Over the decades, Exxon-Mobil, the largest oil company in the world, has brought us oil spills from Alaska to Nigeria, engaged in illegal bribes and dealings with foreign governments, and enabled human rights violators. Of course, this “Corporate Person” denies all of it – just as it has been denying the effects of its products on global climate change for the past thirty years. It was more than just denial: it was outright lies and deception, all in the name of preserving profits.

Those lies and deceptions have been going on for more than a generation – and it has put our entire planet at mortal risk.

This information has just come out, thanks to a former Exxon-Mobil chemical engineer and “climate expert.” In an email to Ohio University, Lenny Bernstein explained that his former employer originally started investigating climate change in 1981. Exxon’s interest was sparked by plans to develop natural gas fields in the South China Sea off the coast of Malaysia. The problem was that the gas from the Natuna Field contained a large amount of carbon dioxide, which had to be separated out and vented into the atmosphere.

In its decision not to start drilling operations at the time, Exxon acknowledged that the release of so much CO2 would have an environmental impact. However, their concern was not about how it might affect life on the planet. Rather, it was about government regulations that would potentially affect their profits. Bernstein hit the nail on the head in his email:

Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.

Over the decades, Exxon-Mobil has spent over $30 million funding “biostitutes” – scientists and think tanks whose job it is convince the public that global climate change was either not a problem, the result of natural processes, or “not supported” by scientific evidence.

In fact, although the general public has only been aware of global climate change since around 1988, scientists have been expressing concerns since the mid-1950s. In 1956, a scientist named Gilbert Plass published an article in American Scientist outlining the effects of carbon dioxide on climate and ocean acidification. By 1968, the scientific community began sounding the alarms about rising temperatures and how melting of the world’s glaciers would cause ocean levels to rise.

Lenny Bernstein’s recent revelations show that Exxon-Mobil and other fossil fuel producers have been aware of the dangers of climate change far longer than they admit. By denying the science, misleading the public, suppressing alternative energy technologies, blocking legislation and bribing governments, the gas and oil industries have caused environmental damage, death and injury around the world, putting our very survival at risk.

If that doesn’t constitute crimes against humanity, it’s difficult to know what does.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.