ExxonMobil boss Darren Woods slammed for blaming climate crisis on consumers

The boss of ExxonMobil, Darren Woods.
The boss of ExxonMobil, Darren Woods. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Climate experts are slamming the boss of ExxonMobil after he suggested the public is to blame for the world failing to meet its climate goals.

Chief executive Darren Woods made the comments in an interview with Fortune published this week, arguing oil companies aren't primarily responsible for climate change. 

Woods also claimed the world "waited too long" to develop renewable energy technologies, while defending his company's tiny investment in the sector - adding unproven carbon capture and expensive hydrogen fuels should instead be the focus. 

ExxonMobil is among the world's top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. 

The world was "not on the path" to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, said Woods in the Fortune interview. 

He said transitioning to clean energy may be too pricey for consumers. 

"The dirty secret nobody talks about is how much all this is going to cost and who's willing to pay for it?" 

'You make decisions that matter'

Scientists and climate policy experts have since roundly rejected Woods' comments. 

"It's like a drug lord blaming everyone but himself for drug problems," said climate economist Gernot Wagner, of Columbia Business School. 

Wagner said ExxonMobil isn't just at the "mercy" of markets but it shapes them. 

"You’re the chief executive of the largest publicly traded oil company, you have influence, you make decisions that matter." 

In the past decade, internal documents and analyses have shown ExxonMobil knew about the dangers of growing greenhouse gas emissions since about the 1970s. 

But the oil giant ran campaigns to cast doubt on climate science - and prevented efforts to slash fossil fuel use. 

Robert Brulle, environment policy expert at Brown University, said the company is trying to "whitewash their own history" and cover it up. 

"This is what they do: they're going to basically blame the victim, the American public." 

Most of ExxonMobil's investments are still going towards expanding oil and gas, Brulle said. 

"They spend billions trying to influence public opinion but we're supposed to foot the bill for the damage." 

A 2021 study showed ExxonMobil had minimised its role in the climate crisis for decades and a 2023 study proved its own scientists correctly predicted how climate change would progress. 

But those scientists also spent years casting doubt on climate science. 

"The playbook is this: sell consumers a product that you know is dangerous, while publicly denying or downplaying those dangers," said Naomi Oreskes, study co-author and historian at Harvard University. 

"For decades, they told us that... science was too uncertain to justify action, that it was premature to act," she said. 

ExxonMobil tries to hush investors

The interview with Woods comes as ExxonMobil tries to hush activist investors. 

In January, the oil giant filed a lawsuit in Texas to stop investors from voting on a climate resolution. 

The resolution, brought by a Dutch investor group, called on the company to slash its carbon emissions. 

But Woods said those shareholders were trying to stop ExxonMobil's core business of selling fossil fuels - but it's not going to happen. 

"We want to cater to the shareholders who are real investors, who have an interest in seeing this company succeed in generating return on their investments," he told Fortune.  

Woods has been chief executive of ExxonMobil since 2017. 

The oil giant raked in a profit of US$36 billion last year.