ExxonMobil Accused of Using Big Tobacco Tactics on Global Warming

WASHINGTON, DC, January 5, 2007 (ENS) - ExxonMobil has adopted the tobacco industry's disinformation tactics to cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue, the Union of Concerned Scientists claims in a new report published Wednesday.

ExxonMobil, the world's largest publicly traded corporation, responded Thursday by calling the Union of Concerned Scientists' paper "deeply offensive and wrong."


Rex Tillerson is chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. (Photo courtesy ExxonMobil)
"ExxonMobil engages in public policy discussions by encouraging serious inquiry, analysis, the sharing of information and transparency," the company said in a statement.

According to the report, between 1998 and 2005 ExxonMobil "directed nearly $16 million to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science."

"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a 200,000 member organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years," Myer said.


Alden Meyer is director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists. (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
ExxonMobil acknowledged in its response that emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are linked with climate change.

"While there is more to learn on climate science," the company said, "what is clear today is that greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change, and that the use of fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions."

The Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Change," states that the oil company, like the tobacco industry in previous decades, has "raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence."

It says the company "funded an array of front organizations to create the appearance of a broad platform for a tight-knit group of vocal climate change contrarians who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings."

The Union of Concerned Scientists, UCS, report says the company "attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for 'sound science' rather than business self-interest," and "used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming."

The company responds that its financial support of public policy organizations "extends to a fairly broad array of organizations that research significant domestic and foreign policy issues and promote discussion on issues of direct relevance to the company. These groups range from the Brookings Institution to the American Enterprise Institute and from the Council on Foreign Relations to the Center for Strategic and International Studies."


ExxonMobil production platform in the North Sea (Photo courtesy ExxonMobil)
"As these organizations are independent of their corporate sponsors and are tax-exempt, we don’t control their views and messages, and they do not speak on our behalf," ExxonMobil says. "In many cases and with respect to the full range of policy positions taken by these organizations, we find some of them persuasive and enlightening, and some not."

A review of the company's 2005 list of contributions to public policy organizations totals $6,778,000. The recipients include political groups such as the Western Governors' Association and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, many universities, and think tanks such as the George C. Marshall Institute, prominently mentioned in the Union of Concerned Scientists report.

Jeff Kueter, president of the George Marshall Institute, called the report an attempt at "censorship." In a statement Thursday, Kueter said, "We also want to be perfectly clear - no grant to the Institute is contingent on us supporting a specific point of view or conclusion. Our views on climate change long predate any support from any corporate entity."

Kueter calls the report a "campaign to shut off funding of organizations that do not accept the global warming orthodoxy."

"If the UCS disagrees with the views of those they label 'skeptics,'" says Kueter, "they should explain why instead of attempting to censure free speech."

The UCS states that the George C. Marshall Institute has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil, and recently "touted a book edited by Patrick Michaels, a long-time climate change contrarian who is affiliated with at least 11 organizations funded by ExxonMobil."

Kueter responds, "The Institute’s book, Shattered Consensus, is cited as an example of “information laundering” (pg. 12) yet the UCS provides no refutation of the contents of the 10 chapters in this well-reviewed book. Should the rights of these authors to publish a book be left to the UCS to decide?"

"The book’s editor, Patrick Michaels, was a co-author of the climate science paper of the year for 2004 recognized by the Association of American Geographers," writes Kueter.

The groups criticized by the Union of Concerned Scientists are those, like the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a libertarian nonprofit research and education organization that promotes "market-based approaches to environmental protection."


Exxon gas-fired power station at Wilton, Cleveland, UK (Photo courtesy FreeFoto)
The Heartland Institute publishes writers such as Joseph Bast, who calls the global warming film, "An Inconvenient Truth," by former Vice President Al Gore "alarmist." He characterizes the film as "gorgeous propaganda."

Bast attributes current melting of ice in Arctic, Greenland, and the Antarctic to "a natural cycle caused by ocean currents, not greenhouse gases," and Mount Kilimanjaro’s disappearing snow cap to "changes in land use at the bottom of the mountain, causing drier air to rise up the mountain’s side."

"Gore ignores these inconvenient facts because, he says, the only people who disagree with him are oil company stooges. At one point he compares scientists who disagree with him with apologists for the tobacco industry," Bast writes.

That is the very point made by the Union of Concerned Scientists in its report.

"ExxonMobil’s funding of established research institutions that seek to better understand science, policies, and technologies to address global warming has given the corporation “cover,” while its funding of ideological and advocacy organizations to conduct a disinformation campaign works to confuse that understanding. This seemingly inconsistent activity makes sense when looked at through a broader lens," the UCS writes.

"Like the tobacco companies in previous decades, this strategy provides a positive “pro-science” public stance for ExxonMobil that masks their activity to delay meaningful action on global warming and helps keep the public debate stalled on the science rather than focused on policy options to address the problem."

"In addition, like Big Tobacco before it, ExxonMobil has been enormously successful at influencing the current administration and key members of Congress," the UCS report states.


ExxonMobil Chemical's largest synthetics plant is in Beaumont, Texas. The company is a manufacturer of synthetic base fluids and additive packages. (Photo courtesy ExxonMobil)
The world's largest refiner and marketer of petroleum products, ExxonMobil has a presence in 200 countries. Based in Irving, Texas, the company holds exploration rights to 109 million undeveloped acres in 37 countries, and has underway more than 100 new development projects and global gas and power marketing activities. Its chemical division ranks among the world's largest petrochemical enterprises, the company says on its website.

"When one looks closely, ExxonMobil's underhanded strategy is as clear and indisputable as the scientific research it's meant to discredit," said Seth Shulman, an award-winning journalist who wrote the UCS report. "The paper trail shows that, to serve its corporate interests, ExxonMobil has built a vast echo chamber of seemingly independent groups with the express purpose of spreading disinformation about global warming."

"ExxonMobil’s cynical strategy is built around the notion that public opinion can be easily manipulated because climate science is complex, because people tend not to notice where their information comes from, and because the effects of global warming are just beginning to become visible," Shulman writes. "But ExxonMobil may well have underestimated the public. The company’s strategy quickly unravels when people understand it for what it is: an active campaign of disinformation."

ExxonMobil responds, "Our support of scientific research on climate change is made public on our website and it includes more than 40 peer reviewed papers authored by ExxonMobil scientists, and our participation on the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and numerous related scientific bodies."

"As a scientist, I like to think that facts will prevail, and they do eventually," said Dr. James McCarthy, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on climate change impacts.

"It's shameful that ExxonMobil has sought to obscure the facts for so long," he said, "when the future of our planet depends on the steps we take now and in the coming years."

To view ExxonMobil's list of grant recipients in 2005, click here.

To read the Union of Concerned Scientists report, "Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Change," click here.