Everybody hates Big Oil
Governor Kasich may not know about fossil fuel industry climate deception, but the majority of the American public does—and they want justice.
Today’s newsletter features exclusive polling from our friends at Data for Progress, “the think tank for the future of progressivism.” Do you have questions about the climate crisis you’d like to see polling on? Email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org
Big Oil’s worst summer ever
Climate activists protest on the first day of the Exxon Mobil trial on October 22, 2019 in New York City. Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images.
It’s been a depressing summer. But climate activists have seen some bright spots.
This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported that student climate activists are enjoying mounting success in their campaigns to get universities to divest from fossil fuels. This comes on the heels of recent back-to-back-to-back wins against three multibillion-dollar pipeline projects: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Keystone XL Pipeline.
These recent climate successes represent “the latest blow to big oil companies, which are already reeling from a price crash and a broad effort to move toward low-carbon technologies,” the WSJ reports.
No blow to Big Oil would be greater, however, than a court ruling holding those companies financially liable for knowingly spreading disinformation about climate change, and profiting off its destructive impacts.
Climate activists would love to see that happen. And it turns out, so would the majority of the American public.
Everybody loves accountability
According to polling done for HEATED and released by Data for Progress today, 59 percent of likely voters support holding fossil fuel corporations accountable for “misleading the public about the science and impacts of climate change.”
Specifically, those voters say they either strongly support or somewhat support the idea that “fossil fuel corporations should be held responsible and pay damages for their deception and the harms caused by climate change.”
Data For Progress’s poll was prompted by recent lawsuits launched by the attorney generals of Washington, D.C. and Minnesota against corporations like Exxon and Koch Industries—the latest in a series of legal challenges seeking to make fossil fuel companies pay for the climate crisis.
The group surveyed 1,303 likely voters across the country using web panel respondents from July 2 to July 3, and weighted participants to be representative by age, gender, education, race, and voting history. The margin of error is +/- 2.7 percent
Democrats and Republicans support oil company accountability
Perhaps the most surprising part about today’s poll is that support for oil company accountability cuts across party lines.
Democrats obviously support the lawsuits the most (72 percent), followed by Independents and third party voters (55 percent). But Republican support for the lawsuits is also greater than Republican opposition. Forty-six percent of Republicans support holding oil companies responsible for climate impacts and science deception, while 38 percent oppose it.
Who are these 48 percent of Republicans who support the lawsuits, though? I asked Data for Progress to break out the data on Republicans to find out.
Turns out, Republicans under the age of 45 supported the lawsuits much more than Republicans over the age of 45.
Specifically, 61 percent of Republicans under the age of 45 agree that fossil fuel corporations should be should be held responsible and pay damages for their deception and the harms caused by climate change. Meanwhile, only 39 percent of Republicans above the age of 45 agree.
This jives pretty well with what we talked about in yesterday’s newsletter, re: the generational divide among Republicans on climate change.
According to the Pew Research Center, the widest generational gaps of understanding on climate issues are among Republicans, with young Republicans generally understanding and supporting the need for rapid action, and older Republicans not understanding or supporting it.
That could perhaps explain why Republican former Ohio Governor Kasich claimed to be unaware of the fossil fuel industry’s role spreading disinformation about climate science.
However, according to Data for Progress’s poll, there isn’t a significant age gap when it comes to knowledge about the lawsuits. Only 16 percent of Republicans didn’t know enough to answer the question, and 17 percent of Republicans over 45 didn’t know enough.
There’s still a lot of work to be done
Although there is widespread support for climate lawsuits against fossil fuel companies, Data for Progress’s poll also shows that too many people still have no idea what these lawsuits even are.
In other words, there are a lot of John Kasichs out there.
The results show that 17 percent of likely voters didn’t know enough about fossil fuel industry deception and climate impacts to answer the question. Nearly a quarter of independent and third party voters didn’t know enough about fossil fuel industry deception and climate impacts to answer the question.
Think about how much your understanding of the climate crisis shifted once you learned about the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign to deceive the public about climate change—a crisis their products primarily cause. Think about how angry it made you, once you realized that the climate crisis wasn’t happening because we all failed as individuals, but because a few very rich people decided that they would rather preserve their profits than a livable planet for future generations.
Remember: oil companies thrive on public support. That’s why Shell left a climate denier group earlier this year—part of its “strategic ambition to have a strong societal license to operate and strengthening the support of society for what we do.”
If everyone were equipped with this basic information about oil companies’ climate deceit, and how that deceit caused decades of policy delay, I’m willing to bet that public support for accountability measures would be even stronger. Nothing could ruin Big Oil’s summer more than that.
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