Let’s make 350.org’s Bill McKibben proud

I got this email from Bill McKibben (350.org) last week, as some of you probably did, as well.

“Dear Friends,

Earlier this morning, leaders from a wide variety of environmental and civil rights groups sent a short letter Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asking for a federal investigation of the allegations that Exxon knew that climate change was real decades ago and lied about it.

This is rare and powerful unity—I don’t remember a moment like it since the first days of the Keystone fight, when the same wide spectrum of leaders wrote a very similar letter.

But encouraging as it is to see this solidarity, the reason for it makes me bitter. Ever since I read the first exposés of Exxon’s mendacity in Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, they’ve haunted me.

A corporation may never have done anything bigger and badder; just think how much would be different if Exxon had told the truth. We wouldn’t fully have solved global warming but we’d be well on the way—there would have been no 25 year phony pretend debate. There’d be a lot more solar panels, and a lot less carbon in the air. There’d be a lot more green jobs, and a lot fewer communities, most of them low income and communities of color, dealing with the terrible health impacts of pollution. None of you would have had to fight simply to get climate change taken seriously; instead we’d all be hard at work on solutions.1

I think we should be angry. I don’t think we should be cynical and say ‘of course they knew.’ This behavior should shock us—it’s shocking. So can you please join us in asking the federal government to investigate Exxon?

Click here to sign a petition to call on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil.

Maybe this will be enough to make sure this industry gets the treatment the tobacco industry got a generation ago. Or maybe Big Oil is so big (Exxon, after all, spent many years as the most profitable company on earth) that it will take more. I’ve already spent an afternoon in jail, charged with “unlawful trespass” at an ExxonMobil station; perhaps, like Keystone, more of us will need to go to jail. (Certainly no responsible person can any longer justify investing in Exxon—this is a potent reminder of why divestment is so key.)

At the very least, please don’t let this story die. If global warming is the biggest thing humans have ever done, then Exxon’s conduct is the single most shameful part of the whole sad story.

So please: sign onto our call to the Department of Justice. If only for the sake of history, let’s stand the hell up.

Bill McKibben for 350.org”


Bill McKibben is a smart man. He’s been at this for a while. Much longer than I have, which is only for a year, and he totally knows that the time, public sentiment, and the circumstances are right to significantly impact ExxonMobil’s, and by extension, the fossil fuel industry’s, business model. He also knows that, as the head of a large environmental movement, he’s been asking his followers to do stuff for years. Probably a lot of stuff, from donating to a cause, to writing letters, to showing up to protest. I’d bet $20 bucks that he thinks long and hard before each request he makes, not wanting to either fatigue or depress his readers.

I added my name to their petition, and I highly suggest that each and every one of you (who live in the US) do the same. 350.org has made it extremely easy to do so, and you’ll be done in less than 30 seconds. And those things matter, for sure. They matter “in bulk,” and they matter in more nuanced and general ways which are difficult to quantify. They are part of what has become a truly democratic process made entirely possible by a free internet. Now I’m going to ask for something a little different.

This will also take less than 30 seconds and it will be impactful on a different level. Why? Think about this: we’re all human (not sure about Dick Cheney). We respond in some pretty predictable ways to what goes on around us, thanks to shared evolutionary cues. Imagine that you are sitting at the US Department of Justice and you get an email from 350.org with a list of names numbering into the thousands (which is good!). You’re going to scroll down the document until you see the number of people who are pissed off about something. The letter they’ve all “signed onto” is the same letter, and you can pretty much guess after the first line or so what the point of it is. So you maybe read it through, in its entirety, once, then sum it up and put it into some appropriate category. Indeed, a valid, important, and yet entirely predictable point has been made.

What might stand out more? DOJ getting a shit ton of faxes that are all quite different but generally refer to the same thing (harder to quickly lump into one category, and each one has to be read). It could be problematic to get a bunch of people to fax something, right? Snail mail? The same problem, but that would also be a really good (and different) thing.

The easiest and quickest and most likely to be followed through next step is to send the Department of Justice an email. But not the same email. And I’m not talking about bombarding and harassing anyone over at Justice. They have recently been given more authority to proceed with criminal prosecution of corporate misdeeds. I have no idea if my emailing them about this same thing for the last 2½ years made a difference (related to fossil fuel industry’s environmental crimes) but I can’t help but think it didn’t hurt.

What I’m suggesting is a request to the Department of Justice asking for an entirely reasonable action be taken by a government that is supposed to be working for us. If Loretta Lynch and her department do not want to do this, they’ll find ways not to; however, if they think it has a chance of succeeding, they’ll be looking for cues and other support from wherever they can get it to proceed.

With that said, please send an email to this address: Press@usdoj.gov.

In the “Subject Line,” put something along the lines of “For Attorney General Loretta Lynch” and you can add that it’s related to ExxonMobil.

In the body of the email, all it has to be is a request that the Department of Justice open an investigation into ExxonMobil because they have been hiding what they knew about climate change for almost 40 years, while they funded climate change deniers, and acted on the “inside information” they had in their business dealings. If you want, you can throw in that it’s just like the what the tobacco industry did when they violated the RICO Act. Or any other commentary you wish. It doesn’t have to be long, and it shouldn’t have links to other articles or documents, because the DOJ server will delete links (they could be viruses).

If only 10 people write directly to the Department of Justice, that means something. If 100 do it, even better. This type of activism is sorely lacking in our society. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry is unrelenting in their advocacy of their dirty business. In a vacuum, it’s all our government can hear. Please help me make our voices, and our anger, heard, so that Bill McKibben doesn’t have to keep getting himself arrested. I’m afraid that people like him are the ones who are going to get burned out, and it’s really us who need him in this dog fight. It’s going to be a photo finish.

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