Washington, D.C. – Over the last week, major oil corporations like Shell, BP, and ExxonMobil have all backed away from much-advertised climate commitments, validating what climate advocates have been saying for years: it was all greenwash to begin with. 

But while the backtracking may have been expected, it’s still consequential in a number of important ways. 

Jamie Henn, Director of Fossil Free Media, laid out the significance in a message on Friday: 

“Big Oil’s backtracking will solidify the public perception that these companies have always been lying about their climate commitments. Over the last decade, the industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to convince the public that they care about climate action because they know it’s essential to maintaining their social license. That con is now falling apart. 

This backtracking also validates what fossil fuel divestment activists have been saying for over a decade: these companies don’t have the commitment, or capability, to change. Wrecking the planet is their business model and they have no intention of giving it up. We can ‘engage’ these companies until we’re 20 feet underwater and they’ll still be lying about some distant net-zero commitment. It’s time to wake-up to that reality and replace our carrots with hard-hitting sticks, like divestment, regulations, and lawsuits. 

These admissions should turbocharge the lawsuits and investigations into Big Oil and their enablers. Last year, Big Oil CEOs testified under oath before the House Oversight Committee that they were 100% committed to their climate targets. They were lying. 

These announcements reveal that all these greenwashing campaigns by BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil were false advertising from the start. That doesn’t just implicate the companies, it implicates the PR and advertising companies that ran these campaigns. There’s no way that BBDO, for instance, really thought that Exxon was going to become an algae company. It was always a lie and they knew it from the start. They made those ads to mislead investors, confuse the public, and prevent meaningful regulations. If McKinsey can be sued for helping Purdue push opioids, I don’t see why these advertising agencies can’t be held accountable for helping Big Oil torch the planet.

This year has cleared the path for the next big push from the climate movement: making polluters pay for the damage they’ve done. Over the next few years, I think you’re going to see a tidal wave of lawsuits, campaigns, and investigations aimed at holding this industry accountable for their climate crimes. Big Oil is finally arriving at its Big Tobacco moment – and not a moment too soon.”