Scientists are being asked to boycott the next major meeting of the world’s biggest earth sciences organisation after it voted to retain relationships with ExxonMobil.
The American Geophysical Union last week rejected calls from members to break ties with ExxonMobil over the oil giant’s history of funding and supporting climate science misinformation.
AGU members have been voicing their dismay at the decision, which ignored the concerns of more than 200 scientists, many of them AGU members, calling for the relationship to end.
AGU’s board said it would accept sponsorship from ExxonMobil for a breakfast event at its Fall Meeting in December – an event the oil company had previously sponsored.
But Professor Charles Greene, of Cornell University, told DeSmog: “This is far from over. There can be little doubt that this will lead to the biggest shake up in AGU’s history. There is a lot more at stake here than $35,000 for a graduate student breakfast.”
Greene has called on scientists to boycott the December meeting held by AGU – an influential organisation with about 60,000 members in 139 countries.
In a statement Greene said: “At what level does the behavior of a corporate sponsor become sufficiently reprehensible for AGU to refuse its support? I guess that a corporation like ExxonMobil, which has deceived the general public for decades while placing human society at great risk, has not achieved that level.
“The only conclusion to be drawn is that AGU will accept money from just about any corporate entity, no matter how unethical its behavior. I certainly will not attend an ExxonMobil-sponsored Fall Meeting, and I hope that every AGU member who feels the same way about this lapse in judgement will consider sending a similar message.”
ExxonMobil is facing investigations from several attorneys general, led by New York, over allegations the company misled shareholders and the public about the risk of climate change caused by fossil fuel burning.
The probes were sparked by investigations from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, which highlighted internal Exxon documents showing in the 1970s the company’s own scientists were aware of the clear risks of burning fossil fuels.
Over the years Exxon is known to have spent tens of millions of dollars funding dozens of organisations that have worked to mislead the public about the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.
In the run up to AGU’s decision, more than 100 AGU members signed an open letter alongside other scientists asking for their organisation to end the relationship with Exxon.
Some members also issued a detailed dossier to the board claiming the organisation’s relationship with ExxonMobil violated its own organizational support policy, agreed in April 2015.
That policy states that AGU “will not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.”
The dossier included numerous examples of Exxon funding organisations, including the American Enterprise Institute, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the National Black Chamber of Commerce, that have underplayed and disparaged the science linking fossil fuel burning to dangerous climate change.
Scientists are also pressing the AGU leadership group to release more details of how the board came to its decision, including their deliberations over the dossier.
In announcing the decision, AGU president Margaret Leinen wrote that “it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly.”
She said it had been decided AGU’s acceptance of ExxonMobil sponsorship did “not constitute a threat to AGU’s reputation.”
ExxonMobil also funds meetings of ALEC – a lobby group with strong corporate ties that creates template bills for legislators that block attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow the development of renewable energy.
Stephen Moore, a member of ALEC’s advisory council alongside ExxonMobil government affairs manager Cynthia Bergman, told an ALEC meeting last year: “The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming!”
Professor Nathan Phillips, of Boston University, said: “What was called for was an exercise of judgment. Instead, the AGU avoided taking a principled stand by claiming it is not possible for it to make a judgement. The leadership seems prepared to accept some loss of membership, but what it may not be prepared for is the redoubled commitment of members who won’t relent in shining an even brighter light on the inconsistency of the AGU‘s mission of a sustainable planetary future with its endorsement of ExxonMobil’s past and current activities.”
ExxonMobil’s company position on climate change says: “The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is a broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and assess the risks.”
The AGU is holding two conference calls this week where members can ask questions of AGU President-elect Eric Davidson, CEO Christine McEntee and Leinen.
Image courtesy of Natural History Museum