The role of the fossil fuel industry in causing, then thwarting efforts to address, climate change are revealed in the excellent three-part BBC documentary, Big Oil v the World.

The documentary shows how researchers at the US giant oil company Exxon (Esso here) found in the late 1970s early 1980s just how destructive their products could be. They knew then, from their own research, what would happen if things did not change.

But instead of sounding the alarm, the industry set off on a line of denial. It funded and promoted climate deniers against bona fide scientists. A big media disinformation campaign was launched.

Politicians who attempted to address the issue were thwarted and in a number of cases forced out of office.

Part of the success of this strategy saw the arrival of President Donald Trump. A free-for-all for oil and gas companies, while climate denial took on an almost religious fervour in parts of America.

Former vice president Al Gore describes what has gone on as tantamount to a war crime.

So much devastation that has been caused across the world could have been avoided if action had been taken earlier. Yet, whenever it looked like something was about to happen, under the Clinton administration, then briefly George Bush and finally Barack Obama, these powerful vested interests mobilised to ensure that it didn't.

Big Oil v the World shows the vulnerability of democracy, when powerful vested interest mobilise in such a way.

Court cases are now proceeding in the US against the companies for what they knew and what they did.

The Biden administration has just passed its huge programme to cut emissions, so there is hope.

But what we should be calling for is for these huge fossil fuel companies to pay for what needs to be done to address the crisis.

They willingly caused it, so why not the clear up? Huge reparations are due.

Getting these companies to pay will not be easy.

At one point in the 2000s, they mobilised against the providers of renewable energy.

It is also a sobering thought that despite the efforts being made to address the climate crisis, more oil and gas is now being produced than ever before.

There is a long way to go but everyone has a part to play in saving the planet.

*Big Oil v the World is on BBC iPlayer

  • Paul Donovan is a Redbridge Labour councillor for Wanstead village and blogger.