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How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science
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Union of Concerned Scientists January 2007 ExxonMobil hasdioxide and other heat-trapping emissions, Exxon- drawn upon the tactics and even some of theMobil has funneled about $16 million between organizations and actors involved in the callous1998 and 2005 to a network of ideological and disinformation campaign the tobacco industryadvocacy organizations that manufacture uncer- waged for 40 years. Like the tobacco companies in serious consequences.previous decades, this strategy provides a positive “pro-science” public stance for ExxonMobil that ingful action on global warming with mislead-masks their activity to delay meaningful action on ing charges about the need for “sound science.”global warming and helps keep the public debate stalled on the science rather than focused on policy options to address the problem. E S ExxonMobil hasdioxide and other heat-trapping emissions, Exxon- drawn upon the tactics and even some of theMobil has funneled about $16 million between organizations and actors involved in the callous1998 and 2005 to a network of ideological and disinformation campaign the tobacco industryadvocacy organizations that manufacture uncer- waged for 40 years. Like the tobacco companies in serious consequences.previous decades, this strategy provides a positive “pro-science” public stance for ExxonMobil that ingful action on global warming with mislead-masks their activity to delay meaningful action on ing charges about the need for “sound science.”global warming and helps keep the public debate stalled on the science rather than focused on policy options to address the problem. T F A EM Under tobacco industry to prevent govern- Raymond’s direction, ExxonMobil positioned itself, as Paul Krugman of the New York Times7 ment regulation by creating publicrecently put it, as “an enemy of the planet.” Not confusion about the link between only did he do nothing to curb his company’s global warming emissions, during his tenure smoking and disease. It offers examples toinstance, according to the Center for Responsive illustrate how ExxonMobil’s influence over keyPolitics, ExxonMobil’s PAC—its political action administration officials and members of Congresscommittee—and individuals affiliated with the has fueled the disinformation campaign and helpedcompany made more than $4 million in political forestall federal action to reduce global warmingcontributions throughout the 2000 to 2006 elec- emissions. T O S It is also the means of establishing acontroversy.”19 David Michaels, professor of occu- pational and environmental health at George Wash-ington University School of Public heath and for- mer assistant secretary for the environment, safetythe Clinton administration, has dubbed the strategy one of “manufacturing uncertainty.”20 As Michaels has documented, Big Tobacco pioneered the strategy and many opponents of public healthand environmental regulations have emulated it. From the start, the goal of the tobacco indus- try’s disinformation campaign was simple: to “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. MANUFACTURING UNCERTAINTYlUnion of Concerned Scientists ExxonMobil’s senior environmental lobbyist at the time, and Joe Walker, the public relations rep-resentative of the American Petroleum Institute.31 One member of the GCST task force, Steven Milloy, headed a nonprofit organization called theAdvancement of Sound Science Coalition, which had been covertly created by the tobacco compa-ny Philip Morris in 1993 to manufacture uncer- tainty about the health hazards posed by second-hand smoke.32 A 1998 GCST task force memo outlined an explicit strategy to invest millions of dollars tomanufacture uncertainty on the issue of global warming33 —a strategy that directly emulated INFORMATION LAUNDERING By generously funding a web of organiza- $232,000 (nearly a third of the organization’stions with redundant personnel, advisors, or annual budget) to help launch a new branch of spokespeople, ExxonMobil can quietly and effec- the organization called the Center for Sciencetively provide the appearance of a broad platform and Public Policy, which would focus primarily for a tight-knit group of vocal climate science on climate change.contrarians. Solarvariation is one of the many factors influencing Earth’s climate, although according to the IPCCit is one of the minor influences over the last cen- tury.77 In the mid-1990s, ExxonMobil-funded groups had already begun to spotlight the workof Soon and Baliunas to raise doubts about the human causes of global warming. PROMOTING SCIENTIFIC SPOKESPEOPLE D.in a field related to climate science.97 In a highly unusual response, NAS issued a statement dis-avowing Seitz’s petition and disassociating the academy from the PNAS-formatted paper.98 None of these facts, however, have stopped organi- zations, including those funded by ExxonMobil,from touting the petition as evidence of wide- spread disagreement over the issue of globalwarming. For instance, in the spring of 2006, the discredited petition surfaced again when itwas cited in a letter to California legislators by a group calling itself “Doctors for Disaster Pre-paredness,” a project of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. SHIFTING THE FOCUS OF THE DEBATE During the 2000 to 2006 elec- the tobacco industry used, we’re seeing some of111 tion cycles, ExxonMobil’s PAC and individuals the same groups.” Of course, unlike the tobaccoaffiliated with the company gave more than $4 113 companies, ExxonMobil has yet to receive a courtmillion to federal candidates and parties.order to force to light internal documents pertain- Shortly after President Bush’s inauguration, ing to its climate change activities. One of her notes reads: “POTUS [the President of the United States] rejected Kyoto, in part,based on input from you.” 116 A Freedom of Information Act request also revealed that in February 2001, immediatelyfollowing the release of the authoritative 2001 report on global warming from the Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 117ExxonMobil successfully lobbied the Bush admin- istration to try to oust the chair of the IPCC. CONGRESSIONAL ACTION lUnion of Concerned Scientists contributions from ExxonMobil and its executives until the disinformation campaign ceases and thecorporation ends its opposition to mandatory regu- lation of global warming emissions from fossil fuels. Law-makers should also encourage the integration of low carbon fuels into the supply chain by devel-oping policies to ensure that more gas stations sell biofuels such as E85 and that flexible fuel vehiclescomprise a greater percentage of the vehicle fleet. SHAREHOLDER ENGAGEMENT 156 In 2006, shareholders offered a resolution calling on the ExxonMobil board to establishpolicies designed to achieve the long-term goal of making ExxonMobil the recognized leader in low-carbon emissions in both the company’s produc- tion and products. This request stemmed from growing concerns in the financialworld that ExxonMobil is “a company that fails to acknowledge the potential for climate changeto have a profound impact on global energy mar- kets, and which lags far behind its competitorsin developing a strategy to plan for and manage these impacts,” as articulated in a letter to Exxon-Mobil from investors in May of 2006. MEDIA ACCOUNTABILITY CONSUMER ACTION For example, ExxonMobil’s 2005 Corpo- rate Citizen Report states, “We seek to drive inci-dents with environmental impact to zero, and to operate in a manner that is not harmful to theenvironment.” 163 Even while making such pro- nouncements, ExxonMobil has, as this reportdemonstrates, been engaged in a disinformation campaign to confuse the public on global warm-ing. State department docu- ments revealed that the White house consideredExxonMobil “among the companies most actively and prominently opposed to binding approaches[like Kyoto] to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” 164 Customers should press ExxonMobil to end its opposition to federal policies that would ensurereductions in U. T S C G W That, in anutshell, is the overwhelming scientific consensus about global climate change, ever since the pub-lication of a landmark review in 2001 by an in- ternational panel of leading climate experts underthe auspices of the United Nations, called theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It is vital that all nations identify cost-effective steps that they can take now to con-tribute to substantial and long-term reduction in net global greenhouse gas emissions.”170 One of the reasons scientists consider the evidence so compelling is that it draws on sucha broad range of sources. K I D 25 For a review of the early debate over global warming, see Linden, E., 2006,26 See, for instance, detailing the “blunt speech” by then-chairman Lawrence Rawl, expressing “doubt that theories on global warming would eventually prove accurate.” The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations, NY: Simon and Schuster. 52 The organizations include the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, the American Council on Science and Health, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Consumer Alert, the Heritage Foundation, Tech Central Station, and the Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy.