Two-faced Exxon: the misinformation campaign against its own scientists

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Old 26 Nov 2015, 03:46 pm   #1 (permalink)
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Default Two-faced Exxon: the misinformation campaign against its own scientists

Two-faced Exxon: the misinformation campaign against its own scientists

100% global warming consensus in Exxon scientists' research contrasted its
$31,000,000 campaign to cast doubt on that consensus

Investigative journalism by Inside Climate News (ICN) into Exxon’s
internal documents revealed that the company was at the forefront of
climate research, warning of the dangers posed by human-caused global
warming from the late-1970s to the late-1980s. As Harvard climate
historian Naomi Oreskes noted,

; But Exxon was sending a different message, even though its own
evidence contradicted its public claim that the science was highly
uncertain and no one really knew whether the climate was changing or, if
it was changing, what was causing it … Journalists and scientists have
identified more than 30 different organizations funded by the company that
have worked to undermine the scientific message and prevent policy action
to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Exxon has responded to the ICN allegations by pointing out that over the
past three decades, the company’s scientists have continued to publish
peer-reviewed climate research.

; Our scientists have contributed climate research and related policy
analysis to more than 50 papers in peer-reviewed publications – all out in
the open. They’ve participated in the United Nations Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change since its inception – in 1988 – and were involved
in the National Academy of Sciences review of the third U.S. National
Climate Assessment Report.

; Finally, I’ll note that we have long – and publicly – supported a
revenue-neutral carbon tax as the most effective, transparent, and
efficient way for governments to send a signal to consumers and the
economy to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels.

While the ICN investigation focused on Exxon’s internal reports, Exxon’s
spokesman pointed to the peer-reviewed scientific research published by
the company’s scientists between 1983 and 2014 – 53 papers in all.
Exxon scientists’ 100% global warming consensus

I reviewed all 53 of the papers referenced by Exxon’s spokesman, and they
indeed consist of high-quality scientific research. Most of them
implicitly or explicitly endorsed the expert consensus on human-caused
global warming; none minimized or rejected it. This means that there is a
100% consensus on human-caused global warming among Exxon’s peer-reviewed
climate science research – even higher than the 97% consensus in the rest
of the peer-reviewed literature.

Of the 53 papers, 45 were co-authored by Haroon Kheshgi. I spoke to
several climate scientists who worked with him and all agree, Kheshgi is a
top-notch climate scientist, for example having constructively contributed
to the first IPCC reports that identified a human influence on global

Katharine Hayhoe, one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, did
a summer internship with Kheshgi at one of Exxon’s facilities as part of
her masters’ thesis research, and subsequently co-authored a number of
papers with him. Hayhoe described her experience with Kheshgi and Exxon,

; Haroon himself is an outstanding scientist - careful, detailed,
methodical, and committed to doing good science, just as we all are. In my
experience with Exxon and with Haroon, I never met a scientist who
expressed any opinions counter to those prevalent in the academic

Much of Exxon’s early research in the 1980s dealt with climate modeling,
for example projecting that the planet’s surface temperatures would warm
3–6°C above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. Their research has
often discussed the dangers associated with this degree of global warming,
and many studies published by Exxon scientists investigated the
possibility of mitigating climate change by sequestering carbon in the
deep ocean.

The peer-reviewed research published by Exxon’s climate scientists was
entirely in line with the expert consensus that humans are causing
potentially dangerous global warming, and that we need to explore ways to
mitigate the associated risks.
Exxon funded climate denial misinformation campaign

While Exxon’s own scientists and research were 100% aligned with the
expert consensus on human-caused global warming, the company
simultaneously funded a campaign to manufacture doubt about that
scientific consensus.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of
Science found that groups with funding from corporations like Exxon have
been particularly effective at polarizing and misinforming the public on
climate change. Since 1998, Exxon has given over $31 million to
organizations and individuals blocking solutions to climate change and
spreading misinformation to the public.

Exxon’s funding of the climate misinformation campaign may even have
extended further, as a former company executive told the Union of
Concerned Scientists (UCS),

; A former highly placed ExxonMobil executive who requested anonymity
told UCS that the company paid out as much as $10 million annually on what
insiders called “black ops” from 1998 through 2005, significantly more
than what UCS was able to pin down in its 2007 report from company tax

After pledging to stop funding these climate denial groups in 2007, Exxon
continued to give more than $2.3 million to the American Legislative
Exchange Council (Alec) and to members of Congress who denied the expert
climate consensus and acted to obstruct climate policies. Exxon also
funded outside scientists who published some of the 2–3% of shoddy
research that disputed the global warming consensus. For example, Exxon
and other fossil fuel companies together gave contrarian scientist Willie
Soon over $1 million in funding.
Exxon’s two faces

In short, Exxon’s own scientists have been publishing top-notch research
on the dangers of human-caused global warming for 35 years, but for the
past several decades, the company simultaneously engaged in a
multi-pronged campaign to cast doubt on the expert consensus of which its
own scientists were part.

Exxon funded outside scientists to publish shoddy research contradicting
that of its own scientists, funded think tanks and other organizations to
use that research to manufacture doubt about the consensus, and donated
money to politicians and Alec to obstruct efforts to pass critically
important climate legislation.

There is a sharp contrast between what Exxon knew and what Exxon did. As
Bill McKibben imagined, just think of how the world would be different if
Exxon had told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on
climate change.
Exxon under investigation

While Exxon has supported climate science and policy in public, the
company has engaged in a shadowy misinformation campaign behind the
scenes. As a result, there have been increasing calls for a civil
Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) investigation
into Exxon’s behavior.

Calls for such an investigation have been made by a number of climate
scientists, joined recently by a petition with 350,000 signatures.
Senators Whitehouse (D-RI), Blumenthal (D-CT), Warren (D-MA), and Markey
(D-MA) have also sent Exxon an inquiry letter asking whether it has funded
Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund, which funnels money to climate denial
organizations while concealing the identity of its donors.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has also subpoenaed
Exxon for documents spanning four decades of research findings and
communications about climate change. House Democrats have announced plans
for a broader probe into the fossil fuel industry to determine whether
other companies behaved in the same manner as Exxon, funding a denial
misinformation campaign after knowing the causes and risks associated with
climate change.

It appears that the only difference between the behavior of Exxon and the
tobacco industry is that cigarette companies didn’t publish their research
linking smoking and adverse health effects. Exxon’s scientists have
published research in scientific journals on the human causes and dangers
of global warming. However, in both cases, the industries funded an
extensive multi-pronged campaign to misinform the public about the expert
scientific consensus and the dangers associated with their products.

It remains to be seen whether the investigations into the actions of Exxon
and the rest of the fossil fuel industry will yield the same results as
the investigations into the tobacco industry racketeering.

"Slave owners were very good Christians and good people. They weren't terrible, rotten, horrible
people. And that's how I see gay people." -- Republican State Representative Paul Shepherd
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