Exxon Mobil Australia tweeted a message to “Stay safe and have fun this new year” on Wednesday, prompting international backlash as people pointed out how the oil giant has contributed to the climate crisis exacerbating the deadly wildfires in Australia.
As fires burned in almost every state and territory of Australia, with a disaster zone declared in the state of Victoria on Thursday and a seven-day state of emergency announced in New South Wales, social media users and politicians mocked and berated the fossil fuel company for its tone-deaf tweet.
New Year’s in Australia was anything but safe or fun.
Thousands of people in a Victoria coastal town rang in 2020 wearing gas masks and damp towels as they spent New Year’s Eve stranded on Mallacoota Beach, preparing to escape into the ocean as an inferno approached. At least 17 people have been confirmed dead this fire season, and many more are unaccounted for. Ecologists estimate that almost half a billion Australian animals have died since September.
Air quality in some parts of the country, including major cities, breached hazardous levels repeatedly in the weeks leading to the new year. In the nation’s capital, Canberra, the air quality index was more than 22 times the hazardous rating as residents awoke on New Year’s Day.
While Exxon Mobil claims to be “at the forefront of climate research” and says it’s “committed” to reducing emissions, the company went to court in New York this year over accusations that it waged a decadeslong campaign of deception against investors and the American public about climate change.
Scientists at Harvard, George Mason and Bristol universities released a report last October detailing the fossil fuel industry’s orchestrated campaign to derail public understanding of the climate crisis.
“Exxon’s internal documents show that their own scientists were explicitly aware of the potential dangers of human-caused climate change caused by their products, but instead of taking action or warning the public, they spent millions of dollars on disinformation campaigns designed to obscure the scientific reality,” the report states.
In a 2019 report, the University of New South Wales found that out of Australia’s major carbon producers, Exxon Mobil ranked ninth in terms of emissions. The 10 largest Australian “carbon majors” produced the equivalent of about three-quarters of the emissions from global air traffic, or around 28 million flights, the report found.
Exxon Mobil Australia did not immediately return HuffPost’s request for comment.
A “postcard” highlighting the company’s ill-conceived tweet has appeared on Twitter.
U.S. politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) criticized the company.
“Australians can’t ‘stay safe and have fun,’ because their homes are on fire,” Sanders tweeted, pushing for a Green New Deal to hold fossil fuel executives accountable for the climate crisis.
Inslee, who ran for president on a message of fighting the climate crisis before dropping out of the Democratic race in August, slammed Exxon Mobil’s tweet as “unbelievable.”
“The country is on fire and big polluters like you fueled it,” he tweeted.
Many others chimed in with commentary on the company’s New Year’s message.