Newest Entry in Inside Climate News’ #ExxonKnew Story is a Doozy

October 23, 2015

Inside Climate News:

As he wrapped up nine years as the federal government’s chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken lashed out at ExxonMobil for opposing the advance of climate science.

His own great-grandfather, he told the Exxon board, had been John D. Rockefeller’s legal counsel a century earlier. “What I rather imagine he would say is that you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position,” he wrote.

Addressed to chairman Lee Raymond on the letterhead of the United States Global Change Research Program, his September 2002 letter was not just forceful, but unusually personal.

No wonder: in the opening days of the oil-friendly Bush-Cheney administration, Exxon’s chief lobbyist had written the new head of the White House environmental council demanding that MacCracken be fired for “political and scientific bias.”

maccrackenExxon was also attacking other officials in the U.S. government and at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), MacCracken wrote, interfering with their work behind the scenes and distorting it in public.

Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the IPCC, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming, documents written by an Exxon lobbyist and one of its scientists show. The company persuaded the White House to block the reappointment of the IPCC chairman, a World Bank scientist. Exxon’s top climate researcher, Brian Flannery, was pushing the White House for a wholesale revision of federal climate science. The company wanted a new strategy to focus on the uncertainties.

“To call ExxonMobil’s position out of the mainstream is thus a gross understatement,” MacCracken wrote. “To be in opposition to the key scientific findings is rather appalling for such an established and scientific organization.”

MacCracken had a long history of collaboration with Exxon researchers. He knew that during the 1970s and 1980s, well before the general public understood the risks of global warming, the company’s researchers had worked at the cutting edge of climate change science. He had edited and even co-authored some of their reports. So he found it galling that Exxon was now leading a concerted effort to sow confusion about fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect.

Exxon had turned a colleague into its enemy.

It was a vivid example of Exxon’s undermining of mainstream science and embrace of denial and misinformation, which became most pronounced after President George W. Bush took office. The campaign climaxed when Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. Taking the U.S. out of the international climate change treaty was Exxon’s key goal, and the reason for its persistent emphasis on the uncertainty of climate science.

raymondThis in-depth series by InsideClimate News has explored Exxon’s early engagement with climate research more than 35 years ago – and its subsequent use of scientific uncertainty as a shield against forceful action on global warming. The series is based on Exxon documents, interviews, and other evidence from an eight-month investigation.

“What happened was an incredible disconnect in people trained in physical science and engineering,” recalled Martin Hoffert, a New York University professor who collaborated with Exxon’s team as its early computer modeling confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming. “It’s an untold story of how we got to the point where climate change has become a threat to the world.”

The Uncertainty Agenda

As the Bush-Cheney administration arrived in the White House in 2001, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) now had partners for a climate uncertainty strategy.

Just weeks after Bush was sworn in, Exxon’s top lobbyist Randy Randol sent the White House a memo complaining that “Clinton/Gore carry-overs with aggressive agendas” were still playing a role at the IPCC as it prepared its next assessment of the climate science consensus.

MacCracken and three colleagues should be replaced, or at least kept out of “any decisional activities,” he wrote. Meanwhile, U.S. input to the IPCC should be delayed.

Further, two scientists highly critical of the prevailing consensus should be enlisted: John Christy of the University of Alabama should take the science lead and Richard Lindzen of MIT should review U.S. submissions to the IPCC.

Exxon had been circulating a proposal to fundamentally overhaul MacCracken’s global change research program, by emphasizing the uncertainties of climate science.

The timing was not coincidental because the administration, as required by law, was about to lay out a new federal climate research strategy. Exxon and its allies wanted the work done during the Clinton-Gore years to be marginalized.

In March 2002, Flannery, Exxon’s science strategy and programs manager, contacted John H. Marburger, the president’s incoming assistant for science and technology, to pitch the company’s favored approach of emphasizing the uncertainty. Earlier discussions, he asserted, “have not sought to place the uncertainty in the context of why it is important to public policy.”

Exxon’s position paper, attached to his letter, took a dig at the work of the IPCC.

“A major frustration to many is the all-too-apparent bias of IPCC to downplay the significance of scientific uncertainty and gaps,” the memo said.

A Seat at the Table

Exxon had not always been so at odds with the prevailing science.

Since the late 1970s, Exxon scientists had been telling top executives that the most likely cause of climate change was carbon pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels, and that it was important to get a grip on the problem quickly. Exxon Research & Engineering had launched innovative ocean research from aboard the company’s biggest supertanker, the Esso Atlantic. ER&E’s modeling experts, by the early 1980s, had confirmed the consensus among outside scientists about the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide.

“The facts are that we identified the potential risks of climate change and have taken the issue very seriously,” said Ken Cohen, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, in a press release on October 21 addressing the ICN reports. “We embarked on decades of research in collaboration with many parties.”

Exxon has declined to answer specific questions from InsideClimate News.

Read the rest at Inside Climate News.

The early Exxon research itself built on more than a century of gradually increasing certainty that human releases of CO2 would have an effect on global climate, as my video from 2010 points out.

Explore Exxon Documents unearthed by the Inside Climate News series here.

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4 Responses to “Newest Entry in Inside Climate News’ #ExxonKnew Story is a Doozy”


  1. Thank you for taking on this story. This has got to be the biggest thing since the RICO investigations on the tobacco industry. Everybody now knows that cigarettes cause cancer. I can hardly wait to see the stony-faced PR hacks for Exxon sit there with their right hands up, “I do not believe that the CO2 molecule absorbs and refracts infra-red light”. I can hardly wait for them to publicly deny reality so we can get on with rationally addressing this crisis.
    So much recent history of the past twenty years could have been averted. I could have stayed home and not felt compelled to walk across the country with a mad group of people (ref The Great March for Climate Action, 2014) to see for myself the social devastation caused by fossil fuel infrastructure. We could have been dismantling that shit.
    We would probably not be fracking our communities and public lands, treating them as sacrifice zones, for the export/ exploit of the ‘American Energy’ (funds to be off-shored and tax dodged, rest assured) LIE.
    My 3-yr old friend Itza, who lives in Butler, PA, would probably not have poisoned water coming from her tap that burns her skin if she bathes in it. Her sister, Morgan, would probably not have had to contend with being a leukemia survivor at age twelve; the off-scale readings on her play-room’s VOC monitor would not have been possible and the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environment would not have had to ignore them to favor Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Loophole…
    I could go on at book length but you get the picture. It’s gotten personal.
    Full RICO disclosure at this point is of utmost importance.
    I’m sharing your video, this article, and the LATimes articles everywhere I can. This includes letters to legislators, editors, and the Department of Justice.
    Thank you for letting me vent and know that I’m not alone in my anger at these… “people”.

  2. indy222 Says:

    Too late. while we’ve been waffling, they “won”. The choices now are only between a disastrous future, and a catastrophic one. It’s only just the beginning. Read the research of Professor Tim Garrett, and Tyndall Centre’s Kevin Anderson on his private conversations with the relevant people – policy people are being arm-twisted into giving a rosy have cake/eat too message and “studies” on what to do about climate, despite the dire conclusions from the scientists. Have cake/eat too? We may get neither. It’s a long slow painful process, but it’s gathering momentum and will continue. The methane apocalypse is off the table, but we’re still frogs in a pot with the fire going. There’s a reason CO2 atmospheric trends are not only continuing to rise, but continuing to accelerate despite all the hoopla about renewables. You can’t have a civilization without massive energy support for it, and for a long time, that will be carbon-based largely. Even after the “easy” carbon energy sources have been cut, there’s still methane from tropical ponds, melting permafrost, and energy areas which can’t be done by electricity. The work of Solomon, Wigley and Weaver, and others show that even after ALL carbon emissions cease if that’s even possible, temperature will NOT go back down – ever (in human time scales). But even today’s current temperatures are already sufficient to destroy the Arctic Ocean ice cover, melt the permafrost, West Antarctica, and Greenland is on shakey ground as well.


  3. […] Climate Denial Crock of the Week features the latest revelation from Inside Climate News. It features former federal chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken, and physicist and climate scientist Gilbert Plass. Also featured is an open 2002 letter Michael MacCracken wrote to Exxon-Mobil CEO Raymond, stating in part […]


  4. […] 4: Some quotes from Exxon officials [Credit: Climatecrocks & Inside climate news […]


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