Saturday, November 26, 2016

ExxonMobil, the Rockefellers and Antarctic climate

Now that we are getting a new U.S. president it’s worth asking how Trump sees the science of climate change. On the campaign trail, he called it a hoax. And he vowed to tear up the Paris Climate Agreement. He may be waffling a bit now – we’ll see, but the question I have is how did we get here? How did a man who will lead us and the world end up thinking so little if at all of climate science and climate change? It turns out he’s not the only one who got fooled. Here’s the story.
FORCE team members at Mt. Bitgood.
Photo © Steve Tucker 

Now that we are getting a new U.S. president it’s worth asking how Trump sees the science of climate change. On the campaign trail, he called it a hoax. And he vowed to tear up the Paris Climate Agreement. He may be waffling a bit now – we’ll see, but the question I have is how did we get here? How did a man who will lead us and the world end up thinking so little if at all of climate science and climate change? It turns out he’s not the only one who got fooled. Here’s the story.


The New York Review of Books published an essay this week1 (first of two parts) authored by two members of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF). The essay charges that ExxonMobil (Exxon) scientists knew about the rising threat of climate change and warned senior management that the company needed to heed these warnings. Instead ExxonMobil buried the findings under artificial argument, casting doubt on the science behind the findings – by their own scientists.

The RFF commissioned a group at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to look into the public record of what Exxon knew and when, and what they then did. The Columbia group found that Exxon scientists first reported the threat of climate change to their business and our planet in 1977. Several other Exxon studies and reports reinforcing these findings followed through the decades. The article gives some powerful quotes from these scientists, that show they found and understood the threats, and passed them on to Exxon executives. A 1982 internal report by Marvin Glaser specifically warned of the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the twenty-first century.

While the Columbia group worked on this, Inside Climate News did its own study of Exxon documents and came to the same conclusions. What did Exxon management do? They concluded that their fossil fuel business would soon be under threat and they need to prepare for pressure from environmental groups, scientists, citizens and government—pressure to regulate and even penalize them.

In 1989 Exxon’s managers, while recognizing the threat uncovered by its own scientists and others, determined to meet the business challenge by employing the Tobacco Strategy—the fake conflict designed by the tobacco industry to delay any action on the deadly effects of tobacco for four decades, in the process generating enormous profit and killing many thousands of our citizens. This strategy is thoroughly documented in the recent book Merchants of Doubt2. It was employed not only for the tobacco issue but acid rain, ozone, and other global environmental and public health problems.

The key step is to manufacture uncertainty around the edges of the problem while casting these remaining questions as central flaws, or to make up new ones. Exxon knew better.

The main steps were:
1. Create and emphasize uncertainly in the science while urging more research before action is taken. Science always has unanswered questions around the main findings. This is the easiest step. The result—delay.
2. Fund front groups “think tanks” to create propaganda about the manufactured uncertainties (Heartland Institute is one, the websites Watts Up With That? and Climate Depot among others). In this manner, they manufactured an artificial debate.
3. Engage the press to take the manufactured debate as an objective issue that needs balanced reporting, thereby giving voice to the centers of disinformation and the public access to their falsehoods.

This strategy is of course fraudulent. The tobacco industry paid dearly for it in the 1990’s. New York and California and several other states are now investigating ExxonMobil for fraud—deceiving their investors, not to mention ruining our planet on purpose.

In parallel with the tobacco strategy, Exxon, their front groups and their lobbyists engaged in harassment and character assassinations of prominent scientists who challenged them—James Hansen and Michael Mann for example. The tobacco industry did exactly the same.

This campaign against climate change science seems to have worked so far. Here we are with U.S. leaders buying into disinformation and outright propaganda. But will ExxonMobil prevail?

Not with the Rockefeller Family Fund. The RFF is in the process of divesting from all of its fossil fuel investments. The irony of this can’t be understated. The Rockefeller family founded Standard Oil, the parent company of ExxonMobil. The divestment process is underway and will take time but the RFF singled out ExxonMobil for immediate divestment, because of its “morally reprehensible conduct.”

I’m happy to conclude after reading this article, and the three reports by Columbia published in the LA Times in 2015, that Exxon scientists, arguably the best in their business, acted ethically. They created climate change science along with university and government scientists. They identified the threats. Then their own company turned on them. Exxon executives squandered their own considerable scientific resources. Exxon could have led the renewable energy world. This might be the final irony.

Where is ExxonMobil now? To quote the RFF article:
“ExxonMobil and its allies are still standing in the way of effective action to address climate change…”

In the meantime, profits roll in while our planet is deconstructed.

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1. David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman. The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon; DECEMBER 8, 2016 ISSUE; New York Review of Books

2. Oreskes, Naomi, and Erik M. Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2010.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

Mount Luyendyk, Marie Byrd Land, Antarctica

Mount Luyendyk. Photo © Christine Siddoway 


Faithful Followers.

I have been absent for quite a while now working on revisions to my book White Ocean. One of the interesting things that happened in the last year was the naming of a mountain in Antarctica for me! What an honor! I owe it my my former student and now Professor Christine Siddoway who nominated my name to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Such a warm feeling I have for a truly frigid place!

Our team camped at the foot of Mount Luyendyk over Christmas 1989. At that time the mountain was named “1070” on a reconnaissance map. The photo on this page was taken by Christine during a fly-in on a subsequent visit in 2010.

Our 1989 visit was notable for the dramatic scenery and stunning weather - that didn’t last long. We were hit by a ferocious blizzard followed by a whiteout that kept us tent-bound for several days.

Here are details:

Geographic Names Information System

Mount Luyendyk

76 29 20.63 S; 146 01 37.05 W
1070 meters (approx.)

“A summit, the northern portion of the Mount Iphigene massif in the northwestern part of Fosdick Mountains of the Ford Ranges, 2.5 miles south of Thompson Ridge between Marujupu Peak and Birchall Peaks. Named by Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for Bruce P. Luyendyk, professor (emeritus) at the University of California Santa Barbara who has been active in international Antarctic research for 25 years. He was responsible for two expeditions and was principal investigator for five marine geophysical expeditions focusing on the Ross Sea area. His cumulative research, findings, and publications have significantly increased scientific knowledge in Antarctica.”

A news release from UC Santa Barbara about Mt. Luyendyk is here!