A puzzled Stoat asks what's the big deal and what's new about revelations that Exxon picked up on climate change issues back in 1981 while funding climate deniers for many years after.
I'll note by response that first those are two separate questions - even if you think it's not particularly news, that doesn't eliminate the problem for Exxon
The real issue as I see it is if Exxon has been trying to spread messages it knows aren't true - that's called fraud, and that's what got the tobacco companies in trouble. Paying someone to commit your fraud for you is no magic shield from liability.
There's this quote at Stoat (but not by Stoat):
Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question ‐ legitimately, in my opinion ‐ the validity of some of the science…Well, I'm not sure that's an accurate statement, but again it doesn't matter too much if you're using someone else to do your denial for you.
Proving to a judge and jury that's what Exxon did isn't necessarily simple though. It's not Exxon speaking directly, so you'd have to show that Exxon is promoting that speech. Funding climate-denying politicians could just be because Exxon likes their bold stances in favor of motherhood and apple pie. Climate-denying non-profits that exist to do little else could be more problematic. Being able to subpoena documents could really clear this stuff up in terms of nailing down what the motivation was.
Via the Ubiquitous John Mashey, I see Scripps did a forum on the tobacco/climate connection from a few years back. I'm going to have to look at it in depth, but there's this:
A key breakthrough in the public and legal case for tobacco control came when internal documents came to light showing the tobacco industry had knowingly misled the public. Similar documents may well exist in the vaults of the fossil fuel industry and their trade associations and front groups, and there are many possible approaches to unearthing them.We might have the first stage of this internal documentation with the latest info on what Exxon knew in 1981. Maybe we'll find out more.