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What Exxon Mobil thought about climate change and what it told the public was entirely different, suggests a new report by researchers.

“Using social science methods," said Geoffrey Supran, co-author of the study "we found a gaping, systematic discrepancy between what Exxon said about climate change in private and academic circles, and what it said to the public.”

The report, which was published in 'Environmental Research Papers' was also co-authored by Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science and who has specialised in the energy and tobacco industries.

The report claims to have examined 200 documents, some relating to Exxon's own research, others to its public statements, including paid for advertorial.

It is important to emphasise that Exxon, which until it was surpassed by Apple was the world's largest company by market cap, has been scathing of the report. Scott Silvestri, a spokesman for Exxon, described the study as "inaccurate and preposterous” and suggested that the researchers were trying to attack the company’s reputation.

He added: "Our statements have been consistent with our understanding of climate science."

In his new movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, former US Vice President, Al Gore has accused vested interests of conducting a deliberate plan to sow confusion and cover up the threats of climate change.

Here is the confusion. There may be some doubt over the full ramifications of climate change, and while it may prove to be less dangerous than some fear, it may also prove to be much worse. Climate change denial is dangerous, for one reason because it is part of this phenomenon of putting facts to one side, ignoring experts, and putting bias, and indeed hope, above reality, but it is also dangerous because climate change has the potential to be truly cataclysmic, the more we prevaricate, the higher this risk. Why would anyone want to deliberately mislead the public? Do they not care about the world their grandchildren will inhabit?

BP was fined, and paid out in compensation, in excess of $50 billion for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But this event was minor, like an irritating fly before a swarm of locusts, compared to the threats of climate change.

Should fines be slapped on companies and indeed billionaire brothers if it can be shown for sure that there was deliberate manipulation of the truth to advance climate change denial? And what level should they be?

Then again, what fines have been dished out to tobacco firms to date?