Turns out ExxonMobil, one of the world’s worst climate polluters, has known about the dangers of climate change since 1981. Yet the oil giant continues to be a major funder of climate change denial today. The new evidence comes from reports and emails written by Lenny Bernstein, ExxonMobil’s top climate scientist, who worked for Exxon for 30 years. The documents, which speak directly about the dangers of global warming from CO2 emissions were released by The Union of Concerned Scientists, in a report called “The Climate Deception Dossier." Exxon has spent well over $30 million attacking climate change science since Bernstein’s first warning. As Suzanne Goldenberg wrote in the Guardian:
Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account. National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.
While we have known that Exxon was responsible for opposing climate change solutions and funding climate denial, now we know they knew the truth 27 years ago. Much like big tobacco did with the link between cigarettes and cancer, Exxon leadership has denied the harm the company has done long after the scientific evidence was clear. Incredibly, Exxon continues to play down their roll in climate change denial. In an interview with the Guardian, Exxon Spokesperson Richard Keil:
“rejected the idea that Exxon had funded groups promoting climate denial. “I am here to talk to you about the present,” he said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.”
Earlier this year, Greenpeace revealed that Exxon, along with other fossil fuel corporations like Southern Company, funded a notorious climate change denier named Willie Soon. In fact Exxon continued to fund Soon’s roundly debunked research well after the company promised Congress they would stop funding confusion on climate change in 2007. Exxon spent over $1 million on climate denial groups in 2014 alone.
This means that Congressman Stewart now has dominion over the EPA, climate change research, and "all activities related to climate." According to the House Science Committees website (of which Stewart's subcommitee is a part), the chair of the Environment subcommittee oversees:
"all matters relating to environmental research; Environmental Protection Agency research and development; environmental standards; climate change research and development; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including all activities related to weather, weather services, climate, the atmosphere, marine fisheries, and oceanic research;…"
Unfortunately for the EPA, NOAA, and anyone worried about climate change, Chris Stewart is a climate science denier. Mr. Stewart believes there is "insufficient science" to determine if climate change is caused by humans. He believes this in spite of the fact that the EPA, NOAA, and all experts in the field (which he now oversees), disagrees with him.
For the record, Chris Stewart has no advanced degrees in science. However, before running for congress he was owner and CEO of Shipley Group, a company that trains government workers on environmental issues. Shipley Group actually runs a training on climate change science, and according to the Shipley Group website "Upon completion of the workshop, participants will be able to understand basic climate change science." Clearly Mr. Stewart has never taken his company's training.
Ties to Fossil Fuels
Though Stewart seems to ignore climate change science (while his company profits by teaching it), he does not ignore the fossil fuel industry. In fact he is quite sympathetic to the plight of oil and gas companies. His campaign website claims:
"I am the CEO of a company that works extensively with independent energy producers. I understand how difficult it is to get a drilling permit on federal lands. It is painfully slow, incoherently arbitrary, and always expensive."
"The fact that fossil energy and mining are viewed by political "elites" with disfavor, a view driven by acolytes of radical environmentalism, has resulted in damaging laws and regulation and general neglect"
Unsurprisingly, the fossil fuel industry does not ignore Chris Stewart either. One of Stewart's books (which were published and praised by Glenn Beck), is recommended reading at Koch Industries. Stewart received the maximum possible campaign contribution from ExxonMobil and Koch Industries during his last campaign. He also received considerable support from several Koch and Exxon funded SuperPACs. All told, he received more funding from dirty energy companies and their superPACs than any other single source.
This week, Inside Climate News has published some new revelations about one of the world’s biggest oil companies: that scientists working for Exxon knew about climate change as early as 1977.
Exxon’s own scientists conducted an extensive research program on climate change and "The Greenhouse Effect", running complex CO2 monitoring experiments and publishing peer-reviewed papers, because the company was deeply interested in this emerging threat to its core business, oil, and ultimately the company's survival. There is now no doubt that Exxon has known about the science and the risks of global warming for decades.
The news will perhaps be of great interest to those lawyers who successfully prosecuted the tobacco industry, which hid its knowledge of the science around tobacco’s addiction, and the impact of second hand smoke.
Because, despite having this breadth of knowledge within its walls, and for many years after these climate science programs were run at Exxon, the company has spent years and millings of dollars funding climate deniers and think tanks who attack the scientific consensus, spreading doubt and uncertainty. Greenpeace has collected data on Exxon's campaign of climate denial for decades. Our ExxonSecrets project and database now shows that has spent nearly $31 million since 1998 funding think tanks and campaigns against the climate science consensus and climate policy progress.
For decades, Mobil ran a weekly “advertorial” or "op-ad" on the opinion pages of the New York Times and other papers, ads that continued after Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999. The story of how Mobil managed to secure advertising space on the editorial page of the New York Times and why they did so is another story.
We at PolluterWatch have collected an archive of these ads from the 1970's to 2004. In light of the recent revelations about the company’s early understanding of the issue, they’re worth re-examining. The ads on global warming in particular set out the history of the companies’ campaign against both climate action and the science.
THE MOBIL ADS
In the lead up to the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, Mobil, a prominent member of the Global Climate Coalition, was leading the charge on the “it’s not global” message calling for developing countries to be included in emissions reduction targets.
On December 2 1999, the first of the newly-merged ExxonMobil company ads appeared in the New York Times, announcing the merger.
And just one week later, on December 9, 1999, the merged ExxonMobil picked up the decades-long New York Times ad campaign with an ad titled: “Tomorrow’s energy needs”, emphasizing of course the plentiful global supply of fossil fuels, ExxonMobil’s preferred energy source. ExxonMobil is still running this argument today, using outdated, business as usual IEA scenarios to emphasize its point, and ignoring any of the IEA's “new policy” scenarios. Interestingly, the new revelations by Inside Climate News show that in the 1970s, Exxon was thinking well beyond oil for a spell, doing advanced research in solar power for example.
The Chairman and CEO of the merged giant ExxonMobil was Lee Raymond, who had worked for Exxon since the 1960s. Raymond in fact chaired the American Petroleum Institute’s climate change committee, and twice chaired the API itself. Raymond was a hardened climate science denier, and his views were strongly reflected in a new turn in the company’s ads. Whereas Mobil had called for more research, and put the blame on developing countries, ExxonMobil embraced those arguments, but turned to outright denial.
On March 16, 2000, ExxonMobil’s ads continued the onslaught against the Kyoto Protocol and climate science with “Do no harm” that argued a similar line to the “coal will solve poverty” pitch we hear from Peabody Energy today:
“…for most nations the Kyoto Protocol would require extensive diversion of human and financial resources away from more immediate and pressing needs in health care, education, infrastructure, and, yes, the environment—all critical to the well-being of future generations.”
ExxonMobil went on to advocate a “strong focus on scientific understanding” around climate change and proposed policies “that have the potential to make significant longer-term reductions in emissions, if they are needed.”
The ad finished with this: “Although it is hard to predict what the weather is going to be this weekend, we know with certainty that climate change policies, unless properly formulated, will restrict life itself.”
A week later, on March 23, 2000, ExxonMobil’s ad, “Unsettled science” focused on a 1996 study on temperature and climate in the Sargasso sea. At the company AGM in May that year Lee Raymond gave a presentation arguing the study showed how past temperatures appeared warmer than today, long before people began burning fossil fuels.
"So the issue isn't only: is the earth warming, but why is it warming," Raymond told the meeting.
In a letter in response to ExxonMobil’s use of his work, the author of the study, Dr Lloyd Keigwin, wrote:
"I believe ExxonMobil has been misleading in its use of the Sargasso Sea data. There's really no way these results bear on the question of human induced climate warming…I think the sad thing is the a company with the resources of ExxonMobil is exploiting the data for political purposes."
ExxonMobil then moved to a touch of greenwashing, a prominent feature of many of its Op Ads. In “The Promise of Technology” the company emphasized its push to explore new technology, especially it project on hydrogen/petroleum cars, research that kept a focus on cars at least in part powered by Exxon’s climate-changing product, which hasn’t produced any results, and which has since been surpassed by the development of electric cars. Yet it still managed to keep a question mark over the science of climate change with this line: “Climate change may pose legitimate long term risks.”
“Regarding climate change policy, the unrealistic and economically damaging Kyoto process needs to be rethought....Alternative energy sources such as solar or wind will not become significant until well after 2020.”
(Note: in 2014, renewable sources of energy accounted for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and 13% of electricity generation.1 Globally, in 2013 renewables accounted for almost 22% of global electricity generation, a 5% increase from 2012, according to the IEA).
On 28 March, 2001, EPA head Christine Tod Whitman announced the US would not implement the Kyoto Protocol. Just over a week later, on April 10, 2001 ExxonMobil’s ad lauded the decision: Moving Past Kyoto… slammed the Protocol, saying it was “too much too soon,” “tried to force technological change”, “failed to include developing countries” and was “fatally politicized.”
The ad’s companion the following week “…to a sounder climate policy” called for more research on climate change, an argument became the central plank of the Bush administration’s climate change policy.
In June 2001, President Bush gave his famous Rose Garden speech on climate change, saying, in very similar words to Exxon’s, that Kyoto was “fatally flawed in fundamental ways” and then set out the same argument as Exxon – and Mobil – had been running since the mid-90’s: that big developing countries such as China and India were not part of Kyoto therefore it wouldn’t work. This remains the mantra of recalcitrant developed country nations today.
In August 2001, Exxon’s ad “Sifting and winnowing”, while not directly mentioning climate change, argued that technological advances in energy were not progressing fast, and that the government should not give subsidies to new technologies – they had to stand on their own two feet.
“..it’s important that business and government leaders not pretend that we know enough to force our energy future to conform to some predetermined vision. Nor should some sources be subsidized, thereby masking their true costs and true consumer preferences.”
“It is our view that better scientific understanding of climate change, human influence on it, and the associated risks and possible consequences are needed.”
While the ad went on to emphasize what the company was doing about energy efficiency, and reluctantly accepted the problems with climate change:
“Doing nothing is neither prudent nor responsible, but the same may be said of rash action.”
January 2004: “Directions for Climate Research”Here, ExxonMobil outlines areas where it deemed more research was necessary, such as “natural climate variability, ocean currents and heat transfer, the hydrological cycle, and the ability of climate models to predict changes on a regional and local scale.”
January 2004: The “Weather and climate” ad correctly stated that weather and climate are different, but again, the ad emphasizes the range of uncertainties about climate change. The list is a litany of climate denier arguments at the time (many of which are still used today), including the influence of the sun (led by the Smithsonian Institute’s "Willie" Wei Hock Soon, whose work was being funded by ExxonMobil at the time).
“In the face of natural variability and complexity, the consequences of change in any single factor, for example greenhouse gas emissions, cannot readily be isolated, and prediction becomes difficult... Scientific uncertainties continue to limit our ability to make objective, quantitative determinations regarding the human role in recent climate change, or the degree and consequence of future change.”
We don’t have any more of these ads after 2004. But they continue today.
In 2005, Lee Raymond retired as CEO and Chairman of ExxonMobil. During his time in this role, the company had funded climate denying think tanks to the tune of $18,593,923, with the highest year of giving that year, in 2005, at $3.47 million. Science writer Chris Mooney outlined some of that funding in Mother Jones.
The following year, with new CEO Rex Tillerson at the helm, ExxonMobil began dropping its funding of some of these groups, saying in its May 2008 annual report that it was would no longer fund groups “whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."
Indeed it did drop some of that funding, and it fell back to around $800,000 in 2013, but rose again to $1.8m in 2014, after a $1m grant to the Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
ExxonMobil’s paying of climate denial campaigns may have waned since Raymond’s term, but Tillerson is still campaigning against the solutions. At the company’s AGM in May 2015, he repeated his view that renewables are not economic, saying "we choose not to lose money on purpose."
But he also repeated the same mantras seen over the decades: that the models weren’t very good, and that it would be difficult for the world to meet aggressive emission reduction targets. Technology, he said, can help deal with rising sea levels or changing weather patterns "that may or may not be induced by climate change."
Last night, Rachel Maddow asked U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy about the tin hats and the significance of policymakers that deny a top priority problem for the EPA:
Here's the teaser that led into that clip:
The U.S. public is increasingly wising up to the reality of global warming. We're being hit by more and more multi-billion dollar climate & weather disasters like hurricane Sandy, the recent Great Plains heat waves and (most likely) ongoing "unprecedented" flooding in Colorado--disasters pushed beyond their natural variability by the changing conditions of our new climate. The latest science tells us to expect more of this, and to expect things to get worse.
At a recent meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson laid down some knowledge on the general public, which he referred to as "lazy" and "illiterate." Mr. Tillerson is supremely confident that technology will solve the problems of resource extraction and climate change, if those "problems" even exist. Here are some of the highlights:
Think the tar sands are destructive and dirty?
“There are always technological solutions to these challenges and the risk associated with resource development.”
Worried about hydraulic fracturing ruining groundwater and damaging the environment?
“If you look at the technologies that are front and center today around the shale resources -- hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling, the integration of those technologies, how we drill these wells, how we protect fresh water zone, how we protect emissions -- we have all of that engineered.
"And the consequences of a misstep by any member of our industry -- and I'm speaking again about the shale revolution -- the consequences of a misstep in a well, while large to the immediate people that live around that well, in the great scheme of things are pretty small, and even to the immediate people around the well, they could be mitigated."
Well. Rex thinks the permanent poisoning of your water well is "in the great scheme of things are pretty small." Good to know.
Worried about Global climate change, rising seas, crippling drought?
“And as human beings as a -- as a -- as a species, that's why we're all still here. We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around -- we'll adapt to that. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions. And so I don't -- the fear factor that people want to throw out there to say we just have to stop this, I do not accept."
Have high hopes for electric cars and renewable energy as a solution to the coming climate change related problems?
“No, I think we're not [going to use electric cars], which is why I'm not optimistic because it is a -- it's a very, very difficult science-physics problem to overcome.”
So when it comes to pumping more oil and gas from the ground, the answer is “yes, we can,” but when we talk about reducing carbon and the technologies required to do it, Tillerson sings a different tune.
Pharmaceutical giants Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline, along with Verizon, Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, and Credit Union National Association, have announced that they will not fund the climate change denying Heartland Institute in 2012. According to the Heartland Institute’s own fundraising document, it hoped to receive $130,000 from these potential funders this year. Today’s announcement brings the total number of corporate sponsors to drop Heartland to 15, representing $955,000 of Heartland’s projected $7.7 million budget this year.
This announcement comes in response to a petition signed by over 150,000 people calling for Heartland’s corporate funders to drop support of the organization, which recently ran a billboard campaign in Chicago comparing those that advocate for solutions to climate change to “murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” The petition was organized by Forecast the Facts, Greenpeace, SumofUs, Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, and 350.org.
"I hope to see you at a future conference, but at this point we have no plans to do another ICCC.”
Major corporations and trade groups like Nucor, Pfizer, Reynolds American Inc., and Phrma continue to fund the Heartland Institute.
Statement from Forecast the Facts on healthcare companies distancing themselves from the Heartland Institute:
"Forecast the Facts applauds the decision of pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer to sever their relationship with the Heartland Institute and its denial of scientific fact. Unfortunately, corporations like Pfizer and United Healthcare have yet to follow suit, ignoring the concerns of more than 160,000 concerned citizens, customers, and shareholders. Health-care companies have a special responsibility to act, as climate pollution is the key public health threat of the 21st century." -- Brad Johnson, Campaign Manager, Forecast the Facts