Exxon in Denial About Denial
December 13, 2015
In September, when asked if the company is funding climate science denier groups, ExxonMobil senior media relations adviser Richard Keil said unequivocally no. When asked virtually the same question in early November, ExxonMobil Vice President of Public and Government Affairs Kenneth Cohen said yes — despite the fact that, back in 2007, he said the company had stopped funding the groups. And now, yet another company spokesman qualified Cohen’s response, telling the Washington Post last week that the company “rejects the premise” that it has been funding climate science denial.
Wait a minute. How could that be? ExxonMobil is funding denier groups, but it’s not funding climate science denial?
“We were engaged with funding public policy groups on policy issues, not on science,” Alan Jeffers, an ExxonMobil media relations manager, explained to the Post. “We made our position known on some climate policies that made us unpopular with environmental activists, and they tried to position that as us funding climate denial. And that’s just not accurate.”
Wow. Company lawyers may have told Jeffers to say that to distance ExxonMobil from its denier grantees, but he should know better. He surely must be aware that the dozens of think tanks and advocacy groups his company has been financing constantly disparage and distort mainstream climate science. After all, if enough people think climate science is a fraud — or at least “far from settled” — why bother with climate policies?
OK. Let’s give Kenneth Cohen and his staff the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they haven’t been paying attention to what ExxonMobil grantees have been saying about climate science. They’re busy people, right? So, as a public service, here’s a sampling of typical statements from some the company’s denier groups to illustrate the absurdity of ExxonMobil’s latest line of defense.
CEI: Carbon Pollution? “We Call it Life.”
A prime example of an ExxonMobil denier group is the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which — like a number of other fossil fuel industry-funded groups — cut its teeth fronting for the tobacco industry in the 1990s to stave off tighter government regulation. CEI is the very same think tank that reassured Americans back in 2006 that global warming is nothing to worry about in a TV commercial praising the benefits of carbon dioxide. The spot’s unforgettable tag line: “They call it pollution. We call it life.”
Myron Ebell, director of CEI’s Center for Energy and the Environment, is the organization’s chief spokesman on climate. He is not a scientist. No one in his center is a scientist. Neither Ebell nor CEI conduct any scientific research. But that hasn’t stopped Ebell from posing as a climate expert.
Between 1998 and 2005, when ExxonMobil gave CEI more than $2 million, Ebell became one of the most prominent denier talking heads, providing reporters with the “other side” of the climate science story. For example, when the Washington Post reported in January 2003 that the U.N. World Meteorological Organization determined that nine of the 10 hottest years on record had occurred since 1990, Ebell was happy to dismiss the finding out of hand. “The climate is always changing,” he said. “There’s always weird weather somewhere in the world. There are just way too many uncertainties to start attributing these things to greenhouse gases.”
Ebell also ridicules computer modeling to try to undermine public confidence in basic climate science methodology. “Modeling is not science,” what he told the Washington Post in December 2004, is his usual refrain. Eight years later, he was singing the same song. In March 2012, the New York Times asked him for his take on two peer-reviewed studies that estimated 3.7 million Americans are at risk from coastal flooding due to rising sea levels. “As a society,” he said, “we could waste a fair amount of money on preparing for sea level rise if we put our faith in models that have no forecasting ability.”
In fact, contrary to Ebell’s claims, climate models have proven to be quite accurate. A March 2013 peer-reviewed paper in the journal Nature Geoscience, for example, found that the models accurately predicted the rise in global temperatures over the previous 15 years to within a few hundredths of a degree.
Heritage Foundation: Climate Science is “Far From Settled”
Like many ExxonMobil grantees, the Heritage Foundation — which received $830,000 from ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2013 — often repeats the “far from settled” mantra.
“The science is far from settled on the connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate sensitivity, the role carbon plays or doesn’t, if global warming is even problematic, or how data fits into broader climate history,” a June 2013 article on Heritage’s website states. “… It is not denial or cowardice to question interpretation of climate data, studies and methodology. That is how the scientific method is supposed to work. So until scientists better understand how and why the climate is changing, politicians should have no business boldly regulating carbon dioxide emissions.”
Heritage spokespeople have been telling reporters essentially the same thing for years. For example, Diane Katz, a senior research fellow, told the Washington Post in March 2011: “There’s no strong consensus on whether carbon dioxide causes global warming or climate change.”
In fact, there has been an overwhelming consensus among scientific institutions worldwide for quite some time.
AEI: Climate Scientists “Feel Justified in Lying”
The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — which has received $3.77 million from ExxonMobil since 1998 — has hosted some well-publicized forums on the pros and cons of a carbon tax, which ExxonMobil claims to support. Regardless, some key staff members are still spreading climate disinformation, mainly by impugning climate scientists.
For example, in a February 2010 op-ed in the Washington Examiner, AEI Resident Scholar Michael Barone said climate scientists are quickly becoming one of the most distrusted professions — even worse than used car dealers — and likened them to a religious cult. “People in the grip of such a religious frenzy,” he wrote, “evidently feel justified in lying, concealing good evidence and plucking bad evidence from whatever flimsy source may be at hand.”
AEI Fellow Jonah Goldberg, meanwhile, has suggested on more than one occasion that climate scientists are only in it for the grant money — and are corrupted by it. During an appearance on Fox News Channel’s Your World with Neil Cavuto in November 2014, for example, he denounced them as profiteers who are “financially incentivized to go one way.”
ALEC: “The Debate Will Continue”
Since 1998, ExxonMobil has donated $1.73 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive lobby group that drafts sample corporate-friendly legislation for state lawmakers. And there is no doubt that ALEC is focused on policy. Over the years, ALEC’s corporate and legislator members have collaborated on sample bills and resolutions that would, among other things, impede government oversight on hydraulic fracturing, undermine regional cap-and-trade climate pacts, and thwart implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standard for existing power plant carbon emissions.
To convince state lawmakers to sign off on such corporate-written climate bills, however, ALEC feeds them a steady diet of scientific disinformation via tutorials by fossil fuel industry-funded mouthpieces.
ALEC’s annual conference in Dallas in the summer of 2014 was typical. One of the workshops, “How to Think and Talk about Climate and Energy Issues,” was hosted by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a former ExxonMobil grantee that sponsors the denier Climate Depot website. CFACT handed out a document to lawmakers and industry lobbyists dismissing the idea that increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere could be harmful. “Carbon dioxide fertilizes algae, trees and crops to provide food for humans and animals,” it read. “We inhale oxygen and exhale CO2. Slightly higher CO2 levels cannot possibly supplant the numerous complex and interconnected forces that have always determined Earth’s climate.”
Another session featured Joe Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, another former ExxonMobil grantee. Bast’s slide show flatly claimed: “There is no scientific consensus on the human role in climate change” and “The [U.N.] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) … is not a credible source of science or economics.” Immediately following Bast’s workshop, ALEC held a meeting for legislators and fossil fuel industry lobbyists to draft a sample state resolution against the EPA’s pending power plant carbon emission standard.
ALEC justifies featuring climate science deniers at its conferences by insisting that the role human activity plays in global warming is unresolved. “Climate change is a historical phenomenon,” its website states, “and the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.” For ALEC, inviting deniers to address state lawmakers merely continues that debate.