ExxonMobil and the climate science denial machinery that it has helped to build over the years are now under more scrutiny than ever before.
At its most recent AGM, the oil and gas giant faced a barrage of questions and resolutions over its position on climate change. Then there is the not insignificant matter of investigations by a group of attorneys general that allege the company lied about its knowledge of the risks of burning fossil fuels. ExxonMobil is retaliating.
The company has pleaded innocence, with CEO Rex Tillerson telling the company’s shareholders that his views on climate science were perfectly in line with the United Nations.
But the latest disclosures on donations by ExxonMobil, reported publicly here for the first time, show it continues to support organisations that claim greenhouse gases are not causing climate change, or that cuts to emissions are a waste of time and money.
Organisations including the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council and the National Black Chamber of Commerce — all organisations with a record of misinformation on climate science — all received grants in 2015 from ExxonMobil. The 2015 tally brings the total amount of known Exxon funding to denial groups north of $33 million since 1998.
Since 1997, ExxonMobil has been releasing reports annually listing donations to public policy groups — several of which were engaged in a public misinformation campaign on climate change science.
In 2007, after years of criticism, ExxonMobil claimed to have turned a corner on the science.
In a corporate responsibility report, the company said: “In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.”
ExxonMobil still funding denial
But many climate change campaigners and scientists have illustrated how the company continued to support organisations spreading climate science denial.
Now the oil giant is facing lawsuits from a team of state attorneys general after investigations by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times showed the company’s own scientists were aware of the risks of burning fossil fuels in the 1980s.
A DeSmog investigation found evidence that Exxon’s knowledge went even further back – to the late 1970s.
In May, the world’s biggest earth sciences organization, the American Geophysical Union, was forced to reopen talks over its financial ties to ExxonMobil after a stinging letter from two members of congress.
More than 200 scientists had signed a letter asking AGU to cut sponsorship ties to ExxonMobil over its decades-long funding of organizations pushing doubt about the causes and implications of climate change.
American Enterprise Institute's ExxonMobil cash
In the latest disclosures, one of the larger single donations — $325,000 — went to the American Enterprise Institute, an organisation that has long fought regulations to cut greenhouse gases while also criticising renewable energy.
As United Nations climate talks opened in Paris in December 2015, the AEI’s energy and environment “expert” Benjamin Zycher provided his analysis of the science of climate change.
Zycher cherry-picked his way through various issues — from sea level rise to global temperatures — each time dismissing, or heavily questioning, the role of increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
“In short”, Zycher wrote, “it appears to be the case that temperatures have been increasing in fits and starts since the end of the little ice age, and the central issue — whether the dominant cause is natural or anthropogenic — is unresolved.”
Zycher’s view goes against science academies across the world and, according to several studies, the findings of more than 90 per cent of climate scientists.
On polar ice, Zycher claimed: “The recent data do not support the assertion that the polar ice is collapsing as a result of increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHG.”
But Zycher ignored the numerous studies pointing to rapid and accelerating melting of ice sheets — the grounded ice that is an issue of major concern to sea level rise experts, not to mention the world’s major coastal cities.
From wildfires to extreme weather, Zycher dismisses them all. Elsewhere, Zycher has explained away the recent run of record hot years as being more to do with dodgy data collection.
The earth has been warming in fits and starts since the end of the little ice age around 1850, and so a warming trend is neither surprising nor informative. The real question is: How much of it has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions? The answer is “more than zero,” but beyond that no one knows, and anyone who claims to know is talking out of a hat.
In June 2015, AEI scholar Michael Rubin produced a series of loaded questions for the next president, where he suggested climate change might be good for societies and that models had “repeatedly delivered inaccurate predictions.”
ALEC and Exxon
Another recipient of ExxonMobil cash in 2015 was the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank that produces boilerplate legislation that suits the needs of its corporate backers.
ALEC was given $25,000 to support its annual conference and further $36,500 for “general support”.
In September 2014, Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google (now renamed Alphabet) said ALEC was “literally lying” about the science of climate change. Google had supported ALEC — but no more.
Institute fellows have repeatedly attacked Obama’s Clean Energy Plan, called the UN Paris climate agreement “useless” and dismissed the link between climate change and health impacts.
In one article, MI fellow Oren Cass argued there was no link between rising temperatures and asthma, even though there have been several studies finding just this. Other studies have also linked extreme heatwaves to deaths.
National Black Chamber of Commerce gets Exxon cash
The National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC) has long been a grateful recipient of ExxonMobil cash — with another $75,000 handed over in 2015.
In November 2015, Harry C. Alford, the NBCC president, described warnings over dangerous climate change as a “farce” and a “ghost” and claimed global warming was in a 20-year pause — not mentioning that 14 of the 16 hottest years on record have all happened since 2000. NBCC has also been accused of spreading “misinformation” on the impacts President Obama’s clean energy plans.
Federalist Society - funded by Exxon and Google
During the ongoing turmoil of attorneys general lawsuits, one of ExxonMobil’s most vocal defenders has been the influential conservative group the Federalist Society.
The Federalist Society has published numerous essays and articles claiming the lawsuits against ExxonMobil and related requests for records from denialist groups are a threat to free speech, a “chilling campaign to establish ‘consensus’ through intimidation”, a “witch hunt” and a “fishing expedition”.
Not disclosed in the stories, is that the Federalist Society is also a recipient of ExxonMobil cash — $15,000 in 2015.
The Federalist Society does, however, declare the ExxonMobil funding on its annual report, which shows that the oil billionaire Koch brothers, Google and Microsoft are far more generous donors.
NBCC and ALEC were also amongst the array of anti-climate action organisations that had been funded by recently bankrupt coal giant Peabody Energy.
The ExxonMobil disclosures do not list other ways in which the company helps to block action on greenhouse gas emissions, such as its membership of trade groups.
In the letter to AGU, reported on DeSmog, congressmen Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Ted Lieu, both Democrats, told the science group:
We can attest that Exxon’s purported support for a carbon tax is not real. It is impossible to reconcile EM’s stated support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax with the lobbying activities of EM and the trade associations that claim to represent EM on the Hill. What we see in Congress is that their lobbying efforts are 100 percent opposed to any action on climate.
According to researchers who have monitored ExxonMobil over the years, the company took longer this year to publish its disclosures than ever before.
Perhaps the reason for the delay is now apparent.
Main image: Protestors make their views clear on ExxonMobil's record on climate change. at a shareholder meeting on May 2016. Flickr/350.org