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December 05, 2006

The Obfuscation Agenda Energy  Environment

Senators John D. Rockefeller IV and Olympia Snowe write to Rex Tillerson, Chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, to ask ExxonMobil to stop providing financial backing to groups seeking to obfuscate the issue of global warming (WSJ):

Dear Mr. Tillerson:

Allow us to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your first year as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the ExxonMobil Corporation. You will become the public face of an undisputed leader in the world energy industry, and a company that plays a vital role in our national economy. As that public face, you will have the ability and responsibility to lead ExxonMobil toward its rightful place as a good corporate and global citizen.

We are writing to appeal to your sense of stewardship of that corporate citizenship as U.S. Senators concerned about the credibility of the United States in the international community, and as Americans concerned that one of our most prestigious corporations has done much in the past to adversely affect that credibility. We are convinced that ExxonMobil's longstanding support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics, and those skeptics' access to and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy.

Obviously, other factors complicate our foreign policy. However, we are persuaded that the climate change denial strategy carried out by and for ExxonMobil has helped foster the perception that the United States is insensitive to a matter of great urgency for all of mankind [sic], and has thus damaged the stature of our nation internationally. It is our hope that under your leadership, ExxonMobil would end its dangerous support of the "deniers." Likewise, we look to you to guide ExxonMobil to capitalize on its significant resources and prominent industry position to assist this country in taking its appropriate leadership role in promoting the technological innovation necessary to address climate change and in fashioning a truly global solution to what is undeniably a global problem.

While ExxonMobil's activity in this area is well-documented, we are somewhat encouraged by developments that have come to light during your brief tenure. We fervently hope that reports that ExxonMobil intends to end its funding of the climate change denial campaign of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) are true. Similarly, we have seen press reports that your British subsidiary has told the Royal Society, Great Britain's foremost scientific academy, that ExxonMobil will stop funding other organizations with similar purposes. However, a casual review of available literature, as performed by personnel for the Royal Society reveals that ExxonMobil is or has been the primary funding source for the "skepticism" of not only CEI, but for dozens of other overlapping and interlocking front groups sharing the same obfuscation agenda. For this reason, we share the goal of the Royal Society that ExxonMobil "come clean" about its past denial activities, and that the corporation take positive steps by a date certain toward a new and more responsible corporate citizenship.

ExxonMobil is not alone in jeopardizing the credibility and stature of the United States. Large corporations in related industries have joined ExxonMobil to provide significant and consistent financial support of this pseudo-scientific, non-peer reviewed echo chamber. The goal has not been to prevail in the scientific debate, but to obscure it. This climate change denial confederacy has exerted an influence out of all proportion to its size or relative scientific credibility. Through relentless pressure on the media to present the issue "objectively," and by challenging the consensus on climate change science by misstating both the nature of what "consensus" means and what this particular consensus is, ExxonMobil and its allies have confused the public and given cover to a few senior elected and appointed government officials whose positions and opinions enable them to damage U.S. credibility abroad.

Climate change denial has been so effective because the "denial community" has mischaracterized the necessarily guarded language of serious scientific dialogue as vagueness and uncertainty. Mainstream media outlets, attacked for being biased, help lend credence to skeptics' views, regardless of their scientific integrity, by giving them relatively equal standing with legitimate scientists. ExxonMobil is responsible for much of this bogus scientific "debate" and the demand for what the deniers cynically refer to as "sound science." [...]

In light of the adverse impacts still resulting from your corporations activities, we must request that ExxonMobil end any further financial assistance or other support to groups or individuals whose public advocacy has contributed to the small, but unfortunately effective, climate change denial myth. Further, we believe ExxonMobil should take additional steps to improve the public debate, and consequently the reputation of the United States. We would recommend that ExxonMobil publicly acknowledge both the reality of climate change and the role of humans in causing or exacerbating it. Second, ExxonMobil should repudiate its climate change denial campaign and make public its funding history. Finally, we believe that there would be a benefit to the United States if one of the world's largest carbon emitters headquartered here devoted at least some of the money it has invested in climate change denial pseudo-science to global remediation efforts. We believe this would be especially important in the developing world, where the disastrous effects of global climate change are likely to have their most immediate and calamitous impacts. [Emphasis added]

Ok, as Jerome a Paris notes, there is a certain irony in John D. Rockefeller IV taking issue with ExxonMobil, the principal remnant of his great-grandfather's Standard Oil empire.

Meanwhile, the editors of the Wall St. Journal read the Senators' letter and flipped out:

Washington has no shortage of bullies, but even we can't quite believe an October 27 letter that Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe sent to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Its message: Start toeing the Senators' line on climate change, or else. [...]

This is amazing stuff. On the one hand, the Senators say that everyone agrees on the facts and consequences of climate change. But at the same time they are so afraid of debate that they want Exxon to stop financing a doughty band of dissenters who can barely get their name in the paper. We respect the folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, but we didn't know until reading the Rockefeller-Snowe letter that they ran U.S. climate policy and led the mainstream media around by the nose, too. Congratulations.

Let's compare the balance of forces: on one side, CEI; on the other, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the U.N. and EU, Hollywood, Al Gore, and every politically correct journalist in the country. We'll grant that's a fair intellectual fight. But if the Senators are so afraid that a handful of policy wonks at a single small think-tank are in danger of winning this debate, they must not have much confidence in the merits of their own case. [Emphasis added]

There's a special place in hell reserved for these people.

Posted by Jonathan at December 5, 2006 07:57 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb


Saying people belong in hell is an utter failure to explain why elected representatives should be pressuring companies to take one side or another in a scientific debate. If global warming is true, its scientific ideas will prevail. People have every right in the world to doubt it, present contrary evidence, and to protect their own interests. As someone said, if the White House tried to do something similar to Greenpeace you would be the first person to whine about it, so get down off your high horse.

Posted by: KimT at December 6, 2006 10:06 AM

Far more interesting is that a couple Senators feel their only recourse is a wheedling letter that kindly suggests that ExxonMobil please consider not funding climate change deniers, if that's ok. This is not only a disgrace, but shows who really runs the show. Why get bent out of shape about whether your vote is counted? The people really in control aren't elected.

Posted by: Derek at December 6, 2006 01:18 PM

KimT, there's more at stake here (putting it mildly) than a "scientific debate". The fates of millions of people likley hang in the balance. ExxonMobil clearly is muddying the waters of the debate in order to enhance its own profits, not out of some honest scientific disagreement. It's the tobacco company story all over again, but on a scale that will affect the whole world for generations. The tobacco companies knew exactly what they were doing all those years they dragged out the "debate", and so does ExxonMobil.

Posted by: Jonathan at December 6, 2006 04:41 PM

KimT, Your view stems entirely from a base that there's still a global warming debate taking place. That debate ended some time ago. Proof of that can be found in the attitudes of nearly all other countries where the scientific ideas are prevailing today (even in China). Only in America do you find people scratching their heads confused by global warming.

People and companies do have the right to protect their interests, you're right about that. The problem in this case is the legitimacy of evidence oil companies are presenting. CEI is only one of dozens of research companies ExxonMobil "donates" money to. Don't take my word for it - do your own research - and verify how much of the science that comes from these research firms gets published in peer reviewed journals. This is a significant point because this is largely were the global warming debate takes place. The debate in the media is not a scientific one, it's mostly news, and some media outlets use pseudo-science that doesn't come from peer reviewed journals, but instead comes from these research firms funded by big oil.

Derek, your point is well taken, but why don't we at least let our new Congress take office and see what they do before passing judgment. Frankly, I'm not holding my breath and suspect any changes we do see won't have any real teeth, but I'm going to at least going to give them the opportunity to prove themselves. The next two years are going to be very telling about the true state of our country.

And Jonathan, I've personally upgraded my estimate of the fate of mankind to be in the billions. Why? Bugs. The observable effects of global warming have only just begun and what I'm seeing is how fast bug behavior can change. There's pollinator decline and invasive specie incline. The population explosion and spread of the mountain pine beetle in Canada is a prime example showing the devastation of millions of acres of forest with no solution in sight. Will agriculture be hit by bugs? Will there be another “West Nile Virus” of sorts? Bugs are small and have to date been kept in check for the most part so I think their potential to wreak havoc has been underestimated. Bugs come in very large numbers and the effects of global warming have only recently begun.

Posted by: Jeff at December 6, 2006 10:36 PM