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ExxonMobil Supports Clean Energy Causes — But Also Funds Climate Denier Groups?

2017 donations to climate deniers impact ExxonMobil’s PR statements about sustainable company practices.

If you were a corporation that endorsed actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, would you also fund organizations that contribute to the climate change problem? Well, that’s the contradiction that ExxonMobil is projecting right now, as it gave $1.5 million last year to 11 think tanks and lobby groups that reject established climate science, according to data mining and analysis conducted by EcoWatch.

ExxonMobil’s funding priorities stand in immediate contrast to the company’s public support for a carbon tax and the Paris Agreement on climate.

  • A carbon tax is a fee imposed on the burning of carbon-based fuels which will reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels, whose combustion is destabilizing and destroying our climate. According to the Carbon Tax Center, a carbon tax requires users of carbon fuels pay for the climate damage caused by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Utilizing existing tax collection mechanisms, a carbon tax is paid at the point where fuels are extracted from the Earth and put into the marketplace. As example of ExxonMobil’s continued polluting patterns, the EPA fined the corporation about $300 million to install gas recovery and other new monitoring and pollution control technologies at the petrochemical plants in Louisiana and Texas.
  • The Paris Agreement‘s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yet the Environmental Integrity Project points to ExxonMobil as a historic repeat violator of the Clean Air Act and among the worst emitters during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.

Exxon’s track record on climate science denial and climate double talk has been growing for some time. Exxon (before it merged with Mobil) started funding climate disinformation 20 years ago and knew about the problem nearly 40 years ago.

As Bill McKibben described in The Nation,

“ExxonMobil, the world’s largest and most powerful oil company, knew everything there was to know about climate change by the mid-1980s, and then spent the next few decades systematically funding climate denial and lying about the state of the science.”

Exxon confirmed a global warming consensus in 1982 with in-house climate models, which the company chairman would later mock as unreliable — while he campaigned to stop global action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

During the Bush/Cheney administration, Exxon wanted scientists who disputed the mainstream science on climate change to oversee Washington’s work with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authoritative body that defines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Indeed, Exxon’s earliest internal discussions about climate change, from interactions at the highest echelons to presentations for their employees and the public, reveal the contrast between Exxon’s initial public statements about climate change and the company’s later efforts to deny the link between fossil fuel use and higher global temperatures.

Fast forward to January, 2018. Suzanne McCarron, an ExxonMobil public relations rep, wrote a blog post titled, “A Better Approach to Climate Change” that affirmed the company’s commitment to climate change action. She recognized that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue as well as acknowledged that climate change requires global participation and actions.

“I want to use this opportunity to be 100 percent clear about where we stand on climate change. We believe the risk of climate change is real and we are committed to being part of the solution. That is why we have invested $8 billion since 2000 on energy efficiency and emissions reduction.

It’s also why we support the Paris accord, policy options such as a carbon tax, and are working on new game-changing technologies to meet energy needs while managing the risk of climate change.”

Let’s have some fun and break apart what this ExxonMobil spokesperson said, shall we? It will help us to see the duplicity more clearly.

  • To be “100 percent clear” would require transparency about the company’s own senior scientists’ sobering message back in 1977: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
  • “Where we stand on climate change” is quite different from the statement that “we believe the risk of climate change is real.” The former requires taking and backing up a position through company policies, procedures, actions, and reconciliation in admitting that Exxon’s fossil fuel ambitions have posed a danger to the world through carbon dioxide and the greenhouse effect. The latter merely requires the company to put a public face to climate science to avoid a public relations debacle — it can foist research and development agendas on an unknowing public and investigate possibilities into company GHG emission reductions without taking any substantive action.
  • Saying “we have invested $8 billion since 2000” implies that these investments were self-initiated and voluntary. InsideClimate News’ multi-part history of Exxon’s engagement with the climate change science challenges the independence of such implications. Instead, the corporation was fined and required by governmental bodies to take action — not quite the same as engaging in ethical decision-making.
  • “New game-changing technologies” is an essential assumption — it assumes that ExxonMobil’s technologies are, somehow, more advanced, innovative, and revolutionary that others being developed for energy markets around the world. Sure, biofuel from algae, carbon capture and storage, and new ways to reduce the amount of energy needed in manufacturing are all worthwhile endeavors, but, even in sum, they don’t begin to offset the amount of GHG emissions for which ExxonMobil has to take responsibility.

The Top 4 Climate Deniers that ExxonMobil Funded in 2017

Last year,  ExxonMobil spent $1.35 million of the $1.5 million in donations it gave to 4 organizations — each of which promotes climate denial.

US Chamber of Commerce: In 2014, ExxonMobil committed to give $5 million to the US Chamber of Commerce’s Capital Campaign in $1 million-a-year increments on top of its annual dues, despite the lobby group’s history of misrepresenting climate science and the economics of transitioning to clean energy. They reported that the Paris Agreement would cost the US economy nearly $3 trillion over the next several decades and eliminate 6.5 million industrial sector jobs by 2040. As the AP explains,

“The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting US targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to U.S. businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects.Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation doesn’t actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology.”

The American Enterprise Institute: The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an 80-year-old free-market think tank in Washington, DC, has received more from ExxonMobil than any other climate science denier organization. In 2017, ExxonMobil gave AEI $160,000, bringing its total to $4.49 million since 1998. Economist Benjamin Zycher,who writes about climate issues for AEI, rejects mainstream climate science, insists a carbon tax would be “ineffective,” and has called the Paris agreement an “absurdity.”

Manhattan Institute: Another free-market think tank, the Manhattan Institute, received $115,200 from ExxonMobil last year for its Center for Energy Policy. Since 1998, it has received $1.25 million. Manhattan Institute fellows oppose a carbon tax and the Paris accord.  John Stossel, former host of Fox Business Network’s Stossel and ABC’s 20/20, interviewed Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Oren Cass. The result was a 4-minute YouTube segment titled “The Overheated Costs of Climate Change.” In the video, Stossel and Cass talk about the Paris Agreement and how climate “catastrophists” are harming the debate over on how to adapt to the changing global climate. Cass argues that climate activists have drawn drastic policy implications unwarranted by current climate science, telling Stossel that the Paris climate agreement “was somewhere between a farce and a fraud.” Stossel wholeheartedly agreed. “The Earth is warming. Man may well be increasing that. But the solution isn’t to waste billions by forcing emissions cuts here while other countries do nothing. Well, pretend to make cuts. Trump was right to repudiate this phony treaty.”

American Legislative Exchange Council (Note: ExxonMobil has parted ways with this organization since its 2017 donation):

From 1998 through last year — when Exxon Mobil reported it gave the group $60,000 — ALEC received $1.93 million from the oil company. Over the last two decades, ALEC has routinely featured climate science deniers at its conferences and supplied state lawmakers with a range of fossil fuel industry-drafted sample legislation, including bills that would restrict investment in renewables, eliminate incentives for electric vehicles, and hamper the solar industry from selling electricity directly to residential and business customers. ExxonMobil’s exit from ALEC came just months after the company fought to defeat a draft resolution sponsored by the Heartland Institute — an ExxonMobil grantee from 1998 through 2006 — calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “reopen and review” its “flawed” conclusion that climate change poses a threat to human health. The EPA’s “endangerment finding” requires the agency to regulate carbon dioxide and other global warming emissions as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Some might construe ExxonMobil’s exit from the American Legislative Exchange Council as a welcome change in direction. The company’s money trail, however, clearly shows that it is still financing climate science denier groups that denigrate any and all climate policy options and provide cover for Congress and the current administration to do nothing.

Until ExxonMobil stops funding these groups, its avowed support for a carbon tax, the Paris agreement, and other climate initiatives can’t be seen as anything more than a cynical PR ploy.

Other Climate Denier Organizations that ExxonMobil Funded in 2017

Here is the list of the other 2017 ExxonMobil grantees who are all climate deniers.

  • Center for American and International Law ($23,000)
  • Federalist Society ($10,000)
  • Hoover Institution ($15,000)
  • Mountain States Legal Foundation ($5,000)
  • National Black Chamber of Commerce ($30,000)
  • National Taxpayers Union Foundation ($40,000)
  • Washington Legal Foundation ($40,000)

Final Thoughts

If you want to see subterfuge at its finest, check out the 2018 ExxonMobil “Outlook for Energy Projections” chart below.

While the company seems to be visionary by looking ahead and sharing its projections for the world’s future energy needs, the percentages are largely grounded in an ongoing need for fossil fuels. “Efficiency gains” hold promise, according to the chart, but that stride alone cannot keep up with the 25% increase — led by non-Western countries, the chart’s composers note. A little blaming of the Other goes a long way in convincing shareholders, eh, ExxonMobil?

Acknowledging that electricity demand will skyrocket, there’s no statement about how ExxonMobil will join in with the “400 percent” rise in solar and wind. Really?

Instead, the chart reverts to the golden era of oil, which the chart states “plays a leading role in mobility and modern products.” Nice alliteration, okay, and the statement contains an assumed sense of a society on the move. But how will such a world survive with accumulations of GHG emissions, as is left unspoken in this chart? How will climate change affect people due to this anticipated continued demand for oil? “Commercial transportation and the chemical industry” would fall gladly in line with research and development directions toward sustainable processes and products if ExxonMobil would demand such new energy pathways.

Although the first quadrant of the chart diminished the role of energy efficiency in halting GHG emissions, the bottom left analysis speaks to the gains that energy efficiency can make. With an acknowledged “1 percent per year” increase since 2000, energy efficiency rates “will approximately double” by 2040. It seems as if ExxonMobil had to swallow hard to include this perspective in the chart, but, perhaps, it is a way to point to the company’s own public relations bravado around mitigating greenhouse gas emissions within company operations — as if that is little more than a mere starting point.

The final element of the chart speaks to the “standards of living” that require technology advances — the very type of research that ExxonMobil has proven it can conduct, decade after decade. Now we’ll have to see if this corporation steps up to its purported support of climate initiatives. If it does not and, instead, continues to fund climate deniers, the happy ExxonMobil public corporate face will be shattered as little more than superficial public relations.

Original article source: EcoWatch

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Written By

Carolyn Fortuna (they, them), Ph.D., is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.


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