Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held hearings on the role of oil companies in fostering our present climate crisis. The companies led by these executives have a long history of playing down the risks of climate change, leading a number of House Democrats to suggest that this hearing could be the equivalent of the 1994 hearings with tobacco executives, in which the executives denied well-established scientific data on the addictiveness of nicotine.
But that expectation was doomed to disappointment. Oil companies, after all, had already demonstrated that they are happy to accept the science of climate change when under oath; they just tend to spin the details of their own role in influencing public perceptions of that science. Congress was treated to a repeat performance of that sort that neatly avoided the kind of catastrophic failure in public perception that the tobacco company executives produced.
However, the hearing did manage to highlight the gap between what many companies are saying now and the reality of what society has determined it needs to accomplish. What follows is less a recap of the testimony and more of an analysis of how the companies’ spin brought them to their current circumstances—and where they’ll go from here.