ExxonMobil’s Funding of Climate Science Denial


Media reports by The Guardian in July 2015, Inside Climate News’ series, and the Los Angeles Times’ partnership investigation with Columbia Graduate School of Journalism graduates led by Steve Coll (author of Private Empire) document what #ExxonKnew about the impact of fossil fuel pollution on climate and when the company knew it.

DeSmogBlog’s own investigation uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.

Despite its advanced knowledge of the climate disruption fueled in large part by oil, gas and coal pollution, ExxonMobil turned its back on crafting responsible solutions and instead funded a sophisticated campaign to sow doubt and delay action to curb carbon emissions — honing the tobacco industry’s playbook with even more advanced public relations, advertising and lobbying muscle.

As Bill McKibben summed it up best,

“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.”

But nobody has spent more time and energy researching and exposing Exxon’s climate denial campaign than Kert Davies, the creator of ExxonSecrets while he served as research director of Greenpeace USA. Davies, who now runs the Climate Investigations Center and continues to expose climate denial and attacks on solutions to global warming, worked with many researchers over the years (including DeSmog’s Brendan DeMelle and Kevin Grandia) to assemble a clear record of Exxon’s extensive funding of organizations and think tanks responsible for spreading doubt and denial about climate science. 

Since the late 1990s, Greenpeace researchers have collected information on organizations and individuals blocking solutions to climate change and vending misinformation. In 2004, Greenpeace launched, which houses a relational database of Exxon funding to these people, think tanks and front groups. The database allows researchers, policy makers and advocates to see relationships and funding linkages. 

In total, the ExxonSecrets database has found over $33M going to over 60 different organizations since 1998, the year after the Kyoto Protocol was launched. The data is drawn from Exxon’s published “Giving” reports and IRS Form 990s for ExxonMobil Foundation.

We know this $33M figure is an underestimate of the total spending by Exxon to fund opposition work on climate policy. For example, the Chamber of Commerce appears for the first time on Exxon’s Worldwide Giving report in 2014 at $1 Million. We assume this is not the first (or the last) contribution Exxon has made to the US Chamber of Commerce.

On this page, you’ll find the total amount of funding from ExxonMobil and its foundations to dozens of organizations that worked to spread climate denial. Hyperlinks will take you to further detail about each organization’s funding specifics and activities.

Organization ExxonMobil Funding  1997-2015
AEI American Enterprise Institute $4,199,000
CEI Competitive Enterprise Institute $2,100,000
US Chamber of Commerce Foundation $2,000,000
ALEC American Legislative Exchange Council $1,804,200
American Council for Capital Formation Center for Policy Research $1,779,523
Frontiers of Freedom $1,272,000
Annapolis Center $1,198,500
National Black Chamber of Commerce $1,100,000
Atlas Economic Research Foundation $1,082,500
Manhattan Institute $1,065,000
George C. Marshall Institute $865,000
Heritage Foundation $870,000
National Taxpayers Union Foundation $775,000
Heartland Institute $686,500
Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy $680,000
National Center for Policy Analysis $645,900
CFACT Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow $587,000
Communications Institute $515,000
Washington Legal Foundation $495,000
Center for American and International Law (formerly called the Southwestern Legal Foundation) $491,650
George Mason Univ. Law and Economics Center $475,000
FREE Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment $450,000
National Center for Public Policy Research $445,000
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory $417,212
Mercatus Center, George Mason University $405,000
International Policy Network – North America $390,000
Citizens for a Sound Economy (FreedomWorks) $405,250
Acton Institute $365,000
Media Research Center (Cybercast News Service formerly Conservative News) $362,500
Institute for Energy Research $337,000
Congress of Racial Equality $325,000
Reason Foundation / Reason Public Policy Institute $356,000
Hoover Institution $370,000
Pacific Legal Foundation $300,000
Capital Research Center (Greenwatch) $265,000
Federalist Society $240,000
Center for Defense of Free Enterprise $230,000
National Association of Neighborhoods $225,000
National Legal Center for the Public Interest $216,500
Center for a New Europe-USA $170,000
American Council on Science and Health $165,000
Chemical Education Foundation $155,000
PERC Property and Environment Research Center (formerly Political Economy Research Center) $162,500
Weidenbaum Center (formerly Center for the Study of American Business) $190,000
Cato Institute $140,000
Federal Focus $125,000
Fraser Institute, Canada $120,000
Media Institute $140,000
American Spectator Foundation $115,000
International Republican Institute $115,000
Center for the Study of CO2 and Global Change $100,000
Environmental Literacy Council $100,000
Tech Central Science Foundation $95,000
American Conservative Union Foundation $90,000
Landmark Legal Foundation $90,000
Independent Institute $85,000
Free Enterprise Education Institute $80,000
Texas Public Policy Foundation $80,000
Institute for Study of Earth and Man $76,500
Independent Women’s Forum $75,000
Consumer Alert $80,000
Mountain States Legal Foundation $75,000
Advancement of Sound Science Center $50,000
American Friends of the Institute of Economic Affairs $50,000
Free Enterprise Action Institute $50,000
Regulatory Checkbook $50,000
Arizona State University Office of Climatology $49,500
Lindenwood University, St. Charles, Missouri $40,000
Africa Fighting Malaria $30,000
Institute for Senior Studies $30,000
Science and Environmental Policy Project $20,000
Lexington Institute $10,000
Institute for Policy Innovaton $5,000
GRAND TOTAL $33,799,735

Recommended Reading on Exxon’s Funding of Climate Deniers

Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years,” by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, July 8, 2015.

Exxon: The Road Not Taken” series by Inside Climate News. See in particular “Exxon Sowed Doubt About Climate Science for Decades by Stressing Uncertainty,” by David Hasemyer and John H. Cushman Jr., Inside Climate News, October 22, 2015.

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

Exxon Knew Everything There Was to Know About Climate Change by the Mid-1980s—and Denied It,” by Bill McKibben, The Nation, October 20, 2015.

Exxon’s climate lie: ‘No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad,’” by Bill McKibben, The Guardian, October 14, 2015.

ExxonMobil Targets Journalists and Activists After Climate Change Investigation,” by Melissa Cronin, Vice, October 24, 2015.

Exxon Knew about Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago,” by Shannon Hall, Scientific American, October 26, 2015.

ExxonMobil pioneered climate-change research since the 1970s, and now it’s attacking media reporting on that,” by Steve LeVine, Quartz, October 26, 2015.

Should Exxon Be Prosecuted for Suppressing Climate Science?” by Joseph Davis, Climate Science and Policy Watch, October 27, 2015.

There is no doubt”: Exxon Knew CO2 Pollution Was A Global Threat By Late 1970s,” by Brendan DeMelle and Kevin Grandia, DeSmogBlog, April 26, 2016.