In April, we reported that the board of the 62,000-member American Geophysical Union (AGU) had decided to “Sell Its Scientific Integrity For $35,000 In ExxonMobil Money.” But as evidence continues to spill showing that the oil giant is still funding climate science denial nearly a decade after it said it would stop, the board of this leading group of climate scientists will apparently take another look in September at the decision to take Exxon money.
We learned this week that ExxonMobil continued funding groups that spread disinformation on climate science in 2015. The science-denying groups American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), American Enterprise Institute, National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), and Manhattan Institute of Policy Research received more than $860,000 in 2015 alone. And let’s not forget the $5,000,000 Exxon is giving the anti-science U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 2014-2018.
The latest disclosures come nearly a decade after the oil giant appeared to tell the world it would stop funding such groups. I know you are shocked, shocked to learn that Exxon has been misleading everyone about … whether it was continuing its multi-decade effort to mislead everyone.
In May, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) sent a letter to AGU president and chair Margaret Leinen, urging the board to reconsider its decision based on the fact that ExxonMobil “gave money as recently as 2014 to several organizations that cast doubt on climate change.” They singled out ALEC because it “has promoted model legislation with a finding that human-induced global warming ‘may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes.'” And they pointed to the Manhattan Institute, whose senior fellow Robert Bryce has infamously stated, “The science is not settled, not by a long shot…. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
As for the Chamber of Commerce, Whitehouse and Lieu explained that “the Chamber’s climate message, delivered loud and clear not only here in Congress but in the courts, is one of absolute intransigence against any serious climate action.” In November, the NBCC president described global warming as a “farce” and a “ghost.”
You may recall that in February, 100 AGU members and other climate scientists AGU scientists wrote a letter strongly urging the AGU board to live up to its 2015 board-approved policy — “AGU will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science” — and turn the ExxonMobil spigot off.
The AGU’s slick defense of taking money from oil giant ExxonMobil
So how did a supposedly evidence-based board of scientists determine there wasn’t sufficient evidence Exxon that was funding misinformation to stop them from taking $35,000 from the oil giant to sponsor a “Student Breakfast” at the fall meeting?
The AGU’s board offered this astonishing defense in a letter from Leinen: “We concluded that it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly, and that AGU’s acceptance of sponsorship of the 2015 Student Breakfast does not constitute a threat to AGU’s reputation.”
At the time, I called this the “You can’t prove they didn’t stop yesterday” defense.
It seems you can introduce abundant irrefutable evidence that ExxonMobil continues to be “participating in misinformation about science” directly and indirectly — as the scientists did back in February — but the AGU board will still claim that you can’t prove they didn’t stop yesterday — so they’re going to keep taking their money.
Ironically, the AGU’s tortuous and torturous justification instantly drew derisive responses from scientists and probably harmed their reputation even more than taking Exxon’s money did. The AGU “makes a mockery of its own bylaw,” explained MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel, who signed the February letter. This is “a sad day for the integrity of the AGU,” said Robert Brulle, a leading academic expert on how the climate disinformation campaign is funded. “The AGU is engaging in willful blindness regarding a very clear cut pattern by ExxonMobil to sponsor climate misinformation and hinder action on climate change.”
Cleaning up the globs of oil from the massive 10-million gallon Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 took years. How long will it take the AGU to clean up its mess? CREDIT: JACK SMITH, AP
When you lay down with oil companies, you end up very oily indeed. The lies of ExxonMobil are as slick, slippery, and toxic as petroleum. The company (and its precursors) has known its product threatened a livable climate for a half century. And like a caricature of corporate villainy, rather than alerting the world to this completely preventable threat to humanity, ExxonMobil decided to become the biggest funder of climate disinformation (at least until Koch Industries dethroned them).
Since 1997, ExxonMobil has spent more than $30 million funding dozens of groups that spread disinformation about about climate science and climate solutions. And they never stopped funding such groups even though they appeared to promise otherwise in its Orwellian-titled “2007 Corporate Citizenship Report: “In 2008, we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose positions 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.”
Turns out those were just vague, oily words — slippery and slick — designed to mislead the public and the media. And that oil has tainted the AGU, leading its board to offer similarly slippery and slick statements to defend the indefensible.
At the end of May, Inside Climate News reported that Leinen “said in an interview the board of directors will continue to discuss Exxon’s sponsorship at their next meeting in September, raising the possibility of another vote.” Let’s hope they get it right this time.
Oil spills can take years to clean up. How long will it take the AGU to clean up this mess?