Climate activist Bill McKibben has already written editorials about recent revelations that ExxonMobil had deep knowledge of climate change as far back as the 1970s. He had taken to social media to spread the word. But last week, he felt that wasn’t enough and decided to protest and get himself arrested at an ExxonMobil station in Burlington, Vt.
That’s how angry McKibben was that the energy giant had known for four decades that burning fossil fuels was changing the earth’s climate—and then chose to ignore it and fund efforts to deny it.
The findings were reported in two separate investigations by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times into how much Exxon knew about climate change and when.
The stories “change the accepted narrative of the fight I’ve spent almost my whole adult life engaged in,” McKibben, co-founder of the environmental organization 350.org, told InsideClimate News the day after his arrest. “Had Exxon been forthright in the late 80s or early 90s, they could have short-circuited the faux debate we’ve been engaged in all these decades. They were the ones that had the unique credibility to do it.”
Holding a sign that read “This pump temporarily closed because ExxonMobil lied about (#Exxonknew) climate,” McKibben was arrested by Burlington police for trespassing. He was released later in the day.
The green leader said he hoped his action would inspire people—including his approximately 165,000 Twitter followers—to read the two investigations. Whether it will also encourage others to undertake similar civil disobedience remains to be seen.
“I started my life as a newspaperman and it never occurred to me I’d be getting arrested to get people to read someone else’s story, but the level of clutter in our information world is so great that sometimes it takes novel measures to break through,” he said.
McKibben has written editorials about the stories in The New Yorker and The Guardian.
Besides McKibben’s arrest, the stories have led to a growing cry for the justice department to investigate whether ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies intentionally misled the American public on climate change—similar to the probe into the tobacco industry in the 1990s. Two California congressmen called for a federal investigation on Friday.
An online petition by the political advocacy group ClimateHawks Vote to “prosecute Exxon for deliberate climate denial” has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures.