responsible for this crisis, we can move forward with holding them accountable,” Bartlett added. “And it is my opinion that we need to regulate these individuals swiftly and decisively before they do any more damage.” (emphasis added)

The official #ExxonKnew campaign page says the company “knew about the threat of climate change decades ago” and “should be held accountable,” while also “calling for an immediate investigation.” In 2016, Sierra Club wrote that “we can and must hold ExxonMobil accountable for their deception” on climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a petition entitled “Hold ExxonMobil Accountable for Climate Deception.”

Meanwhile, Annie Leonard from Greenpeace wrote in 2015:

“[W]e need to turn that outrage into action to get governments and citizens to hold ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies legally accountable for the damage their activities have caused.” (emphasis added)

Bill McKibben called for more investigations of ExxonMobil, and more civil disobedience, because the company supposedly “is helping push the planet over the edge and into the biggest crisis in the entire span of the human story.” A California climate activist penned an op-ed calling for state Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate ExxonMobil, because “we should also lead the way in holding corporations accountable for the destruction they have done to our planet, our livelihood, and our health.”

Jumping back to the fictional activist in The Onion:

“Many of these offenders have of course pledged goals for fighting climate change and going green in their daily operations, but statistics show these proclamations have been largely ineffective and halfhearted at best.”

ExxonMobil supports a carbon tax, but in August 2016 the Union of Concerned Scientists accused the company of not doing enough to promote that policy. “Does ExxonMobil Really Support a Carbon Tax? Actions Speak Louder than Words,” the environmental group wrote. The activists at InsideClimate News similarly accused ExxonMobil of embracing the carbon tax only halfheartedly, saying the company “has never put its muscle behind a tax on carbon to confront global warming, though it claims to support the concept.” The ICN post was entitled: “Exxon’s Support of a Tax on Carbon: Rhetoric or Reality?

An article from The Onion, written four years ago but rediscovered recently amid coverage of the latest #ExxonKnew stunt, underscores how ridiculous the latest climate campaign against energy companies has become. It’s a campaign that belongs in the pages of a satirical newspaper, and the environmental activists – along with the pair of state attorneys general who embraced their theories and launched investigations of the company – are the only ones who can’t seem to understand that they are the joke.

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