BackgroundThis note prompted by today's post by Prof. Rabett:
Eli then quotes part of a letter he received from the Executive Director of the AGU:Contrary to the wisdom of many, continents do shift slowly with time, and learned societies do listen to the membership. Recently a number of members (some very prominent, others not) wrote to the American Geophysical Union asking that the AGU divorce itself from Exxon sponsorship.
This was motivated by a series of articles which exposed Exxon's sponsorship of crank tanks opposing action on climate change, indeed, rejecting the idea that humans are driving climate change in ways that are not so good for the inhabitants, people and other critters.
In addition to comments on the post itself, over the past three weeks we have received more than 100 emails, letters and phone calls, and countless tweets and comments on Facebook. And the letter referenced in the post, which calls for AGU to sever our relationship with Exxon, has since received additional signatures, growing from 71 AGU members and 33 non-members, to 136 members and 81 non-members (as of 15 March).All links in original.
This feedback, from AGU members and others in our community and beyond, expressed a wide variety of views, ranging from requests to completely sever the relationship immediately to suggestions for how the relationship could be expanded and made more productive to the view that severing the relationship would violate our scientific integrity. While the social media posts and public comments have tended to be one-sided, the emails received directly from members have been more nuanced and diverse in views expressed. A major theme that emerged is a strong desire among our members to see this issue is treated thoughtfully and with integrity, and to ensure that our discussions be representative of all sides of AGU’s community.
I have been following this debate with some interest, and prior to reading the above, I have been of the opinion that the AGU should NOT be accepting funds from Exxon, or indeed any other fossil fuel interest. Bad optics.
Something I didn't know is that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) also receives Exxon monies to support their efforts. Eli quotes part of their February 21, 2016 newsletter which states in part:
Because we take such concerns seriously, the Board conducted its own research and discussed the issue at great length during the September 2015 meeting. At that time, we decided that ExxonMobil’s current public statements and activities were not inconsistent with AGU’s positions and the scientific consensus.I left a short note in response, which represents a change in my above-stated, previously held opinion:
It cannot be said that Exxon’s past positions and actions regarding climate change were in keeping with our policy or with the company’s current public positions, and we will be monitoring the results of the investigations by the Attorneys General of New York and California into those past actions. Yet our research did not find any information that demonstrates that they are currently involved in such activities.
Yet our research did not find any information that demonstrates that they are currently involved in such activities.I think it appropriate to expand on my reasoning, which necessarily starts by detailing ...
Well obviously they're just hiding it better.
I'm not a fan of the genetic fallacy, but I have noted that a number of outspoken climate contrarians are. What I would ask the AGU to do is only continue to accept funding if Exxon publicly stated that their current position is in line with the consensus that observed CO2 rise is anthropogenic and is the major cause of observed warming since 1950.
Due to pending litigation, I think it would be too much to ask Exxon to admit fault for past activities and disavow them.
What Exactly are Exxon's Alleged Sins?Google it, and oddly enough, the third hit is The Climate Deception Dossiers (2015) by none other than UCS itself. The introduction reads:
For nearly three decades, many of the world's largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change.ExxonMobil, their own benefactor, stands specifically accused. As I have recently remarked, the politics of global warming does indeed make for strange bedfellows at times. Scrolling down the page to Source documents (PDF), the very first document listed is Email from Former Exxon Employee Lenny Bernstein. It's a rather longish document, and the supposedly most damaging bits are highlighted in yellow. What first caught my eye in Bernstein's e-mail was not highlighted:
Their deceptive tactics are now highlighted in this set of seven "deception dossiers"—collections of internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.
Each collection provides an illuminating inside look at this coordinated campaign of deception, an effort underwritten by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, and other members of the fossil fuel industry.
Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2. That CO2 would have to be separated to make the natural gas usable. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I'm sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions.My yellow emphasis added. I consider this compelling evidence of the charge that Exxon knew, and that they knew -- or at least suspected -- even before Dr. Hansen went to Washington in 1988.
The alternative to venting CO2 to the atmosphere is to inject it into ground. This technology was also well known, since the oil industry had been injecting limited quantities of CO2 to enhance oil recovery. There were many questions about whether the CO2 would remain in the ground, some of which have been answered by Statoil's now almost 20 years of experience injecting CO2 in the North Sea. Statoil did this because the Norwegian government placed a tax on vented CO2. It was cheaper for Statoil to inject CO2 than pay the tax. Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.
In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue. Natural resource companies ‐ oil, coal, minerals ‐ have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50‐100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations. Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question ‐ legitimately, in my opinion ‐ the validity of some of the science.
The dig against Statoil for playing up their environmental concern when it was simply cheaper to sequester than pay the regulatory tax was a nice touch.
Some might argue, certainly not an Exxon defence lawyer, that the above is circumstantial, hearsay, etc., "There's no proof that Exxon actually acknowledged any environmental impacts due to putting additional CO2 into the atmosphere."
Referring back to links provided by Eli, oh, but they did:
Exxon's research laid the groundwork for a 1982 corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change prepared by its environmental affairs office. Marked "not to be distributed externally," it contained information that "has been given wide circulation to Exxon management." In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming "would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion."Link in original. Ooops. It gets better:
Unless that happened, "there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered," the primer said, citing independent experts. "Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible."
The Certainty of UncertaintyLinks in original, my emphasis. No consensus? Confused about what "consensus" means? Suck it Shollenberger. At least one oil company grokked it in the early 1980s. Wake up.
Like others in the scientific community, Exxon researchers acknowledged the uncertainties surrounding many aspects of climate science, especially in the area of forecasting models. But they saw those uncertainties as questions they wanted to address, not an excuse to dismiss what was increasingly understood.
"Models are controversial," Roger Cohen, head of theoretical sciences at Exxon Corporate Research Laboratories, and his colleague, Richard Werthamer, senior technology advisor at Exxon Corporation, wrote in a May 1980 status report on Exxon's climate modeling program. "Therefore, there are research opportunities for us."
When Exxon's researchers confirmed information the company might find troubling, they did not sweep it under the rug.
"Over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged," Cohen wrote in September 1982, reporting on Exxon's own analysis of climate models. It was that a doubling of the carbon dioxide blanket in the atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C (equal to 5 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus 1.7 degrees F).
"There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth's climate," he wrote, "including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere."
The Inside Climate News piece continues:
Our "ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature," Cohen wrote. "Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon's public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity."Link in the original.
Exxon followed his advice. Between 1983 and 1984, its researchers published their results in at least three peer-reviewed papers in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and an American Geophysical Union monograph.
David, the head of Exxon Research, told a global warming conference financed by Exxon in October 1982 that "few people doubt that the world has entered an energy transition away from dependence upon fossil fuels and toward some mix of renewable resources that will not pose problems of CO2 accumulation." The only question, he said, was how fast this would happen.
So They Knew and Even Published ... What's the Beef?Because starting with James Hansen's 1988 congressional testimony, the worm began to turn. The very next year, Exxon began what would ultimately be a public swing in the exact opposite direction as a founding member of the Global Climate Coalition (GCC):
Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world's largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.As a reminder, here's some perspective on what global surface temperatures were doing by 1997:
As the international community moved in 1997 to take a first step in curbing emissions with the Kyoto Protocol, Exxon's chairman and CEO Lee Raymond argued to stop it.
has some notes about the GCC and their activities:
The Global Climate Coalition (GCC) (1989–2001) was an international lobbyist group of businesses opposing action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The GCC was the largest industry group active in climate policy and the most prominent industry advocate in international climate negotiations. The GCC was involved in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol, and played a role in blocking ratification by the United States. The GCC dissolved in 2001 after membership declines in the face of public criticism.Clear agenda with a plausible profit motive. I'm not saying that businesses should not organize to lobby governments about proposed regulatory statutes affecting their industries. I will say that they should not be able to keep pols in their back pockets by dint of being able to make unlimited campaign contributions, but that's a rant for another time.
FoundingThe Global Climate Coalition (GCC) was formed in 1989 as a project under the auspices of the National Association of Manufacturers. The GCC was formed to represent the interests of the major producers and users of fossil fuels, to oppose regulation to mitigate global warming. and to challenge the science behind global warming. Context for the founding of the GCC from 1988 included the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and NASA climatologist James Hansen's congressional testimony that climate change was occurring. The government affairs offices of several corporations recognized that they had been inadequately organized for the Montreal Protocol, the international treaty that phased out ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons, and the Clean Air Act in the United States, and recognized that fossil fuels would be targeted for regulation.
According to GCC's mission statement on the home page of its website, GCC was established: "to coordinate business participation in the international policy debate on the issue of global climate change and global warming." According to GCC's executive director in a 1993 press release, GCC was organized: "as the leading voice for industry on the global climate change issue."
GCC reorganized independently in 1992. GCC’s first chairman of the board of directors was the director of government relations for the Phillips Petroleum Company. Exxon was a founding member, and a founding member of the GCC's board of directors. Exxon, and later ExxonMobil, had a leadership role in GCC. The American Petroleum Institute (API) was a leading member of the GCC. API's executive vice president was a chairman of the board of directors of GCC. Other GCC founding members included the National Coal Association, United States Chamber of Commerce, American Forest & Paper Association, and Edison Electric Institute. GCC's executive director John Shleas was previously the director of government relations at the Edison Electric Institute. GCC was run by Ruder Finn, a public relations firm.
GCC was the largest industry group active in climate policy. About 40 companies and industry associations were GCC members. Considering member corporations, member trade associations, and business represented by member trade associations, GCC represented over 230,000 businesses. Industry sectors represented included: aluminium, paper, transportation, power generation, petroleum, chemical, and small businesses. All the major oil companies were members. GCC members were from industries that would have been adversely effected by limitations on fossil fuel consumption. GCC was funded by membership dues.
Most importantly, lobby groups should not stretch the truth. Or outright lie. Will never happen of course, but one can always hope ...
In December, 1992 GCC's executive director wrote in a letter to The New York Times: "...there is considerable debate on whether or not man-made greenhouse gases (produced primarily by burning fossil fuels) are triggering a dangerous 'global warming' trend." GCC distributed a half-hour video entitled The Greening of Planet Earth, to hundreds of journalists, the White House, and several Middle Eastern oil-producing countries, which suggested that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide could boost crop yields and solve world hunger.... or not. More like "considerable manufactured debate", and they were a leading voice in concocting the faux narrative. As in they ginned it up from nothing. Conjured it literally out of thin air. You doubt me?
Saying one thing internally and the complete opposite in public is what honest folk call lying. Perhaps even worse than knowingly dispensing information they internally admitted was false, they redacted the rebuttals to the own arguments they were promoting.
Predicting Future Climate Change: A PrimerIn 1995, GCC assembled an advisory committee of scientific and technical experts to compile an internal-only, 17-page report on climate science entitled Predicting Future Climate Change: A Primer, which said: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” In early 1996, GCC's operating committee asked the advisory committee to redact the sections that rebutted contrarian arguments, and accepted the report and distributed it to members. The draft document was disclosed as part of a 2007 lawsuit.
According to The New York Times, the primer demonstrated that "even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted." According to the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2015, the primer was: "remarkable for indisputably showing that, while some fossil fuel companies’ deception about climate science has continued to the present day, at least two decades ago the companies’ own scientific experts were internally alerting them about the realities and implications of climate change."
Which is called self-deception. Goes to show that piles of money are no salve for a guilty conscience I suppose. That, and, a cardinal rule of running a large campaign of deception is that the fewer people who know how much it stinks, the better. I'm a little surprised the internal circular went as far as it did. Let's not just take Wikipedia's word for it, but see what else the source document (from the same UCS website as above) actually says:
This primer addresses the following questions concerning climate change: I) Can human activities affect climate? The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied. 2) Can future climate be accurately predicted?So that checks out. But there's MOAR:
Naturally occurring greenhouse gases, predominantly water vapor, account for 95-97% of the current Greenhouse Effect. They raise the average temperature of Earth's surface by about 30°C. Without this natural Greenhouse Effect, the Earth would probably be uninhabitable. The science of the Greenhouse Effect is well established and can be demonstrated in the laboratory. Human activities can affect the energy balance at the Earth's surface in three ways:Demonstrated in the lab. Consensus defined as "essentially all of today's concern is about net warming." Not only "cannot be denied" but "should not be denied".
• combustion, agriculture and other human activities emit greenhouse gases and can raise their concentration in the atmosphere, which would directionally lead to warming;
• combustion emits particulates, and gases such as sulfur dioxide which form particulate matter in the atmosphere, which would directionally lead to cooling; and
• changes in land-use, such as removing forests, can change the amount of energy absorbed by the Earth's surface, the rate of water evaporation, and other parameters involved in the climate system, which could result in either warming or cooling.
These three factors create the potential for a human impact on climate. The potential for a human impact on climate is based on well-established scientific fact, and should not be denied.
While, in theory, human activities have the potential to result in net cooling, a concern about 25 years ago, the current balance between greenhouse gas emissions and the emissions of particulates and particulate-formers is such that essentially all of today's concern is about net warming.
However, as will be discussed below, it is still not possible to accurately predict the magnitude (if any), timing or impact of climate change as a result of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Also, because of the complex, possibly chaotic, nature of the climate system, it may never be possible to accurately predict future climate or to estimate the impact of increased greenhouse gas concentrations.
Note the beginnings of the the Uncertainty Monster meme in the final paragraph. Hey idiots:
If you're uncertain about what the system will do, why are you actively lobbying against efforts to mitigate those changes?!I have one possible answer -- it's the modern-day equivalent of, "Let them eat cake." But I digress.
I think it of note that the document contains some awareness that challenging the well-established consensus of the day would not lead to credibility. Thus they advocated an overall strategy of focusing on the uncertainties inherent in making future predictions. After all, who in their right mind wants to make rash decisions with potentially dire consequences on the basis of inconclusive evidence?
Fighting Science with "Science"From another Inside Climate News article:
Then, in 1998 Exxon also helped create the Global Climate Science Team, an effort involving Randy Randol, the company's top lobbyist, and Joe Walker, a public relations representative for API.UCS has fax copy of the original document. The link above goes to a transcribed version which is much easier to read ... and for me to copy-paste some other bits, starting with the "victory will be achieved" quote with additional surrounding context:
Their memo, leaked to The New York Times, asserted that it is "not known for sure whether (a) climate change actually is occurring, or (b) if it is, whether humans really have any influence on it." Opponents of the Kyoto treaty, it complained, "have done little to build a case against precipitous action on climate change based on the scientific uncertainty."
The memo declared: "Victory will be achieved when average citizens 'understand' (recognize) uncertainties in climate science," and when "recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the 'conventional wisdom.'"
Exxon wholeheartedly embraced that theme. For example, an advertisement called "Unsettled Science" that ran in major papers in the spring of 2000, prompted one scientist to complain that it had distorted his work by suggesting it supported the notion that global warming was just a natural cycle. "It's a shame," Lloyd Keigwin later told the Wall Street Journal. "The implication is that these data show that we don't need to worry about global warming."
- A majority of the American public, including industry leadership, recognizes that significant uncertainties exist in climate science, and therefore raises questions among those (e.g. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change.
Progress will be measured toward the goal. A measurement of the public's perspective on climate science will be taken before the plan is launched, and the same measurement will be taken at one or more as-yet-to-be-determined intervals as the plan is implemented,Working backward through my highlights:
Victory Will Be Achieved When
- Average citizens "understand" (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the "conventional wisdom"
- Media "understands" (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science
- Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current "conventional wisdom"
- Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy
- Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears to be out of touch with reality.
- Not demonstrate that current consensus is out of touch with reality, only that promoters of Kyoto appear to be out of touch with reality.
- Media coverage reflects (false) balance on the "validity" of viewpoints which challenge conventional wisdom.
- Media "understands" (but not really) by (recognizing) [in parenthesis] that we're full of shit, but air our views anyway because everyone knows it's the media's job to tell all sides of the story.
Allow me to translate:
Strategies and TacticsI. National Media Relations Program:
Develop and implement a national media relations program to inform the media about uncertainties in climate science; to generate national, regional and local media coverage on the scientific uncertainties, and thereby educate and inform the public, stimulating them to raise questions with policy makers.
These tactics will be undertaken between now and the next climate meeting in Buenos Aires/Argentina, in November 1998, and will be continued thereafter, as appropriate. Activities will be launched as soon as the plan is approved, funding obtained, and the necessary resources (e.g., public relations counsel) arranged and deployed. In all cases, tactical implementation will be fully integrated with other elements of this action plan, most especially Strategy II (National Climate Science Data Center).
Identify, recruit and train a team of five independent scientists to participate in media outreach. These will be individuals who do not have a long history of visibility and/or participation in the climate change debate. Rather, this team will consist of new faces who will add their voices to those recognized scientists who already are vocal.
- Develop a global climate science information kit for media including peer-reviewed papers that undercut the "conventional wisdom" on climate science. This kit also will include understandable communications, including simple fact sheets that present scientific uncertainties in language that the media and public can understand.
- Conduct briefings by media-trained scientists for science writers in the top 20 media markets, using the information kits. Distribute the information kits to daily newspapers nationwide with offer of scientists to brief reporters at each paper. Develop, disseminate radio news releases featuring scientists nationwide, and offer scientists to appear on radio talk shows across the country.
- Produce, distribute a steady stream of climate science information via facsimile and e-mail to science writers around the country.
- Produce, distribute via syndicate and directly to newspapers nationwide a steady stream of op-ed columns and letters to the editor authored by scientists.
- Convince one of the major news national TV journalists (e.g., John Stossel ) to produce a report examining the scientific underpinnings of the Kyoto treaty.
- Organize, promote and conduct through grassroots organizations a series of campus/community workshops/debates on climate science in 10 most important states during the period mid-August through October, 1998.
- Consider advertising the scientific uncertainties in select markets to support national, regional and local (e.g., workshops / debates), as appropriate.
- generate national, regional and local media coverage = manufacture enough noise to get noticed
- stimulating them to raise questions = generate dissonance to confuse them
- independent scientists = guns for hire
- new faces = non-domain experts and/or mediocre researchers who realize that tenure is not in their future
- undercut the "conventional wisdom" = deny that there is a consensus and/or sow doubt that it is valid
- media-trained scientists = an oxymoronic euphemism for "credentialed PR flack"
In short, these masters of deception don't care about your children's children. They only, maybe, care about their own. I can only presume they figure that their own grandkids will be fine come what may by virtue of being filthy rich.
Summary and ConclusionsBased on the above documentation, I think it is fair to conclude that:
- Exxon was made aware by way of research that was self-funded and internally executed and distributed that global warming is a real phenomenon, human CO2 emissions are the main driver of it, and that it presented not only a risk to all of humanity but their own operations if not curtailed.
- Between Dr. Hansen's 1988 congressional testimony and the runup to Kyoto in 1998, they internally decided that CO2 mitigation was the greater risk to their own profitability than continued warming.
- On the basis of (2), they embarked on their own media campaign to undermine the scientific consensus they already acknowledged exists, and which their own prior research supported, and knowingly funded the GCC and GCS to do the same on their own behalf and other industry partners/competitors.
While it might be morally satisfying for any punitive damages be such that it forces them into bankruptcy and liquidation, I think actual damages (to the extent that they can be reasonably determined) are sufficient and most prudent -- putting major corporations out of business disrupts the economy and punishes rank and file employees who should not have to pay for the sins of their bosses.
If Exxon funding the AGW or UCS could be considered part of a voluntary restitution on their part, so much the better. Dirty money spent on a worthy cause seems a fair trade in the murky, morally gray, world of policy and politics.
PostscriptThough not directly related to Exxon, no discussion about undermining the scientific consensus of AGW would be complete without mention of the Frank Luntz Memorandum to Bush White House, 2002. A most-relevant excerpt from the strategy document:
WINNING THE GLOBAL WARMING DEBATE – AN OVERVIEW
Please keep in mind the following communication recommendations as you address global warming in general, particularly as Democrats and opinion leaders attack President Bush over Kyoto.
1. The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.
Update 4/12/2016 9:00 PM PDT: Shollenberger correctly points out that I don't have evidence to support the above paragraph. I write in comments on his blog:
The "as early as 1980" is too early, it should be 1995. And the document is not Exxon's but the GCC's climate primer, which states, "The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied."The following paragraph still stands. /update
Reasonable on strength of statement, wrong year, wrong attribution. That Exxon co-founded and funded the GCC is a link, but I probably should not say something about Exxon that they did not themselves directly write.
Congratulations. Taking your own words at face value, the circle is complete -- you have apparently come to believe your own bullshit.