Is Exxon backing away from climate change deniers?

Tue, 2008-05-27 10:51Page van der Linden
Page van der Linden's picture

Is Exxon backing away from climate change deniers?

Love on the rocks ?

Exxon Mobil Corp. has cut funding to groups raising questions about climate change from human-generated carbon dioxide, a move taken on the eve of its annual meeting in the face of criticism that the oil giant isn't as green as some of its rivals.

Spokesman Gantt Walton confirmed Tuesday that in 2008, Exxon Mobil (XOM) scrapped funding for the Capital Research Center, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute and the Institute for Energy Research.

“We discontinued contributions to several public-policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion about how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner,” Walton said.

On the surface, this looks somewhat promising, especially considering that Exxon cut funding to the notorious climate change skeptics at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) last year.

But a healthy dose of skepticism on our side is important. Let's dig below that glossy corporate surface and follow the money.

Last year, Greenpeace pointed out that although Exxon stopped its handouts to the CEI, it was still up to no good:

ExxonSecrets has obtained the company's Exxon Foundation 2005 report to the IRS. Exxon told the IRS that that it funded 14 groups specifically for their climate change work. But somehow the company didn’t mention this in public.

[Emphasis added.]

In addition to those 14 groups, Exxon was also still giving millions to other front groups that faithfully pump out global warming denier propaganda (pdf , pp. 10-15).

Finally, let's take a look at the groups most recently defunded, namely their key individuals and goals:

  1. The Capital Research Center aggressively monitors progressive advocacy groups (example here). One of their most recent publications regarding climate change is by the rather prolific denier Chris Horner, whose contributions to the National Review's “Planet Gore” blog speak for themselves. Horner is also listed by the Heartland Institute as one of their “global warming experts”, and has recently given talks for the conservative (Exxon-funded ) Heritage Foundation.
  2. The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow has an impressive list of high-profile global warming deniers on its Board of Advisors. Many, if not most of them, are also advisors to, or on the staff of, front groups that Exxon continues to fund (e.g. the American Enterprise Institute, the National Center for Policy Analysis, etc.)
  3. The Frontiers of Freedom Institute includes the Center for Science and Public Policy, whose extensive anti-climate science activities include a recent letter to President Bush co-signed by a long list of fellow climate change deniers from other front groups.
  4. The George C. Marshall Institute is noteworthy in that it has hosted many “roundtables” specifically for climate change deniers from other front groups (e.g. “Shattered Consensus”, a discussion including Patrick Michaels, Ross McKitrick, David Legates, and Oliver Frauenfeld).
  5. The Institute for Energy Research 's chairman is also a sort of clearinghouse for climate change deniers from other Exxon-funded front groups. As of the time of this post, the IER's list of Scholars includes experts from the American Enterprise Institute , the Cato Institute , and the Pacific Research Institute .

The point is this:

Although Exxon is no longer funding a handful of its climate change denier front groups, the key people in these groups are part of the entire Exxon front group network. It doesn't matter that one of their think tanks is losing funding, because they have their fingers in other oily pies, and can get their message out no matter what.

Exxon is obviously under pressure to catch up with reality; they no longer strictly deny climate change, but their tepid, equivocating language on their website leaves a lot to be desired.

As Cindy Baxter says in her post at Exxon Secrets, “it's a start “. She, like all of us in the real world would love to see Exxon stop funding all of its front groups, and not create more to take their place.

Perhaps the tiger will be out of the (think) tank for good someday.


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Previous Comments

Let’s hope ExxonMobil is indeed getting out of this, but it’s still hard to tell, because in at least 2 cases, there are other reasons to defund.

1) Frontiers of Freedom - ExxonMobil funded Robert Ferguson there, but last summer, Ferguson moved his efforts to SPPI, as recounted in Monckton article posted here at DeSmogBlog.

SPPI’s funding is unclear. Maybe EM’s funding moved there with Ferguson? Maybe some from Western Fuels Association? (Craig Idso is Chairman of SPPI). Maybe Heartland? Monckon? So far there is no clear evidence I can find.

2) George C. Marshall Institute
Last Quarter, both William Jastrow and Frederick Seitz died, so GMI’s “big 3” scientists are now all deceased.

Minor point: It was Robert Jastrow

It was not only made to Reuters, but printed in Exxon’s annual “Corporate Citizenship Report” which makes it all the more serious.

John: you’re totally right to be curious about Ferguson and the SPPI. A few years back Exxon set up the Frontiers for Freedom’s new “Centre for Science and Public Policy”. Exxon gave ‘em $100,000 seed money and then around $70,000 a year after that and it was headed by Ferguson, with help from Frontiers Paul Georgia, and their senior scientific advisor was Willie Soon.

Then suddenly, Ferguson/Soon disappeared from the CSPP and appeared at the SPPI, along with a whole bunch of others from different think tanks, very familiar to all of us. And the CSSP doesn’t seem to be very active at all.

Was FF trying to set up a group which couldn’t be publically tagged with Exxon money?

Only if the world comes to value ecological sustainability rather than the current industrial value system which emphasizes continuous economic growth and expansion to maximize profit. In other words - not very likely any time soon.

They are only just aligning their PR messaging to fit with the science they know they can’t deny anymore and are also distancing themselves from what the public is increasingly recognizing as a series of cheap publicity stunts.

A few days ago I posted a comment about this article I read in the Guardian, at http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/may/22/exxonmobil.oil, in which is was reported that:

A coalition of disaffected [ExxonMobil] shareholders stepped forward yesterday, including public investment funds from California, New York, Illinois, Maine and Vermont plus the United Methodist Church and the AFSCME public employees’ union. They intend to back resolutions calling for Exxon to appoint an independent chairman and to set up a task force tackling global warming.

And today I found this article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/may/27/exxonmobil.oil, about a reaction to that “rebellion” (The Empire Strikes Back?). Lo! and behold! Who should pop up in the thick of things but our old buddy, Steve Milloy!!!

It could be the nuclear option to silence rebellious investors. A libertarian activist has hit back at ExxonMobil’s environmental critics by tabling a resolution that would outlaw shareholder social activism.

The Free Enterprise Action Fund, which controls $11m (£5.5m) of assets, has proposed amending Exxon’s articles of association to prevent the oil company’s shareholders from putting forward advisory resolutions at annual meetings.

The fund’s managing partner, Steven Milloy, opposes a coalition led by the Rockefeller family that is calling on Exxon to pay more attention to global warming. “They’re not bona fide shareholders,” Milloy says. “They’re not shareholders who are invested in Exxon because they think it’s a good investment - they’re shareholders who want to use Exxon to advance their social and political agenda.”

Right Steve. Or should I say, Mr Pot?

Fern Mackenzie

Fern, that sounds like part of Milloy’s grand plan to sow confusion and discord using the FEAF, which I wrote about here:

http://tinyurl.com/3ldppp

(I think I also mentioned this on DeSmogBlog before.) Milloy’s also trying to stir up crap by investing in USCAP companies and submitting “shareholder proposals” to stall action on climate change.

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http://frankbi.wordpress.com/ International Journal of Inactivism
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

A bipartisan pair of Senators sent a letter to Exxon Mobile, asking them to stop denying global warming. A few months later they sent a huffy letter to Business Week denying they are deniers (but not commenting on the past.) This is all recent: the late Jerry Falwell preached denial to his faithful in February, after participating in the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, which received $50,000 from Exxon. I complained to my Representative about the use of “donations” to “non-profits” for advertising the company propaganda; she was fell aware of the ISA and “Cornwell Alliance” which provides on-line sermons for ministers. I got on this because a relative started explaining to me how global warming doesn’t exist, including that only 1/2 the global ice is melting (sic and sick!). (Note: The National Council of Churches and the National Council of Evangelical Churches have resolutions supporting actions to reduce global warming and “preserve God’s creation”. It’s a minor bunch of churches that are connected with the ISA.)

Exxon also has a new chairman, said to have a different attitude about global warming.

They – or some oil company – is fighting another battle. I received a long poll this week asking if I agreed, somewhat agreed..,…, disagreed with statements like, “There have been two major hurricanes in the gulf which resulted in no oil spills. That means it’s safe to drill for offshore oil.” Also questions on Alaska drilling, energy independence, taxes on oil companies, all slanted toward the oil industry. I suspect they want to use the poll results to wave at Congress. Many of the questions sounded reasonable, especially if you didn’t know other facts. I interrupted the pollster to ask if there were going to be any questions on GW, but of course there weren’t. Many of the questions conveyed the implicit message that if the U.S. could supply all its oil, we wouldn’t be susceptible to global price changes. AS IF!

So be prepared for a lot of arguments for specious policy changes. I predict the coming political season will be warm and heating!

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