The Villain: Oil Companies’
Stranglehold on Democracy

"Oil companies are using billions of dollars to rig the system against clean energy solutions. We need to break their stranglehold on our democracy and put people, not oil companies, back in charge."

Value: Accountability


- Hot Fact -

A broad coalition of community groups in Washington State put an initiative on the 2018 ballot to put a fee on carbon pollution and invest the proceeds in climate solutions, like wind, solar, and healthy forests. Multinational, out-of-state fossil fuel industry companies contributed over $31 million to defeat it.(xxiii)


  • Newly uncovered internal documents reveal that Exxon knew about climate change as early as 1981, yet spent millions over the next 27 years promoting climate denial.(xiv)

  • Oil and coal companies have funded multi-million dollar campaigns to convince people that climate science is uncertain, even targeting teachers and schoolchildren with their misinformation.(ix)

  • Oil companies are attacking renewable energy in our own communities. Groups funded by oil and coal interests have tried to reverse renewable energy standards in at least 17 of the 29 states that have passed them.(x)

  • Two billionaires who have gotten rich off oil planned to spend nearly $900 million in the 2016 elections,(xi) and $400 million in the 2018 ones.(xii) To protect their own profits, they attack candidates who support clean energy.

  • Oil companies aren’t offering energy solutions that are safe for our communities, our drinking water, or our climate. Fracking is a more difficult, expensive and destructive way to extract oil and gas that pumps millions of gallons of water and toxic chemicals into the earth, often contaminates drinking water, and leaks methane into our air, which further disrupts our climate. And that’s all before we even burn the fossil fuel it extracts.(xiii)

Key Supporting Facts:

  • Emphasize the oil industry’s deceptive, coordinated, and well-funded campaigns. Describe efforts to mislead Americans on climate science and block clean energy solutions. Print and hold up the American Petroleum Institute’s memo outlining their Draft Global Climate Science Communications Plan. (Appendix C in “Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air.”)(ix)

  • Point out it’s the same strategy used to hide the truth about the risks of smoking. The fossil fuel industry has even hired some of the some of the exact same people used by the tobacco companies to argue that cigarettes weren’t dangerous.(ix)

  • Make it local. It’s not just happening in DC. They’ve attacked many states’ clean energy standards; targeted public school teachers and schoolchildren with misinformation, and even sponsored local events with kid radio stations to promote gas and oil drilling.(xv)

  • Use the . Remember to pivot to the other two points of the triangle.

Tips & Talking Points

  • It identifies the villain.

  • It explains mixed messages. On one hand, Americans hear climate change is an urgent problem. On the other, they see little being done about it. Now they can understand that progress has been slow because big oil and coal have thrown up many roadblocks to progress.

  • It counters the argument that people’s behaviors are primarily to blame for climate change. Individual decisions matter, but people need practical options and choices. Oil and coal companies have blocked clean energy policies and solutions by intentionally confusing Americans about the climate problem. They’ve tried to rob us of our ability to protect our kids.

  • It fits with current attitudes. Americans are fed up with corporate interests writing the rules in Washington, DC so they can extract greater profits at the expense of our middle class, economy, and communities.

Why It’s Powerful: