ExxonMobil cuts off funding to (some) climate deniers

AP Photo/L.M. Otero
Protesters hold a sign outside the building in Dallas Wednesday where the annual ExxonMobil shareholders meeting was held.

The oil giant ExxonMobil has announced that it will no longer fund groups that deny the scientific basis of climate change.

On page 41 of its 56-page annual Corporate Citizen Report, ExxonMobil noted that it contributes to "a wide range of academic and policy organizations" to "promote discussion on issues of direct relevance to the company." Then came this:

In 2008 we will discontinue contributions to several public policy research groups whose position on climate change could divert attention from the important discussion on how the world will secure the energy required for economic growth in an environmentally responsible manner.

According to Reuters, the groups that have been cut off include the Capital Research Center, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research.

This is not the first time that ExxonMobil – a company that, according a report by Greenpeace (PDF) has donated $23 million to climate skeptics since 1998 – has backed away from such groups. According to the Guardian, in 2006 the company stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that received more than $2 million from ExxonMobil.

Writing on ExxonSecrets, a site run by Greenpeace to track the company's funding of climate skeptics, climate campaigner Cindy Baxter says that the cut-off groups represent the "engine room of the climate denial industry." She speculates that Rex Tillerson, the company's chairman and CEO since 2006, is attempting to shift his company's stance from the hardline positions taken by former CEO Lee Raymond.

But, she adds, Mr. Tillerson is not doing enough.

From the 2007 Worldwide Giving Report, posted on Exxon's website on Friday, we can see that Exxon funded a total of 37 global warming denial groups, to the tune of nearly $2 million, which is pretty similar to 2006. Even cutting nine of them means the company is still funding 28 groups engaged in climate denial.
Tillerson needs to make a much wider sweep if he really wants to shake off Raymond's legacy – he has started, but we think he should apologise to the global community for the harm his company has caused.

DeSmogBlog's Page van der Linden comes off as even more pessimistic. She notes that many of the groups that have seen their funding cut are made up of people who are members of other groups that ExxonMobil continues to fund. She writes:

Although Exxon is no longer funding a handful of its climate change denier front groups, the key people in these groups are part of the entire Exxon front group network. It doesn't matter that one of their think tanks is losing funding, because they have their fingers in other oily pies, and can get their message out no matter what.

ExxonMobil's report comes out as the company is under pressure from shareholders to change its position on climate change. At its annual shareholder meeting in Dallas on Wednesday, the company fended off resolutions (backed by the Rockefellers) to reduce its impact on the environment.

The Guardian described the oil company as emerging "bruised but victorious" from the meeting, in which 39.5 percent of Exxon's investors backed a motion calling for an independent chairman to explore alternative fuels. Another resolution, to curb the company's greenhouse gas emissions, garnered 30.9 percent approval, while one calling for renewable energy initiatives gathered 27.4 percent.

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