Newest Entry in Inside Climate News’ #ExxonKnew Story is a Doozy

This is a re-post from Climate Crocks

Inside Climate News:

As he wrapped up nine years as the federal government’s chief scientist for global warming research, Michael MacCracken lashed out at ExxonMobil for opposing the advance of climate science.

His own great-grandfather, he told the Exxon board, had been John D. Rockefeller’s legal counsel a century earlier. “What I rather imagine he would say is that you are on the wrong side of history, and you need to find a way to change your position,” he wrote.

Addressed to chairman Lee Raymond on the letterhead of the United States Global Change Research Program, his September 2002 letter was not just forceful, but unusually personal.

No wonder: in the opening days of the oil-friendly Bush-Cheney administration, Exxon’s chief lobbyist had written the new head of the White House environmental council demanding that MacCracken be fired for “political and scientific bias.”

Exxon was also attacking other officials in the U.S. government and at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), MacCracken wrote, interfering with their work behind the scenes and distorting it in public.

Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the IPCC, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming, documents written by an Exxon lobbyist and one of its scientists show. The company persuaded the White House to block the reappointment of the IPCC chairman, a World Bank scientist. Exxon’s top climate researcher, Brian Flannery, was pushing the White House for a wholesale revision of federal climate science. The company wanted a new strategy to focus on the uncertainties.

“To call ExxonMobil’s position out of the mainstream is thus a gross understatement,” MacCracken wrote. “To be in opposition to the key scientific findings is rather appalling for such an established and scientific organization.”

MacCracken had a long history of collaboration with Exxon researchers. He knew that during the 1970s and 1980s, well before the general public understood the risks of global warming, the company’s researchers had worked at the cutting edge of climate change science. He had edited and even co-authored some of their reports. So he found it galling that Exxon was now leading a concerted effort to sow confusion about fossil fuels, carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect.

Exxon had turned a colleague into its enemy.


It was a vivid example of Exxon’s undermining of mainstream science and embrace of denial and misinformation, which became most pronounced after President George W. Bush took office. The campaign climaxed when Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. Taking the U.S. out of the international climate change treaty was Exxon’s key goal, and the reason for its persistent emphasis on the uncertainty of climate science.

This in-depth series by InsideClimate News has explored Exxon’s early engagement with climate research more than 35 years ago – and its subsequent use of scientific uncertainty as a shield against forceful action on global warming. The series is based on Exxon documents, interviews, and other evidence from an eight-month investigation.

“What happened was an incredible disconnect in people trained in physical science and engineering,” recalled Martin Hoffert, a New York University professor who collaborated with Exxon’s team as its early computer modeling confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming. “It’s an untold story of how we got to the point where climate change has become a threat to the world.”

The Uncertainty Agenda

As the Bush-Cheney administration arrived in the White House in 2001, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) now had partners for a climate uncertainty strategy.

Just weeks after Bush was sworn in, Exxon’s top lobbyist Randy Randol sent the White House a memo complaining that “Clinton/Gore carry-overs with aggressive agendas” were still playing a role at the IPCC as it prepared its next assessment of the climate science consensus.

MacCracken and three colleagues should be replaced, or at least kept out of “any decisional activities,” he wrote. Meanwhile, U.S. input to the IPCC should be delayed.

Further, two scientists highly critical of the prevailing consensus should be enlisted: John Christy of the University of Alabama should take the science lead and Richard Lindzen of MIT should review U.S. submissions to the IPCC.

Exxon had been circulating a proposal to fundamentally overhaul MacCracken’s global change research program, by emphasizing the uncertainties of climate science.

The timing was not coincidental because the administration, as required by law, was about to lay out a new federal climate research strategy. Exxon and its allies wanted the work done during the Clinton-Gore years to be marginalized.

In March 2002, Flannery, Exxon’s science strategy and programs manager, contacted John H. Marburger, the president’s incoming assistant for science and technology, to pitch the company’s favored approach of emphasizing the uncertainty. Earlier discussions, he asserted, “have not sought to place the uncertainty in the context of why it is important to public policy.”

Exxon’s position paper, attached to his letter, took a dig at the work of the IPCC.

“A major frustration to many is the all-too-apparent bias of IPCC to downplay the significance of scientific uncertainty and gaps,” the memo said.

A Seat at the Table

Exxon had not always been so at odds with the prevailing science.

Since the late 1970s, Exxon scientists had been telling top executives that the most likely cause of climate change was carbon pollution from the combustion of fossil fuels, and that it was important to get a grip on the problem quickly. Exxon Research & Engineering had launched innovative ocean research from aboard the company’s biggest supertanker, the Esso Atlantic. ER&E’s modeling experts, by the early 1980s, had confirmed the consensus among outside scientists about the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide.

“The facts are that we identified the potential risks of climate change and have taken the issue very seriously,” said Ken Cohen, Exxon’s vice president of public and government affairs, in a press release on October 21 addressing the ICN reports. “We embarked on decades of research in collaboration with many parties.”

Exxon has declined to answer specific questions from InsideClimate News.

Read the rest at Inside Climate News.

The early Exxon research itself built on more than a century of gradually increasing certainty that human releases of CO2 would have an effect on global climate, as my video from 2010 points out.

Explore Exxon Documents unearthed by the Inside Climate News series here.

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Posted by greenman3610 on Thursday, 29 October, 2015

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