Information has recently surfaced about Exxon-Mobil’s willingness to sacrifice humanity’s long-term survival for short-term profits. The first warnings came in the late 1970s from one of the company’s own scientists. For the next four decades, Exxon worked tirelessly to cover it up, confuse the issue, and deny it altogether.

In July of 1977, senior Exxon scientist James Black gave a presentation before company executives titled “The Greenhouse Effect.”  In a summary, Black warned:

The earth’s atmosphere presently contains about 330 ppm of CO2. This gas does not absorb an appreciable amount of the incoming solar energy but it can absorb and return part of the infrared radiation which the earth radiates toward space. CO2, therefore, contributes to warming the lower atmosphere by what has been ca1led the Greenhouse Effect.

Black noted that “in 2075 A.D., CO2 concentration will peak at a level about twice what could be considered normal.”  He also accurately predicted the effects on the Arctic: “It seems like1y that any general temperature increase would be accentuated ln the polar regions, possibly as much as two or three-fold.” At the time, Black warned that, based on the knowledge available at the time, humankind would have “a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

When Exxon began to further its own research into the matter, its main concern was not the effect of fossil fuels on the planet, but rather the dangers to its own profits. In the late 1980s, Exxon put its resources into manufacturing doubt, suppressing scientific data, and giving out misinformation. In the 1990s, scientists confirmed James Black’s findings, and even concluded possible scenarios were more alarming than what he had predicted. Instead of taking or promoting action, however, Exxon did just the opposite. The company established the “Global Climate Coalition,” an oil industry organization dedicated to preventing government action on fossil fuel emission control. Exxon also worked with the American Petroleum Institute on propaganda campaigns designed to create doubt about the effects of fossil fuels on the world’s climate.

Today, we are witnessing the consequences of Exxon-Mobil’s focus on short-term profits over our collective survival. Michael Mann, who heads up Pennsylvania State University’s Earth System Science Center, told Inside Climate News:

All it would’ve taken is for one prominent fossil fuel CEO to know this was about more than just shareholder profits, and a question about our legacy…But now, because of the cost of inaction – what I call the ‘procrastination penalty’ – we face a far more uphill battle.

That “uphill battle” will cost millions of lives and trillions of dollars. As a corporate “person,” Exxon-Mobil should by rights face criminal charges of depraved indifference, deadly assault, and attempted mass murder – and put on trial. If found guilty, Exxon-Mobil should face the death penalty – by being put out of business, its assets forfeited to United States taxpayers.

Sadly, as we know, Corporate Personhood confers human privileges, but not human accountability.

Watch Thom Hartmann address the issue whether Climate Change Deniers should be imprisoned:

Read more about Exxon-Mobil’s 40-year efforts to destroy the planet in order to maximize revenues at

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.