Sunday, February 4, 2007

Exxon Mobil Responds to AEI Solicitation of Skeptical Review

Original post on 2/2; revised post 2/4

Ken Cohen of Exxon Mobil responded in a conference call Friday to reports [Guardian and CNN stories excerpted below] that American Enterprise Institute, which has long received Exxon Mobil funding, has sought scientists to dispute and downplay the scientific conclusions of the 4th IPCC climate science report released yesterday. 

Cohen indicated that Exxon Mobil had no knowledge that AEI was soliciting scientists to comment upon the IPCC Assessment and that it did not condone any attempt to dispute or downplay the 4th IPCC assessment.  The science "is what it is."  Cohen called the assessment "the best compilation of thinking on the subject."  Cohen indicated that science shows global temperatures are rising, carbon dioxide levels are rising, the increase in global temperatures is linked to increasing carbon dioxide levels, and that emissions from fossil fuels have contributed to those levels.  The science shows that and the question is no longer whether global warming is being caused by human activity, including fossil fuel emissions and land use patterns, but "what is the right policy response to that reality?"  Cohen notes that Exxon Mobil scientists have been involved in the IPCC process.  Cohen also provided Exxon Mobil's comment on the 4th_assessment_response

The initial CNN report incorrectly attributed the letter soliciting reviews of the IPCC 4th Assessment to ExxonMobil, rather than AEI.  However, the current CNN report accurately reports that the letter was from AEI.  According to Exxon Mobil's Cohen, the media have not contacted Exxon prior to publishing their reports.

The news reports on the AEI funding issue underscore the difficulty facing ExxonMobil as it attempts to convince policymakers and the public that it is serious about global warming solutions.

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007

The Guardian

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

Climate scientists described the move yesterday as an attempt to cast doubt over the "overwhelming scientific evidence" on global warming. "It's a desperate attempt by an organisation who wants to distort science for their own political aims," said David Viner of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

"The IPCC process is probably the most thorough and open review undertaken in any discipline. This undermines the confidence of the public in the scientific community and the ability of governments to take on sound scientific advice," he said.

The letters were sent by Kenneth Green, a visiting scholar at AEI, who confirmed that the organisation had approached scientists, economists and policy analysts to write articles for an independent review that would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC report.

"Right now, the whole debate is polarised," he said. "One group says that anyone with any doubts whatsoever are deniers and the other group is saying that anyone who wants to take action is alarmist. We don't think that approach has a lot of utility for intelligent policy."

One American scientist turned down the offer, citing fears that the report could easily be misused for political gain. "You wouldn't know if some of the other authors might say nothing's going to happen, that we should ignore it, or that it's not our fault," said Steve Schroeder, a professor at Texas A&M university.

The contents of the IPCC report have been an open secret since the Bush administration posted its draft copy on the internet in April. It says there is a 90% chance that human activity is warming the planet, and that global average temperatures will rise by another 1.5 to 5.8C this century, depending on emissions.

Lord Rees of Ludlow, the president of the Royal Society, Britain's most prestigious scientific institute, said: "The IPCC is the world's leading authority on climate change and its latest report will provide a comprehensive picture of the latest scientific understanding on the issue. It is expected to stress, more convincingly than ever before, that our planet is already warming due to human actions, and that 'business as usual' would lead to unacceptable risks, underscoring the urgent need for concerted international action to reduce the worst impacts of climate change. However, yet again, there will be a vocal minority with their own agendas who will try to suggest otherwise."

Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The AEI is more than just a thinktank, it functions as the Bush administration's intellectual Cosa Nostra. They are White House surrogates in the last throes of their campaign of climate change denial. They lost on the science; they lost on the moral case for action. All they've got left is a suitcase full of cash."

On Monday, another Exxon-funded organisation based in Canada will launch a review in London which casts doubt on the IPCC report. Among its authors are Tad Murty, a former scientist who believes human activity makes no contribution to global warming. Confirmed VIPs attending include Nigel Lawson and David Bellamy, who believes there is no link between burning fossil fuels and global warming.

Exxon linked to climate change pay out

Think tank offers scientists $10,000 to criticize UN study confirming global warming and placing blame on humans.

By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A think tank partly funded by Exxon Mobil sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000 to critique findings in a major global warming study released Friday which found that global warming was real and likely caused by burning fossil fuels.

The American Enterprise Institute sent the letters to scientists offering them $10,000, plus travel and other expenses, to highlight the shortcomings in a report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group widely considered to be the authority on climate change science.

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"The purpose of this project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on potential policy responses to climate change," said the memo, which was sent to a professor at Texas A&M University.

"We are hoping to sponsor a paper...that thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model [forecasting] outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy..."

The letter was obtained by CNNMoney.com through ExxposeExxon, a coalition of environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

While there is nothing wrong with funding new research, activists said the intent of the letter seemed to be to criticize the UN report in the eyes of the public, outside the normal review process for scientific work.

"It is a major problem that scientists make arguments against climate change...that they can't back up [with] peer reviewed data," said Shawnee Hoover, campaign director for ExxposeExxon.

In a statement, AEI said Exxon's annual contribution to the group is small, amounting to less than 1 percent of AEI's annual budget.

It also said a $10,000 payment for scientific work was not unusual.

"A $10,000 fee for a research project involving the review of a large amount of dense scientific material, and the synthesis of that material into an original, footnoted and rigorous article is hardly exorbitant or unusual; many academics would call it modest," the statement read.

One academic disagreed with that claim.

"To me this is really amazing, you never get offered that kind of money," said Don Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois.

Wuebbles criticized the letter for attempting to influence the outcome of its authors.

"Even if groups ask you to write things, they don't try to give you the answer before hand," he said.

But David Karl, a climate professor at the University of Hawaii, said that the amount of money was typical for authoring such a report, but he took issue with the tone of the letter.

"It sounds like they were looking for a particular outcome," he said.

Exxon has been criticized in the past for funding groups that promote what many experts believe to be junk science.

"This has become a strategy of Exxon's over the years," said Hoover. "The number one way to fight Kyoto was to insert doubt into people's mind."

A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists said Exxon spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 funding 43 "organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science."

According to Exxon's Web site, the company contributed $240,000 to AEI in 2005 and a similar amount in 2004.

An Exxon (Charts) spokesman said the company continues to donate to AEI, but said it does not control what the group does.

The spokesman also noted that Exxon is one of many corporations that give to AEI, which is a well-known think tank.

But Exxon has recently acknowledged that global warming is happening. The oil giant conceded that humans are partly to blame for the phenomenon, and pledged to stop funding what many consider to be fringe groups that downplay human's role in global warming.

"There is increasing evidence that the earth's climate has warmed," reads Exxon's latest statement on global warming, issued Friday in response to the UN study. "CO2 emissions have increased...and emissions from fossil fuels and land use changes are one source of these emissions.

"Because the risks to society and ecosystems [posed by global warming] could prove to be significant, it is prudent now to develop and implement strategies that address the risks, keeping in mind the central importance of energy to the economies of the world. This includes putting policies in place that start us on a path to reduce emissions, while understanding the context of managing carbon emissions among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health."

But critics are calling Exxon's sincerity into question over their perceived attempts to cloud the public's perception of scientific opinion.

"What we want to see is that Exxon is making a polar change" before the company claims that it has reformed its old ways, said Hoover.

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Comments

The best way for Exxon to distance itself from the AEI is to drop the funding, and state it's because Exxon now disagrees with the AEI's continual trashing of the IPCC.

Exxon has been funding the AEI for years - to the tune of more than $1.5 million. The company must be quite clear about the tune the AEI sings on climate.

Not least because recently retired CEO of Exxon, Lee Raymond, has been the vice chair of the AEI for years.

Posted by: shindig | Feb 5, 2007 7:49:29 PM

I guess the efforts of their PR/lobbying people at AEI to hire Biostitutes embarasses Exxon when it gets public attention.

Posted by: libhomo | Feb 3, 2007 12:56:32 AM

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