In Satirical Ad, Exxon Admits to Gaslighting Public on Climate Change


In February, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods pointed a finger at the public for failing to solve the climate crisis — suggesting that consumers were to blame for the toxic carbon emissions produced by the oil giant.

“The dirty secret nobody talks about is how much all this is going to cost and who’s willing to pay for it,” he declared during an interview with Fortune. “The people who are generating those emissions need to be aware of and pay the price for generating those emissions. That is ultimately how you solve the problem.”

Woods, who has been at the helm of Exxon — one of the world’s top contributors to planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions — since 2017, faulted customers who weren’t willing to pay for the cost of cleaner fossil fuels. “When are people going to willing to pay for carbon reduction?” asked Woods. “We have opportunities to make fuels with lower carbon in it, but people aren’t willing to spend the money to do that.”

In response to the supreme gaslighting by the CEO, Hollywood director Adam McKay‘s team at Yellow Dot Studios hit back at America’s largest oil and gas company (and third largest by revenue). In a satirical video, idyllic images of unspoiled nature in harmony with humanity are contrasted with a biting “confession” of Exxon’s damaging impact on climate science and policy throughout more than half a century.

“There’s a world we all want to live in again, a world where the air is pure and crisp and clean and fills your lungs with joy,” the spoof begins, before declaring: “Here at Exxon, we believe in that world, and we’re working hard to make sure that our customers believe that we believe in that world.”

The ad takes a sinister turn, as the unseen voice (narrated by actor Ron Perlman), continues, “Sure, our own scientists accurately predicted catastrophic climate change 60 years ago, but we didn’t want you to know about it. That’s why we spent billions on ads and media manipulation, covering it up. Then we rigged the government so leaders in both parties would do our bidding.”

“Every now and then, you squawk about how evil we are, but then we drop gas prices at a nickel and you shut right back up,” the voice adds, before concluding: “We’re just one company, but you’re seven billion people, get off your asses and do something you fucking peasants. Exxon. Fuck me? Fuck you!”

Josh Olson, who wrote the spoof’s script, says he wanted to take Woods’ quote and “first get across the kind of contempt for people” it held, but also make the point that it’s up to the public to stand up against Big Oil because “sadly, just recycling plastic and paper isn’t the solution.”

He adds that those watching can “join into the chorus of other people doing the same thing and be louder to help make those voices heard, and to help encourage people to ask questions — to feel like they’re not alone in this stuff … It is going to take people standing up and putting themselves on the line to do something about this situation … The more people who are making noise together, the better.”

In a statement to Rolling Stone, McKay, who directed 2021’s Don’t Look Up, said, “It’s exciting to see a legendary actor like Ron Perlman and an Oscar-nominated writer, Josh Olson, team up to kick big oil in the teeth. More and more we’re seeing people in film, TV, and music start to wake up to how urgent climate breakdown is.”

This video’s release arrives alongside Yellow Dot Studios’ ongoing work with the Make Polluters Pay campaign, which works to hold Big Oil accountable for the costs of climate change, and as climate liability lawsuits have gained momentum across the country. In May, Vermont lawmakers passed a state law, the Climate Superfund Act, that will require oil and gas companies to pay for the costs of climate change. And just days ago, a lawsuit from the city of Boulder and Boulder County advanced towards a trial that will weigh if ExxonMobil and Suncor should pay the costs of climate-related disasters in the state — joining the growing movement of similar suits by state and local governments.

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In an interview with Rolling Stone earlier this year, McKay discussed climate activism and kick-starting real change to fight the climate crisis.

“The only thing that I’ve experienced that’s really moved the needle is old-fashioned, disruptive activism. I had an aha moment when I really got involved in it, because the second you look at history, the main ingredients of all huge change — whether it’s civil rights, independence, the labor movement — it’s always disruptive activism,” he said, later noting: “There will never be a success moment, but we just look at it like breadcrumbs. If they’re out there, there may be a moment where those breadcrumbs become kind of a meal. There’s plenty to be done, and our motto is ‘Constantly Onward.’”



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