Big Oil vs. World producer: “ExxonMobil declined … all interviews” – Energy Voice | Region & Cash

On the second episode of BBC’s Big Oil vs. the World, which premiered Thursday, we spoke to producer Dan Edge and director Jane McMullen about the production, interviewee sourcing and industry resistance.

Last Thursday at 9pm the first episode of the BBC’s new documentary series on fossil fuels and their impact on the planet premiered. Last week’s edition told the “story of what the fossil fuel industry knew about climate change more than four decades ago.”

In a review of the first episode, Stuart Jeffries wrote for the Guardian: “If McMullen’s [the director of episode one – ‘Denial’] Film has a moral that says democracy must be sane enough to withstand commercial lobbying lest we be fooled again.”

Jeffries went on to rate the 60-minute episode four stars out of five.

Younger viewers will be shocked to discover that there are people who have been working to spread denial and doubt about climate change for decades

This week’s concurrent edition focuses on how the “oil industry continued to block action to combat climate change in the new millennium” as the scientific evidence of global warming mounted.

© Supplied by BBC – Jane McMullen
Big Oil vs. the World interviews Al Gore

What the producer and director of Big Oil v the World had to say:

Energy Voice spoke to Dan Edge, producer of Big Oil v the World, and Jane McMullen, director of episode one, Denial, about their experience working on the BBC’s latest documentary series:

Energy Voice (EV): What attracted you to the topic?

Episode 0ne Director Jane McMullen (JM): “As this week’s heatwave has shown, we are already living with the devastating effects of climate change.

“Communities around the world, from heat or flood-ravaged villages in the UK to hill towns in Northern California, where I spent time in 2019 documenting how a mega fire swept through the town of Paradise, killing 85 people, are already actively ravaged by weather events that will most likely become larger and more frequent due to climate change.

“It’s a subject I’m passionate about – it’s the most important issue we face and it’s vital that journalists communicate it with urgency and seriousness.

“So when I read that in the late 1970s and early 1980s Exxon scientists had studied climate change and forecast temperature rise with (it turned out) remarkable accuracy, but the company had funded a campaign of denial, I said I was genuinely shocked.

“I knew we needed to find out more about how and why this happened and tell the story in as much detail as possible.”

© Supplied by BBC – Jane McMullen
Exxonmobil Archives at the University of Texas, Austin

EV: How was the research process? (especially regarding the “thousands of newly discovered documents”)

JM: “We knew from the start that the investigation would be challenging.

“Many of the people involved in the early story are no longer alive, and others were unwilling to speak to us (ExxonMobil, the industry’s largest player, did not grant interviews, although they did give us an explanation).

“It was clear early on that it would take a tremendous amount of footwork and patience, digging through dusty basements and convincing individuals to trust us with their stories, and that progress would come in fits and starts.

“Ultimately, it took many months and involved zigzagging across the United States.

“It was exciting every time we discovered an important document or brought a new small detail into focus.”

© Supplied by BBC – Jane McMullen
DOP Mikon Haaksman films Exxon Historical Collection

EV: How accommodating were the former Exxon scientists when you spoke to them?

JM: “Unfortunately, many of the Exxon scientists involved in the climate research program are no longer alive.

“Others, particularly those who stayed with the company through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, declined several interview requests.

“The latter group’s experiences as the company’s position shifted from openness to public statements of denial are an important but previously untold part of the overall narrative, and I hope we can hear them one day.”

“The film could not have been made without Ed Garvey, Richard Werthamer and Martin Hoffert (who all appear in the documentary) and others we spoke to behind the camera.

“They generously gave us hours of their time, going through factual details and sharing their feelings.

“Her reflections on 40 years of climate inaction bring the film an emotional ending.

“Martin Hoffert, now in his mid-80s, says he tries not to show his feelings, but when pushed he admits he’s angry.

“Ed Garvey told us he was heartbroken at the missed opportunities: ‘It’s just wasted time and we’re going to pay for it.’ ”

Interview with scientist James Hansen © Supplied by BBC – Jane McMullen
Interview with scientist James Hansen

EV: When people started hearing about the show, did you get rejected by the energy industry?

Series Producer Dan Edge (DE): “A bit of a setback, yes. A few industry groups and energy groups were originally interested in speaking to us about their current efforts to reduce emissions or develop technologies such as carbon capture, interesting and important topics, but our focus was of course much broader.

“We were interested in charting the decades-long history of how the fossil fuel industry has responded to the threat of climate change; and much of that history revolves around the various ways in which industry has successfully fought legislation or initiatives to reduce emissions; and also confused the scientific picture.

“Not surprisingly, many in the oil industry don’t want to respond or be asked questions about it.

“After initial discussions with their media people, ExxonMobil declined to allow interviews with current executives or academics.

“They issued a statement that their ‘public statements on climate change are and always have been’ truthful, fact-based, transparent and consistent with contemporary understanding of mainstream science.”

“In the energy sector, we’ve been told time and time again that the world still needs fossil fuels to meet growing energy needs. And that’s absolutely true, of course, and that perspective is very strongly woven throughout the series.

“But what struck us in creating this series is that this conversation – the need to balance growing energy demands with the threat of climate change – was already being had more than 40 years ago. And it didn’t move very much.”

© Supplied by BBC – Jane McMullen
Jane films scientist Ben Santer

EV: What should people take away from the show?

EN: “The goal of this series was quite simple – to provide a definitive narrative record of how the fossil fuel industry has responded to climate change over the past forty years.

“Once viewers see the full story in chronological order, I’m sure they will form their own conclusions based on the evidence in front of them.

“I find it amazing that the series will be released this week when the UK temperature records have been broken.

“I imagine some younger viewers will be shocked to discover that there are people who have worked for decades to spread denial and doubt about climate change now that the catastrophic effects are so evident all around us.

“And I hope the series makes it clear that the transition to renewable energy, while complex and difficult, is nonetheless urgent.”

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