Earlier this year, Senator Jay Rockefeller and others sent a letter to ExxonMobil Corporation CEO Rex Tillerson, urging Exxon to stop funding efforts to deny and distort the facts about global warming. The National Association of Manufacturers immediately characterized the letter as a "senators attempt to muzzle global warming debate." As reported previously here, (10/25/06, 11/5/06 & 12/9/06) the oil industry is generally opposed to efforts to control consumption of oil and fossil fuel use as against their financial interests. Especially when they are earning such gigantic profits. Big industry is also generally opposed to efforts to reduce emissions that produce global warming because it impacts their profit margin. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have clearly demonstrated their willingness to allow big oil, in particular, to dictate administration policy on the subject, especially in light of the enormous financial contributions the administration has received from them. In fact, Mr. Bush has refused to even use the phrase "global warming" but instead talks about "climate change." The Vice President’s refusal to disclose the names of those who gave evidence to the energy commission about the matter is largely acknowledged to be due to his not wanting to disclose the names of oil and industry people whose identity would be revealed. To do so would offer further evidence of the close connection between industry and administration policy. Last year the Washington Post disclosed a memo from Exxon to President Bush. The memo urged the appointment of several people who have publicly gone on record as doubting global warming exists to administration environmental positions. One of them, Harlan Watson, the Exxon memo requested be named as a U.S. climate negotiator on behalf of the administration. Bush did select Watson as the memo requested and named him lead negotiator for the administration. Environmentalist became very unhappy with his performance and questioned whether he was actually representing the oil industry interests.
Exxon Mobil has played the major role in attempting to discredit the scientific evidence about the problem and to create public debate. In fact, in 1998 Exxon created a secret plan to confuse and obscure the evidence about global warming while at the same time publicly endorsing environmental responsibility. For example, the website Environmental Defense has a link to an internal Exxon memo endorsing their plan which states in part "Victory will achieved when uncertainties in climate science become part of the conventional wisdom for the average citizens and the media." The program included recruiting scientists who would create a debate about the issue and would depict those with a contrary view as "out of touch with reality." The plan was to distort the scientific facts and confuse the issue. To that end, the company poured millions worldwide into this effort. Exxon’s efforts involved being the primary funding source for a large number of global warming denial groups. These groups often shared common staffs and board members. It’s estimated Exxon spent over $19 Million dollars on a strategy of denial and confusion. Not that Exxon is alone in the effort to discredit the problem. Large corporations and industries have joined because of their objections to having to employ emission reductions in industry.
Not only that, Exxon Mobil was quick to give discredited Philip Cooney, former chief of staff to President Bush’s Council on Environmental Quality a job after he had to resign when leaked documents revealed his doctoring of scientific reports on global warming. The Bush administration was embarrassed by the fact he was caught making changes in government scientific reports identifying global warming from human activity as the cause of global warming to instead read as it wasn’t proven yet. The changes conformed to industry and administration positions.
The pattern of corporate denial and distortion of the facts is a favorite strategy for big business when its responsibility for public harm is revealed. We have seen it done by the pharmaceutical and medical product industry when its products caused people harm. Industry generally use this tactic as a defense when corporate wrongdoing is revealed. Of course, the classic example of this is the tobacco industry response to the Reader’s Digest article reporting a link between tobacco use and cancer. When it was published there was a panic in corporate tobacco board rooms. As a result, in November of 1978 the leading tobacco executives held a secret meeting at the Plaza hotel in New York. Participants were advised there should be no written record of what was said. On the advise of a leading public relations firm, hired to advise the executives, it was agreed the industry would promote the idea there was no sound scientific evidence of a link between smoking and cancer. A program to create confusion and obscure the truth was created. For the next decade or more, the industry poured millions of dollars into front organizations and slanted research to continue to promote the idea of lack of proof about a link between cancer and smoking. All the while, their internal documents showed they were fully aware of the real truth.
It should be noted that oil giants BP and Royal Dutch/Shell Group took a better to be safe then sorry approach to the issue. They accepted the scientific consensus that fossil fuels were the main contributor and endorsed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol capping emissions. Both began to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels. But not oil giant Exxon who continued to contribute huge sums to think tanks and others who agree with its view. Money does talk, it seems, when it amounts to record breaking billion dollar profits for Exxon and avaible for political lobbying.