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The Role of ExxonMobil

ExxonMobil - Chicago, IL 08-12-2014 012 ExxonMobil operation near Chicago, IL, summer of 2014 - Richard Hurd

There are many groups which promote a different view from that of the IPCC and of the scientific community, and a number of these groups are commercially funded by energy companies and others with a strong commercial interest in denial.  One of the most important statements of the dangers of commercial sponsorship was made in a letter, addressed to ExxonMobil, by The Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific organization.  In this letter, dated 4th September 2006, Bob Ward for The Royal Society stated that on examining the websites of organizations listed in the ExxonMobil 2005 Worldwide Giving Report for ‘public information and policy research’, he found that 25 of the organizations listed offered views that are consistent with the scientific literature, but that, “some 39 organisations were featuring information on their websites that misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by conveying a misleading impression of the potential impacts of anthropogenic climate change.  My analysis indicates that ExxonMobil last year provided more than $2.9 million to organizations in the United States which misinformed the public about climate change through their websites.”[1]

ExxonMobil has since modified its position and has stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank that ran television ads in 2006 saying that carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, is helpful. It also stopped funding CEI and “five or six” other groups active in the global-warming debate, in financial year 2006.[2]  However a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (“U.C.S.”) called Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to “Manufacture Uncertainty”[3] on Climate Change described how ExxonMobil, like the tobacco industry in previous decades, had:

  • raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence
  • funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings
  • attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for “sound science” rather than business self-interest, and
  • used its access to the Bush administration to block U.S. federal policies and shape U.S. government communications on global warming.

According to the U.C.S. report, ExxonMobil provided nearly $16 million, between 1998 and 2005, to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that sought to confuse the public on global warming science.  The most interesting group to criticise ExxonMobil’s policies have been the Rockefeller family, the descendants of the company’s (it was originally Standard Oil) founder, John D Rockefeller.  Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, great-granddaughter of the founder, said that, “Part of John D Rockefeller’s genius was in recognising early the need and opportunity for a transition to a better, cheaper and cleaner fuel”, she added that Exxon was blinkered in its short-term pursuit of profits “from investments and decisions made many years ago, focusing on a narrow path that ignores the rapidly shifting energy landscape around the world, including developing nations”.[4]  Rockefeller family members reportedly backed resolutions at Exxon’s 2008 shareholder meeting which called on the company to fund research into how climate change will affect developing nations, they also demanded that ExxonMobil invest in alternative energy, and that it set public goals for reducing carbon emissions from its business.[5]

(c) Andrew Palmer, 2016, please do not reproduce without permission.

[1] http://royalsociety.org/displaypagedoc.asp?id=23780 Letter dated 4 September 2006

[2] Jeffrey Ball – “Exxon Mobil softens its climate-change stance”, Thursday, January 11, 2007 The Wall Street Journal

[3] http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/global_warming/exxon_report.pdf 3 Jan. 2007, The Union of Concerned Scientists.

[4] Stephen Foley in New York – “Rockefeller’s descendants tell Exxon to face the reality of climate change”, The Independent, London, Thursday, 1 May 2008

[5] Stephen Foley in New York – “Rockefeller’s descendants tell Exxon to face the reality of climate change”, The Independent, London, Thursday, 1 May 2008

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