[Marxism] The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 18 08:47:49 MST 2016


NY Review, DECEMBER 8, 2016 ISSUE
The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon
David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on 
Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Bloomsbury, 355 pp., $18.00 (paper)

Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power
by Steve Coll
Penguin, 685 pp., $19.00 (paper)

Exxon: The Road Not Taken
by Neela Banerjee, John H. Cushman Jr., David Hasemyer, and Lisa Song
InsideClimate News, 88 pp., $5.99 (paper)

What Exxon Knew About the Earth’s Melting Arctic
an article by Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch, and 
Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, October 9, 2015

How Exxon Went from Leader to Skeptic on Climate Change Research
an article by Katie Jennings, Dino Grandoni, and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2015

Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulations
an article by Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust
Los Angeles Times, December 31, 2015

Archival Documents on Exxon’s Climate History
available at www.climatefiles.com

Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to 
Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science
a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, January 2007, available 
at www.ucsusa.org

Earlier this year our organization, the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), 
announced that it would divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. We 
mean to do this gradually, but in a public statement we singled out 
ExxonMobil for immediate divestment because of its “morally 
reprehensible conduct.”1 For over a quarter-century the company tried to 
deceive policymakers and the public about the realities of climate 
change, protecting its profits at the cost of immense damage to life on 
this planet.

Our criticism carries a certain historical irony. John D. Rockefeller 
founded Standard Oil, and ExxonMobil is Standard Oil’s largest direct 
descendant. In a sense we were turning against the company where most of 
the Rockefeller family’s wealth was created. (Other members of the 
Rockefeller family have been trying to get ExxonMobil to change its 
behavior for over a decade.) Approached by some reporters for comment, 
an ExxonMobil spokesman replied, “It’s not surprising that they’re 
divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy 
against us.”2

What we had funded was an investigative journalism project. With help 
from other public charities and foundations, including the Rockefeller 
Brothers Fund (RBF), we paid for a team of independent reporters from 
Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism to try to determine 
what Exxon and other US oil companies had really known about climate 
science, and when. Such an investigation seemed promising because Exxon, 
in particular, has been a leader of the movement to deny the facts of 
climate change.3 Often working indirectly through front groups, it 
sponsored many of the scientists and think tanks that have sought to 
obfuscate the scientific consensus about the changing climate, and it 
participated in those efforts through its paid advertisements and the 
statements of its executives.

It seemed to us, however, that for business reasons, a company as 
sophisticated and successful as Exxon would have needed to know the 
difference between its own propaganda and scientific reality. If it 
turned out that Exxon and other oil companies had recognized the 
validity of climate science even while they were funding the climate 
denial movement, that would, we thought, help the public understand how 
artificially manufactured and disingenuous the “debate” over climate 
change has always been. In turn, we hoped this understanding would build 
support for strong policies addressing the crisis of global warming.

Indeed, the Columbia reporters learned that Exxon had understood and 
accepted the validity of climate science long before embarking on its 
denial campaign, and in the fall of 2015 they published their 
discoveries in The Los Angeles Timess.4 Around the same time, another 
team of reporters from the website InsideClimate News began publishing 
the results of similar research.5 (The RFF has made grants to 
InsideClimate News, and the RBF has been one of its most significant 
funders, but we didn’t know they were engaged in this project.) The 
reporting by these two different groups was complementary, each 
confirming and adding to the other’s findings.

Following publication of these articles, New York Attorney General Eric 
Schneiderman began investigating whether ExxonMobil had committed fraud 
by failing to disclose many of the business risks of climate change to 
its shareholders despite evidence that it understood those risks 
internally. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey soon followed 
Schneiderman with her own investigation, as did the AGs of California 
and the Virgin Islands, and thirteen more state AGs announced that they 
were considering investigations.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton each called for a federal 
investigation of ExxonMobil by the Department of Justice. Secretary of 
State John Kerry compared Exxon’s deceptions to the tobacco industry’s 
long denial of the danger of smoking, predicting that, if the 
allegations were true, Exxon might eventually have to pay billions of 
dollars in damages “in what I would imagine would be one of the largest 
class-action lawsuits in history.”6 Most recently, in August, the 
Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating the way 
ExxonMobil values its assets, given the world’s growing commitment to 
reducing carbon emissions. An article in The Wall Street Journal 
observed that this “could have far-reaching consequences for the oil and 
gas industry.”7

We didn’t expect ExxonMobil to admit that it had been at fault. It is 
one of the largest companies in the world—indeed, if its revenues are 
compared to the gross domestic products of nations, it has one of the 
world’s larger economies, bigger than Austria’s, for example, or 
Thailand’s8—and it has a reputation for unusual determination in 
promoting its self-interest.9 One way or another, we expected it to 
fight back—most likely, we thought, by proxy, through its surrogates in 
the right-wing press and in Congress.

Sure enough, various bloggers have been calling for “the Rockefellers”10 
to be prosecuted by the government for “conspiracy” against Exxon under 
the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.11 (Such 
lines of attack are being tested and refined, and we expect they will 
soon be repeated in journals with broader readership.) And in May, Texas 
Republican Lamar Smith, the chair of the House Committee on Science, 
Space, and Technology, sent a letter to the RFF and seven other NGOs 
(including the RBF, 350.org, Greenpeace, and the Union of Concerned 
Scientists),12 as well as all seventeen AGs who said they might 
investigate ExxonMobil. He accused us of engaging in “a coordinated 
effort to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, and scientists of 
their First Amendment rights and ability to fund and conduct scientific 
research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution,” and 
demanded that we turn over to him all private correspondence between any 
of the recipients of his letter relating to any potential climate change 
investigation. When we all refused, twice, to surrender any such 
correspondence, Smith subpoenaed Schneiderman, Healey, and all eight 
NGOs for the same documents.

We will answer Smith’s accusations against us presently. In order to 
explain ourselves, however, we first have to explain what Exxon knew 
about climate change, and when—and what, despite that knowledge, Exxon 
did: the morally reprehensible conduct that prompted our actions in the 
first place.

Large oil companies must possess considerable scientific expertise. In 
that respect as in others, Exxon has always been an industry leader: the 
company today says it employs about 16,000 scientists and engineers.13 
And the basic mechanism of climate change is relatively straightforward, 
long-established science. In the 1850s, John Tyndall discovered that 
atmospheric carbon dioxide acts as a “greenhouse gas,” meaning that it 
reflects heat rising from the earth back to the planet’s surface. The 
Swedish geochemist Svante Arrhenius realized at the beginning of the 
twentieth century that people were burning fossil fuels in quantities 
great enough to warm the entire planet with the CO2 they released. In 
1965, Lyndon Johnson told Congress, “This generation has altered the 
composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through…a steady 
increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”14 So it is 
no surprise that by the late 1970s and early 1980s, Exxon scientists 
largely understood climate change—not only its basic mechanism but many 
of its implications, including its potential implications for the oil 
business—and had explained it to the company’s leaders.

In 1977, for example, an Exxon scientist named James Black gave a 
presentation to the company’s Management Committee. He explained, 
accurately, what the “greenhouse effect” is and how measurements of 
atmospheric CO2 that had been taken since 1957 showed it was steadily 
increasing. And, although emphasizing that climate science still had to 
deal with untested assumptions and uncertainties, he said that “current 
opinion overwhelmingly favors attributing atmospheric CO2 increase to 
fossil fuel combustion.”15 “Present thinking,” Black added a year later, 
“holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need 
for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become 
critical.”16

By 1980, a report written by Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary and distributed 
to Exxon managers around the world stated matter-of-factly, “It is 
assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil 
fuels…and oxidation of carbon stored in trees and soil humus…. There is 
no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases in forest 
cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the 
atmosphere.”17 The next year Roger Cohen, director of Exxon’s 
Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Laboratory, wrote in an internal 
memo that by 2030, projected cumulative carbon emissions could, after a 
delay, “produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for 
a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).”18

In 1982, Cohen added that “over the past several years a clear 
scientific consensus has emerged”: atmospheric CO2 would double from its 
preindustrial quantity sometime in the second half of the twenty-first 
century, producing an average increase in global temperature of three 
degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees. “There is unanimous 
agreement in the scientific community,” he went on, “that a temperature 
increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the 
earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the 
biosphere.”19

It was clear, too, what a problem these conclusions posed for the oil 
industry. As a 1979 Exxon memo reported,

Models predict that the present trend of fossil fuel use will lead to 
dramatic climatic changes within the next 75 years…. Should it be deemed 
necessary to maintain atmospheric CO2 levels to prevent significant 
climatic changes, dramatic changes in patterns of energy use would be 
required.20

In other words, the world would have to curtail its use of fossil fuels 
substantially. Senior Exxon scientist Henry Shaw warned management that 
according to the predictions of the National Academy of Sciences, global 
warming, not any lack of supply, would force humankind to stop burning 
fossil fuels.21

In 1982, an Exxon environmental affairs manager named Marvin Glaser 
wrote a thirty-nine-page primer on climate change that he distributed 
widely among management.22 It confirmed that, despite remaining points 
of scientific uncertainty, “mitigation of the ‘greenhouse effect’ would 
require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.” If these weren’t 
achieved, Glaser warned, “all biological systems are likely to be 
affected” and “there are some potentially catastrophic events that must 
be considered,” including an expected “dramatic impact on soil moisture, 
and in turn, on agriculture,” and, eventually, the melting of the 
Antarctic ice sheet, which would flood “much of the US East Coast, 
including the State of Florida and Washington D.C.” He believed that 
“potentially serious climate problems are not likely to occur until the 
late 21st century,” but added, “once the effects are measurable, they 
might not be reversible.”

Climate scientist James Hansen at a mock gravestone declaring ‘Climate 
Change: A Matter of Life and Death,’ Coventry, England, March 2009
Darren Staples/Reuters
Climate scientist James Hansen at a mock gravestone declaring ‘Climate 
Change: A Matter of Life and Death,’ Coventry, England, March 2009
If much was already understood about climate change, however, there were 
still points of uncertainty. Scientists knew that the ocean, for 
example, would absorb some fraction of the CO2 being added to the 
atmosphere (and become more acidic in the process), but just how much 
was unclear. They also knew that the ocean acted as a thermal 
reservoir—that it would absorb a great deal of the additional heat 
reflected back to the planet’s surface from increased atmospheric CO2, 
beginning to release it only after a considerable delay, perhaps of 
decades. But just how long that delay would be depended on how much 
mixing there was between the ocean’s upper and lower depths, and that 
wasn’t well understood either.

Cohen’s “clear scientific consensus” notwithstanding, such lingering 
questions meant that scientists still disagreed about precisely how much 
the climate would change, and how quickly. The computerized models they 
were building to forecast those effects were also considered much more 
reliable in predicting average global changes than specific regional 
ones (except near the poles, where almost everyone agreed that warming 
would be particularly severe). None of these legitimate uncertainties in 
climate science, however, implied any doubt about its main conclusions: 
that the changing climate would soon have dramatic impacts on the earth, 
and that it was primarily caused by humans burning fossil fuels.23

Many Exxon scientists and executives wanted to be able to predict how 
severe climate change would be and when, to better anticipate changes in 
energy policy. They wanted not only to understand the science 
thoroughly, but to earn a reputation as trusted leaders in it so they 
could better defend the company’s interests against “conclusions drawn 
from the [international research] program which might be biased for 
political or other reasons.”24 As Henry Shaw put it, “We should 
determine how Exxon can best participate in [climate research] and 
influence possible legislation on environmental controls. It is 
important to begin to anticipate the strong intervention of 
environmental groups and be prepared to respond with reliable and 
credible data.”25

So, with its extraordinary resources, Exxon became a corporate leader in 
climate science. It equipped its largest supertanker as a research 
vessel, measuring CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and at different 
depths of the ocean all along the ship’s route.26 It also became expert 
in computerized climate modeling, not only to evaluate the predictions 
of others but to help improve such models. Ultimately, one of its 
scientists published nearly fifty peer-reviewed papers about various 
technical aspects of climate change.27

The company’s early findings may not have been quite what management was 
looking for, however. In 1985, for example, Exxon astrophysicist Brian 
Flannery and NYU physicist Martin Hoffert wrote a chapter for a US 
Department of Energy report using their own climate models to predict 
global warming of as much as six degrees Celsius by the end of the 
twenty-first century unless greenhouse gas emissions were reduced.28 As 
Roger Cohen had written three years earlier, “The results of our 
research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of 
increased atmospheric CO2 on climate.” Cohen believed that “our ethical 
responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the 
scientific literature; indeed to do otherwise would be a breach of 
Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.”29

Then, however, in 1988, the United States was struck by the costliest 
drought in its history. Widespread heat waves were blamed for more than 
five thousand deaths; fires swept over the West, engulfing much of 
Yellowstone National Park. That June, the NASA scientist James Hansen 
told Congress that “the greenhouse effect is real, it is coming soon, 
and it will have major effects on all peoples.”30 Suddenly the notion of 
global warming was everywhere—Time named “Endangered Earth” its “Planet 
of the Year.” And Exxon’s public position changed dramatically.

In August 1988, an Exxon public affairs manager drafted a memo called 
“The Greenhouse Effect.” He acknowledged that “the principal greenhouse 
gases are by-products of fossil fuel combustion.” However, he wrote, the 
“Exxon Position” would now be to “emphasize the uncertainty in 
scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced greenhouse 
effect.”31

What did that mean? In 1989 Duane LeVine, Exxon’s manager of science and 
strategy development, told the company’s board of directors that the 
scientific consensus was now that global temperatures would rise by 1.5 
to 4.5 degrees Celsius by the middle of the twenty-first century, with 
“enormous potential global impacts.” But, he added, “arguments that we 
can’t tolerate delay and must act now can lead to irreversible and 
costly Draconian steps.” So Exxon would “extend the science,” convincing 
policymakers and the public that climate change was still insufficiently 
understood and that more research needed to be done before significant 
action could be warranted. Meanwhile, it would emphasize the cost of 
reducing carbon emissions.32

This strategy recalled to us the conclusions of the book Merchants of 
Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from 
Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, in which the historians of science 
Naomi Oreskes (Harvard) and Erik Conway (California Institute of 
Technology) tell the story of what they call the “Tobacco Strategy.” 
Tobacco industry scientists and executives knew by 1953 that smoking 
caused cancer. Rather than see sales diminish, however, they decided to 
deceive the public. Since the proof of smoking’s danger was established 
by science, they resolved on a long-term effort to create doubt about 
that science. And they realized that the best, most credible messengers 
in a campaign to discredit established science would be other scientists.33

The tobacco industry found and funded scientists who, “cherry-picking 
data and focusing on unexplained or anomalous details,” would argue that 
the causal link between smoking and cancer had not been proven. (Since 
there are lingering uncertainties around any settled point of 
science—why some smokers get lung cancer and others don’t, for 
example—this is always an easy argument to make, even when it is a 
specious one.) By this time, the scientific consensus was that smoking’s 
danger had been proven; those who denied it were dramatically 
outnumbered. But the industry also funded a network of “free-market,” 
antiregulatory think tanks to repeat and amplify the claims of its 
scientists. (It tried to hide the fact that it was paying these 
scientists and think tanks, often routing its payments through front 
groups like law firms or right-wing foundations.)

Then the industry manufactured an artificial “‘debate,’ convincing the 
mass media that responsible journalists had an obligation to present 
‘both sides’ of it.” The industry didn’t need to win this debate, its 
leaders realized; only to keep it going. “Doubt is our product,” 
explained a tobacco executive’s 1969 memo, “since it is the best means 
of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the 
general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”34

As we know, this campaign ultimately failed, but it succeeded for an 
astonishingly long time. The tobacco industry didn’t begin losing court 
cases until the 1990s, some four decades after realizing that its 
product killed its customers.35 In the meantime, it made enormous 
profits. Other industrial leaders took note, and when they found 
themselves in similar situations—when scientists had shown that their 
businesses were causing acid rain, depleting the ozone layer, or harming 
human health, and when, in consequence, they faced the prospect of 
governmental regulation—they began copying the tobacco strategy. In 
doing so they often relied on the same small group of scientists and 
think tanks that the tobacco industry had used.36

When Exxon began to “emphasize the uncertainty” of climate science, the 
scientists who espoused its positions were often veterans of those 
earlier denial campaigns. Among them were Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, 
Robert Jastrow, and Bill Nierenberg. They had all been reputable, 
prominent physicists during the cold war, but they eventually became, 
essentially, professional deniers of science, arguing on one issue after 
another that findings harmful to industry were “unproven,” “junk 
science.” Oreskes and Conway believe that their motivation was less 
mercenary than ideological, although they were often paid by the 
organizations they directed or worked with, which in turn were supported 
by the industries they defended. They were all fervent anti-Communists 
and ardent free-market purists. Especially after the cold war ended, 
they saw environmentalists as the next great threat to capitalism, 
since, by pointing out the damage industry sometimes does to the 
environment and human health, defenders of the environment are 
implicitly criticizing the workings of free markets and bolstering the 
case for regulation.37

These men were not experts in climate science, and the reports they 
wrote, though adorned with “the trappings of scientific 
argumentation—graphs, charts, references, and the like,” were not 
“subject to independent peer review—the most basic requirement of any 
truly scientific work.”38 It seems quite clear that they sometimes 
consciously misrepresented real science in their arguments, persisting 
even after their fallacies and distortions were revealed publicly.39 
Sometimes Seitz and Singer and others simply tried to smear the 
legitimate climate scientists whose work seemed most threatening to 
them.40 Either way, their claims were echoed, promoted, and “validated” 
by the same free-market think tanks that had previously fought the 
scientific consensus on issues like smoking, acid rain, and the ozone 
layer—think tanks that Exxon funded.41 Then the fake debate they created 
was broadcast further and given an additional veneer of credibility by 
journalists, some of whom were persuaded by spurious arguments about the 
need for “balanced” reporting, even on issues the scientific community 
considered settled, and some of whom, it turned out, were simply in 
Exxon’s pay.42

Exxon didn’t always rely on the writings of such scientists. For decades 
it published frequent “advertorials” on the editorial page of The New 
York Times, questioning the reality of climate change or its human 
cause, or arguing that predictions about global warming were too 
unreliable to justify efforts to prevent it.43 And in 1997, for example, 
at the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond gave a 
speech in which he claimed, falsely, that “the earth is cooler today 
than it was twenty years ago.” (1997 would be the hottest year ever 
measured; that record has been broken repeatedly since then.)44 Raymond 
went on to disparage the climate models his own scientists had helped 
develop, and concluded by saying:

Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will 
change in the twenty-first century and beyond. That means we need to 
understand the issue better, and fortunately, we have time. It is highly 
unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be 
significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or twenty years 
from now.45

In 1998 Exxon participated in a $6 million public relations campaign by 
the American Petroleum Institute (a trade association which Exxon 
heavily influenced and supported) to prevent the United States from 
ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty to reduce 
greenhouse gas emissions. The “action plan” for this campaign stated:

Victory will be achieved when: average citizens “understand” (recognize) 
uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes 
part of the “conventional wisdom”…[and] those promoting the Kyoto treaty 
on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.

But, it cautioned, “unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue, meaning 
that the Kyoto proposal is defeated and there are no further initiatives 
to thwart the threat of climate change, there may be no moment when we 
can declare victory for our efforts.”46 The campaign was highly 
successful: the US never did join the Kyoto Protocol.

Still, ExxonMobil (as it became in 1999) continued to spend 
extraordinary sums on lobbying, directly and through trade associations: 
$240 million since 1998.47 And in 2001, soon after President George W. 
Bush was inaugurated, the company’s chief lobbyist sent a memo to the 
White House making several requests. He asked the new administration to 
get rid of the scientist who chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on 
Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body that is the world’s leading authority 
on the subject. He also asked that a number of other scientists and 
officials be fired from their jobs in the White House and the State 
Department, to be replaced by known climate skeptics.48 Exxon CEO 
Raymond and Vice President Dick Cheney were old friends, and Cheney had 
already taken practical control of the administration’s energy policy.49 
ExxonMobil got its wishes.50 As Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said 
around the same time to the Environmental Protection Agency 
administrator Christine Todd Whitman, when she told him that Cheney had 
convinced Bush to repudiate his campaign promises about limiting carbon 
emissions, “We just gave away the environment.”51

ExxonMobil and its allies are still standing in the way of effective 
action to address climate change, as we will show in a second article.

—This is the first of two articles.

1
See www.rffund.org/divestment.  ↩
2
See Rupert Neate, “Rockefeller Family Charity to Withdraw All 
Investments in Fossil Fuel Companies,” The Guardian, March 23, 2016; Joe 
Carroll, “Rockefellers Dump Exxon Holdings That Made Family’s Fortune,” 
Bloomberg, March 23, 2016.  ↩
3
See, e.g., Justin Farrell, “Corporate Funding and Ideological 
Polarization About Climate Change,” Proceedings of the National Academy 
of Sciences of the United States of America, January 5, 2016; Steve 
Coll, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power (Penguin, 2012), pp. 
184–185, 619–620; Union of Concerned Scientists, “Smoke, Mirrors and Hot 
Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture 
Uncertainty on Climate Science,” January 2007, pp. 1–3.  ↩
4
Sara Jerving, Katie Jennings, Masako Melissa Hirsch, and Susanne Rust, 
“What Exxon Knew about the Earth’s Melting Arctic,” Los Angeles Times, 
October 9, 2015 (graphics.latimes.com/exxon-arctic/); Katie Jennings, 
Dino Grandoni, and Susanne Rust, “How Exxon Went from Leader to Skeptic 
on Climate Change Research,” Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2015 
(graphics.latimes.com/exxon-research/); Amy Lieberman and Susanne Rust, 
“Big Oil Braced for Global Warming While It Fought Regulations,” Los 
Angeles Times, December 31, 2015 (graphics.latimes.com/oil-operations/).  ↩
5
See insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken, reviewed in 
these pages by Tim Flannery, “Fury Over Fracking,” April 21, 2016.  ↩
6
See Lisa Song, “Sanders Calls for Investigation of ‘Potential Corporate 
Fraud’ by Exxon,” InsideClimate News, October 20, 2015; Timothy Cama, 
“Hillary Joins Call for Federal Probe of Exxon Climate Change Research,” 
The Hill, October 29, 2015; Jeff Goodell, “John Kerry on Climate Change: 
The Fight of Our Time,” Rolling Stone, December 1, 2015.  ↩
7
See Bradley Olson and Aruna Viswanatha, “SEC Probes Exxon Over 
Accounting for Climate Change,” The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 
2016.  ↩
8
See Ken Cohen’s “So How Did ExxonMobil Do in 2014?” February 3, 2015 
(www.exxonmobilperspectives.com/2015/02/03/so-how-did-exxonmobil-do-in-2014/) 
for the company’s most recent self-reported yearly global revenues. See 
Knoema’s “World GDP ranking,” 2016, for GDP data: 
knoema.com/nwnfkne/world-gdp-ranking-2016-data-and-charts-forecast.  ↩
9
See, e.g., Steve Coll, Private Empire, pp. 77, 135, 406, 541.  ↩
10
Both as long-term shareholders in ExxonMobil and as environmentalists, 
many members of the Rockefeller family have been concerned about the 
company’s behavior and its business model for a long time. In an effort 
that lasted for more than ten years, family members met repeatedly with 
senior ExxonMobil executives, including CEO Rex Tillerson, urging them 
to acknowledge what a grave threat climate change poses and to move more 
seriously into the field of clean energy. (See Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, 
“A Rockefeller Explains: Why I Lost Faith in Exxon Mobil and Donated My 
Shares,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2016.) When those discussions 
proved fruitless, the same family members began introducing resolutions 
at ExxonMobil’s annual shareholder meetings, most of which were meant to 
force the company to recognize the danger of remaining so committed to 
fossil fuels in the age of climate change. The company fought and 
defeated all those resolutions. (See Leslie Eaton and Russell Gold, 
“Rockefeller Rebellion Turns Up Heat on Exxon,” The Wall Street Journal, 
May 24, 2008; Suzanne Goldenberg, “Rockefeller Family Tried and Failed 
to Get ExxonMobil to Accept Climate Change,” The Guardian, March 27, 2015.)

When Tillerson succeeded Lee Raymond as CEO of ExxonMobil at the start 
of 2006, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe wrote him a letter 
accusing ExxonMobil of having contributed to the climate denial campaign 
by joining other corporations in sponsoring a “pseudo-scientific, 
non-peer reviewed echo chamber. The goal has not been to prevail in the 
scientific debate, but to obscure it,” employing “strategies all-too 
reminiscent of those used by the tobacco industry for so many years.” 
“We are convinced,” the senators said, “that ExxonMobil’s longstanding 
support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics, and those 
skeptics’ access to and influence on governmental policymakers, have 
made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the 
moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy,” and they 
asked Tillerson to end ExxonMobil’s support of “climate change denial 
front groups.” (See 
www.climatefiles.com/bp/2006-letter-exxonmobil-ceo-rex-tillerson-senators-snowe-rockefeller/.) 
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund has been an early leader in the movement 
to divest from fossil fuel companies.

The ExxonMobil shareholder resolutions sponsored by Rockefellers were 
supported by a majority of adult family members, but, counting only 
descendants of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and their spouses and 
step-children, there are now over 270 living members of the family with 
different interests and different political perspectives; they rarely do 
anything unanimously, and it makes little sense to speak of “the 
Rockefellers” as some sort of monolithic entity. Although the boards of 
the Rockefeller Family Fund and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund are still 
led by members of the family, they are independent, distinct 
institutions. In these articles we are speaking only for the Rockefeller 
Family Fund. ↩
11
See, e.g., Tom Shepstone, “Is It Now Time for a Rockefeller RICO 
Lawsuit?” Natural Gas Now, April 16, 2016.  ↩
12
The other three subpoenaed groups are the Climate Reality Project, the 
Climate Accountability Institute, and the Global Warming Legal Action 
Project. The RFF has made grants to the Union of Concerned Scientists 
and to 350.org for their climate work in recent years, including one 
$50,000 grant to 350.org in 2012 supporting its work to hold the fossil 
fuel industry accountable for blocking efforts to mitigate climate 
change.  ↩
13
See 
www.exxonmobilperspectives.com/2015/10/15/ExxonMobil’s-commitment-to-climate-science/. 
  ↩
14
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists 
Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, pp. 
170–171.  ↩
15
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1978-exxon-memo-on-greenhouse-effect-for-exxon-corporation-management-committee/. 
Black’s comments in 1977 were made without a prepared text. The 
quotation is taken from a version of the same talk that he dictated in 
1978.  ↩
16
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1978-exxon-memo-on-greenhouse-effect-for-exxon-corporation-management-committee/. 
  ↩
17
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/imperial-oil-1980-review-of-environmental-protection-activities/. 
  ↩
18
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1981-exxon-memo-on-possible-emission-consequences-of-fossil-fuel-consumption/. 
  ↩
19
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1982-exxon-memo-summarizing-climate-modeling-and-co2-greenhouse-effect-research/. 
  ↩
20
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1979-exxon-memo-on-potential-impact-of-fossil-fuel-combustion/. 
This memo discussed the work of a “summer employee.” However, the work 
was taken seriously within Exxon, and the memo was sent to a number of 
the senior scientists who were leading the company’s efforts to 
understand climate change and its likely implications, including James 
Black, quoted above, and Henry Shaw, below.  ↩
21
See John H. Cushman, Jr., “Highlighting the Allure of Synfuels, Exxon 
Played Down the Climate Risks,” InsideClimate News, October 8, 2015.  ↩
22
See 
insideclimatenews.org/sites/default/files/documents/1982%20Exxon%20Primer%20on%20CO2%20Greenhouse%20Effect.pdf, 
quoted in Banerjee, Song, and Hasemyer, “Exxon’s Own Research,” 
InsideClimate News, September 16, 2015; Lisa Song, Neela Banerjee, and 
David Hasemyer, “Exxon Confirmed Global Warming Consensus in 1982 with 
In-House Climate Models,” InsideClimate News, September 22, 2015.  ↩
23
See Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer, “Exxon Believed Deep 
Dive Into Climate Research Would Protect Its Business,” InsideClimate 
News, September 17, 2015; Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, p. 173.  ↩
24
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1980-memo-on-exxons-view-and-position-on-the-greenhouse-effect/. 
  ↩
25
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1979-exxon-memo-on-atmospheric-science-research-to-influence-legislation/. 
  ↩
26
More recently, when ExxonMobil realized that people were trying to learn 
what it had known about climate science and when, a company spokesman 
denied that the ship’s research pertained to climate change. This is 
contradicted, however, by the company’s own records and the 
recollections of the scientists involved. (See Banerjee et al., “Deep 
Dive Into Climate Research.”)  ↩
27
See 
cdn.exxonmobil.com/~/media/global/files/energy-and-environment/climate_peer_reviewed_publications_1980s_forward.pdf. 
ExxonMobil has sometimes argued in the last year that its publication of 
these peer-reviewed papers on climate change means it could not have 
been engaged in climate denial. “This is complete bullshit,” company 
spokesman Richard Keil told The Guardian. “We have a 30 year continuous 
uninterrupted history of researching climate change and the LA Times for 
whatever reason chose to ignore that fact.” (Suzanne Goldenberg, 
“Exxon’s Climate Change Denial Warrants Federal Inquiry, Congressmen 
Say,” The Guardian, October 16, 2015.) In fact, however, the company’s 
understanding of climate science is essential to our contention that it 
tried to deceive the public about the reality of global warming even 
while acknowledging that reality internally. Its peer-reviewed 
scientific papers are written in highly technical language, all but 
inaccessible to the layman; most of them were published in highly 
specialized journals, and many can now be found only in libraries, or 
online behind pay walls. Almost no members of the general public would 
ever have been aware of these papers or their contributions to science. 
In contrast, as we will explain, the company’s efforts to confuse the 
public about climate change reached a much, much wider audience. It 
seems likely that Exxon hoped its publication of legitimate climate 
research would help it defend itself in case its denial campaign were 
ever discovered.  ↩
28
See Song, Banerjee, and Hasemyer, “Exxon Confirmed Global Warming”; 
David Hasemyer and John H. Cushman Jr., “Exxon Sowed Doubt About Climate 
Science for Decades by Stressing Uncertainty,” InsideClimate News, 
October 22, 2015.  ↩
29
See Song, Banerjee, and Hasemyer, “Exxon Confirmed Global Warming”; 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1982-exxon-memo-summarizing-climate-modeling-and-co2-greenhouse-effect-research/. 
  ↩
30
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, p. 128.  ↩
31
See Jennings, Grandoni, and Rust, “How Exxon Went from Leader to 
Skeptic”; www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/566/. Exxon used the phrase 
“enhanced greenhouse effect” to distinguish between the effect that has 
always been present, because there has always naturally been a certain 
amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the additional effect 
caused by human activity. “The natural greenhouse effect,” Exxon liked 
to say, “is unquestionably real and definitely a good thing. It’s what 
makes the earth’s atmosphere livable,” because the planet would be 
largely frozen without it. (See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/global-warming-who-is-right-1996/.)  ↩
32
See Jennings, Grandoni, and Rust, “How Exxon Went from Leader to 
Skeptic”; 
www.climatefiles.com/bp/1989-presentation-exxon-board-directors-greenhouse-gas-effects/, 
pp. 20, 27, 31–32.  ↩
33
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 14–16.  ↩
34
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 6, 13, 15, 16, 34; Union 
of Concerned Scientists, “Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air,” p. 7.  ↩
35
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, p. 33.  ↩
36
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 5–6.  ↩
37
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 65, 125.  ↩
38
See Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, p. 244. For a recent example 
of ExxonMobil’s funding of climate denial, see Justin Gillis and John 
Schwartz, “Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate 
Researcher,” The New York Times, February 21, 2015.  ↩
39
See, e.g., Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 186–190  ↩
40
See, e.g., Oreskes and Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 1–5, 198–213, 264.  ↩
41
See www.exxonsecrets.org/html/index.php for a list of these 
organizations. Although it is impossible to say what every dollar was 
used for, according to Greenpeace ExxonMobil has spent about $30 million 
supporting climate-denying think tanks since 1981, including 
contributions from Exxon, the Exxon Foundation, and the ExxonMobil 
Foundation. (Suzanne Goldenberg, “ExxonMobil Gave Millions to 
Climate-Denying Lawmakers Despite Pledge,” The Guardian, July 15, 2015.) 
However, that figure is based only on expenditures that can be confirmed 
through publicly available information. The company could easily have 
provided additional support to these think tanks and other climate 
denying organizations in ways more difficult to trace. As Greenpeace has 
said, “accurate figures may never be known.” (Greenpeace, “Denial and 
Deception: A Chronicle of ExxonMobil’s Efforts to Corrupt the Debate on 
Global Warming,” May 2002, p. 24.)

A 2007 report by the Union of Concerned Scientists adds detail and 
explanation to the part these think tanks played in ExxonMobil’s denial 
campaign. “First, ExxonMobil underwrites well-established groups such as 
the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, 
and the Cato Institute that actively oppose mandatory action on global 
warming as well as many other environmental standards. But the funding 
doesn’t stop there. ExxonMobil also supports a number of lesser-known 
organizations that help to market and distribute global warming 
disinformation…. A close look at the work of these organizations exposes 
ExxonMobil’s strategy. Virtually all of them publish and publicize the 
work of a nearly identical group of spokespeople, including scientists 
who misrepresent peer-reviewed climate findings and confuse the public’s 
understanding of global warming. Most of these organizations also 
include these same individuals as board members or scientific advisers.

“Why would ExxonMobil opt to fund so many groups with overlapping 
spokespeople and programs? By generously funding a web of organizations 
with redundant personnel, advisors, or spokespeople, ExxonMobil can 
quietly and effectively provide the appearance of a broad platform for a 
tight-knit group of vocal climate science contrarians. The seeming 
diversity of the organizations creates an ‘echo chamber’ that amplifies 
and sustains scientific disinformation even though many of the 
assertions have been repeatedly debunked by the scientific community.” 
(See Union of Concerned Scientists, “Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air,” pp. 
10–11.) ↩
42
For example, Steven Milloy was a veteran of the tobacco industry’s long 
disinformation campaign about smoking who became a columnist for 
FoxNews.com, as well as a contributor to the Exxon-funded journalistic 
website Tech Central Station and an adjunct scholar at the Competitive 
Enterprise Institute. He wrote a column for FoxNews.com criticizing a 
study’s conclusion that the Arctic was warming twice as fast as the rest 
of the world. “The Washington Times reprinted Milloy’s column, and 
neither Fox News nor the Washington Times disclosed that Milloy had 
received money from ExxonMobil: $40,000 to The Advancement of Sound 
Science Center and $50,000 to the Free Enterprise Action Institute—both 
of which are registered to Milloy’s home address.” (See Oreskes and 
Conway, Merchants of Doubt, pp. 242–243, 246–247; Union of Concerned 
Scientists, “Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air,” pp. 10, 17–19.)  ↩
43
See, e.g., 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/2000-exxon-global-climate-change-op-ed-series/. 
  ↩
44
See Hasemyer and Cushman, “Exxon Sowed Doubt”; 
climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/.  ↩
45
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/october-13-1997-exxon-lee-raymond-speech-at-world-petroleum-congress/. 
  ↩
46
See 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/1998-global-climate-science-communications-team-action-plan/. 
  ↩
47
See www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000000129&year=1998. 
According to Steve Coll in Private Empire, “In the years after the Mobil 
merger, [CEOs] Raymond and Tillerson oversaw more spending on direct 
lobbying…than all but two other American companies, General Electric and 
Pacific Gas and Electric. ExxonMobil had evolved into the most 
profitable corporation headquartered in the United States—and one of the 
most politically active—in an era of corporate ascendancy” (pp. 623–624).  ↩
48
See Hasemyer and Cushman, “Exxon Sowed Doubt”; 
www.climatefiles.com/exxonmobil/2001-exxon-memorandum-to-the-white-house-on-replacing-team-for-ipcc-assessment/. 
  ↩
49
See Coll, Private Empire, pp. 69–71, 89–91, 247–248, 320–321.  ↩
50
See Greenpeace, “Denial and Deception,” p. 14.  ↩
51
Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty (Simon and Schuster, 2004), p. 123. 
Quoted in Coll, Private Empire, p. 91. ↩
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