Exxon’s been funding astroturf and disinformation campaigns. They’re not big on level playing fields.
Britain’s leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.
In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.
The scientists also strongly criticise the company’s public statements on global warming, which they describe as “inaccurate and misleading”.
See how cheaply you can fund astroturf campaigns? To Exxon, $2.9m is practically small change.
In a letter earlier this month to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cites its own survey which found that ExxonMobil last year distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent the science of climate change.
At this point, no reputable climatologist would make such a statement. Anyone who holds that position is doing so as part of a PR campaign.
These include the International Policy Network, a thinktank with its HQ in London, and the George C Marshall Institute, which is based in Washington DC. In 2004, the institute jointly published a report with the UK group the Scientific Alliance which claimed that global temperature rises were not related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
“There is not a robust scientific basis for drawing definitive and objective conclusions about the effect of human influence on future climate,” it said.
Translation: Exxon is being given an opportunity to confess and do penance. You can read the entire letter here.
In the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes: “At our meeting in July … you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge.”
The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, adds: “I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public.”
This is the first time the society has written to a company to challenge its activities. The move reflects mounting concern about the activities of lobby groups that try to undermine the overwhelming scientific evidence that emissions are linked to climate change.Just in case you’ve missed it, here’s the straight dope:
1. Carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming. This is not in doubt.
2. Scary global climate changes have already begun.
3. However, there’s a surprisingly strong chance that prompt action now will start reversing the trend.
4. The alternative: if we don’t take action soon, we’re going to hit one of those fast-acting climate tipping-points that aren’t so easily reversible, and the results will be catastrophic.
5. Some of the unbelievably expensive results: a rise in sea level. Lots more hurricanes like Andrew and Katrina. Slowing down or stopping the Gulf Stream Current, which would trash Europe’s climate and agriculture for the next several centuries.
6. Various corporations which feel it would be inconvenient for them to have to deal with carbon dioxide emissions over the next few years have been funding disinformation campaigns which preach that global warming isn’t a problem.
7. Cost of disinformation campaigns: chump change, by corporate standards. Cost of dealing with carbon dioxide emissions: not exactly cheap, but can be done without severely damaging our economy or business interests. Cost of tipped-over climate changes: catastrophic. Incalculable. And it comes out of your pocket.
No one who knows anything about the subject honestly believes that increased carbon dioxide pollution is a good idea. These advertisements are the moral equivalent of the “studies” apologists used to write on behalf of the big tobacco companies, purporting to show that cigarettes don’t increase your risk of cancer.
The groups, such as the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose senior figures have described global warming as a myth, are expected to launch a renewed campaign ahead of a major new climate change report. The CEI responded to the recent release of Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, with adverts that welcomed increased carbon dioxide pollution.
What was previously predicted was already scary enough.
The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be published in February, is expected to say that climate change could drive the Earth’s temperatures higher than previously predicted.
This isn’t just another distinguished scientific organization decrying corporate irresponsibility. If any body can lay claim to having invented science, and defined what science is, it’s the Royal Society. What they’re doing with their letter is authoritatively denying the scientific legitimacy of Exxon’s position and its PR campaigns.
Mr Ward said: “It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can’t have people trying to undermine it.”
The Royal Society letter also takes issue with ExxonMobil’s own presentation of climate science. It strongly criticises the company’s “corporate citizenship reports”, which claim that “gaps in the scientific basis” make it very difficult to blame climate change on human activity. The letter says: “These statements are not consistent with the scientific literature. It is very difficult to reconcile the misrepresentations of climate change science in these documents with ExxonMobil’s claim to be an industry leader.”
For “least progressive,” read “dumbest.” It’s impossible for them to not know that the days of happy petroleum profits are coming to an end.
Environmentalists regard ExxonMobil as one of the least progressive oil companies because, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell, it has not invested heavily in alternative energy sources.
Exxon has replied with mindless and impenitent corporate-speak. We’ll have to see whether they ever wake up. In the meantime, huzzah for the Royal Society!
ExxonMobil said: “We can confirm that recently we received a letter from the Royal Society on the topic of climate change. Amongst other topics our Tomorrow’s Energy and Corporate Citizenship reports explain our views openly and honestly on climate change. We would refute any suggestion that our reports are inaccurate or misleading.” A spokesman added that ExxonMobil stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.