Blaming the individual user, rather than the producers, is a well-worn tactic of other industries with dangerous products, including tobacco and firearms. In the case of fossil fuel products, individualizing the responsibility for climate change obfuscates the responsibility of companies like Exxon — one of 20 companies responsible for one-third of energy-related global carbon emissions since 1965 — to extract fewer fossil fuels and shift to cleaner technologies. And according to Oreskes and Supran, not only has this messaging strategy allowed Exxon to “downplay its role in the climate crisis,” it also continues to be used “to undermine climate litigation, regulation, and activism.”
Shaming individuals has pretty much always been a part of the climate discourse. Political leaders focus on recycling and consumption of plastics, rather than banning production, and now “flight shame” has taken off as a way to discourage plane travel to tackle the rising footprint of transportation emissions.
But the more consequential implications for this research may be in the courts. Major oil companies like ExxonMobil are currently facing an onslaught of lawsuits around the world charging that they have broken the law by pushing misinformation and thwarting climate action. The Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School counted 884 climate cases in 2017 had doubled to 1,550 cases by 2020 in 38 countries (Exxon is not the only subject of all these lawsuits).Exxon oil company blames individuals for climate change, Harvard study finds – Vox