Exxon finally admits denialists cause problems

by Cindy Baxter

May 26, 2008

Exxon has admitted – for the first time – that the climate deniers it funds are causing problems for action on climate change.

This is a first for the company which has spent, since 1998, $23 million funding the climate denial industry. 

And it’s official – Exxon made this statement in this year’s Corporate Citizenship Report, released in time for its shareholder meeting. 

 The statement reads:

 "in 2008 we will distcontinue contributions to several public policy interest groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner."  (page 41 under "public policy research contributions."

"Could divert attention"?  We award Exxon a special prize for the Understatement of the Year.  The denial industry can be held responsible for the US’s failure to act on climate. And Exxon has been at the heart of it for more than a decade. 

So which groups is Exxon dropping?  According to Reuters, gone from the funding list in 2008 are the George C Marshall Institute,  the Committe for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), Frontiers of Freedom… and others.  

These groups are what you might call the "engine room" of the climate denial industry.  

But even Exxon’s walking away from them now. 

The company started dropping groups in 2006, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute being the first to go.  Last year, it dumped the Heartland Institute, which organised the biggest denial conference for a long time, in New York in March and has been running a slightly ridiculous campaign against Al Gore. 

 The other groups were all co-sponsors of the Heartland conference which concluded, surprisingly enough, that global warming isn’t happening.

 We note that this announcement didn’t come from the usual spokesman from Exxon, Ken Cohen, who chairs the company’s funding committe, but from a new person.  Clearly the new CEO Rex Tillerson is trying to shift his company from the poisoned chalice left to him by former CEO and arch denialist, Lee Raymond. 

But is cutting nine groups getting the job done? 

In short, no.  From the 2007 Worldwide Giving Report, posted on Exxon’s website on Friday, we can see that Exxon funded a total of 37 global warming denial groups, to the tune of nearly $2 million,  which is pretty similar to 2006. Even cutting nine of them means the company is still funding 28 groups engaged in climate denial. 

Tillerson needs to make a much wider sweep if he really wants to shake off Raymond’s legacy – he has started, but we think he should apologise to the global community for the harm his company has caused.

1998 communications strategy groups finally seen off

The latest round of Exxon cuts means an end to the funding of the organisations who gathered together in 1998 to plot a communications strategy designed to foster public scepticism of climate science and undermine the Kyoto treaty. 

The plan was drawn up by a small cabal of groups and companies, including Exxon, Chevron and the big energy provider, the Southern Company, and Fred Singer’s outfit, SEPP.  In there were also Frontiers of Freedom and the Marshall Institute, who have both enjoyed Exxon funding ever since. 

The memo stated that "Victory will be achieved when:

… average citizens "understand" (recognise) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties become part of conventional wisdom;

…"Those promoting the Kyoto Treaty on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality."

Well, sorry guys,  while you may have achieved a certain level of climate scepticism, the IPCC’s latest report is absolutely clear on the climate science – and governments are acting on it. 

Will this stop the denial industry?

 Well, no.  We note that Walt Buchholtz, Exxon’s former funding man, left the company and went to work at Heartland for a year. No doubt he helped set up Heartland’s new sources of funding from other members of the business community. 

There’s still a ways to go, but it’s a start. When companies like Exxon start questioning this lot, there’s not a lot of people who will continue to support them. 


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