Tag Archives: AGU

AGU Throws Science, Climate Under The Bus

The American Geophysical Union just lost whatever remaining credibility it had as a scientific society earlier today when it announced no change in policy regarding taking money from ExxonMobil.

We talked about this before, here.

Margaret Leinen, the AGU president, issued a communication today that says this:

Last week the AGU Board of Directors discussed the organization’s April decision to continue engagement with ExxonMobil after receiving additional information from several sources. The Board maintained its original decision after another careful and systematic review of hundreds of pages of both newly provided and previous documentation and a thoughtful and comprehensive discussion. We thank all those who made their voices heard.

AGU has always valued open dialogue and exchange of ideas, and we believe this decision best reflects AGU’s unique value to the scientific community: our ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries. With membership spanning all Earth and space sciences, AGU has an increasingly important role to play – building on our recognized convening power – in providing a space for active, vibrant dialogue that advances collective scientific understanding of the world and our place within it. This is an important function and strategic goal of our organization as scientific issues continue to be top-of-mind for the public and legislators alike and as places for thoughtful discussion of diverging viewpoints become increasingly rare. We remain, as always, committed to cultivating a space that is inclusive to scientists working across all sectors of society in service of exceptional scientific research and discovery.

We welcome your questions and comments via comments on this blog post or by direct email to President@AGU.org.

See the key part? This: ” ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries. With membership spanning all Earth and space sciences, AGU has an increasingly important role to play – building on our recognized convening power…”

The AGU is pretending that the range of normal activities among its lovely power giving constituency includes nefarious acts, paying for anti-science activities, and so on. They are not arguing that ExxonMobil is in the clear. They are arguing that it doesn’t matter.

The word “power” here is a clear — well, ok, veiled — dog whistle. Someone in the organization wanted us to see that word in this context. The real power in power companies is not the gas or electricity.

So, that’s it for the AGU. What’s next?

Tell The AGU To Do The Right Thing About AGW #ExxonKnew

A while back it became apparent, or should I say, more apparent, that Exxon corporation had been playing a dangerous and unethical game with the science of climate change, and for decades, misled people on the relationship between their fossil fuel related activities, the effects of those activities, and possible solutions. (They’ve known about this problem all along.)

Part of this seems to have involved making misstatements about climate change, and pumping resources into anti science activities and organizations.

The American Geophysical Union is the unifying organization for geologists and physicists and other scientists who study climate change. The AGU does a lot more than that, but a good portion of the climate science community, internationally, engages at the AGU’s annual conference.

Meanwhile, the AGU has a rule against accepting sponsorship from anti science organizations. Yet, Exxon has been sponsoring events at the AGU for some time.

Obviously this can get tricky. Why not take money from a major corporation that ultimately benefits from the AGU, as it does by having a better equipped scientific community from which to draw both employees and expertise? And to some extent that is true, and to some extent many situations of tension exist like this.

But in this case, there is a very strong argument that AGU should stop taking money from Exxon.

Also, see this piece by Geoffrey Supran: Scientific organizations must be braver in confronting climate denial

Recent revelations about Exxon have indicated that that organization’s activities are over the top. And, hundreds of members of the scientific community that is served by AGU and that engages in this sort of research signed on to a letter demanding that the AGU stop taking Exxon’s tainted money.

And, the AGU board met, and blew off the scientists, and sidled up to Exxon. They gave all the usual, but rather lame, excuses.

Tomorrow the board meets again. ClimateTruth.org is asking people to sign a petition supporting the scientists. Below is information from ClimateTruth.org. HERE IS THE LINK TO SIGN THE PETITION.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is the largest association of Earth scientists in the world and a well-respected institution that advances public understanding of science. Yet, the AGU continues to accept funding from Exxon, one of the world’s leading funders of climate change denial.

The AGU’s own sponsorship policy forbids accepting funding from any organization that supports science misinformation, a rule that was put in place for good reason. It’s time for the AGU to start abiding by its own policy — starting with Exxon.

Now’s your chance to take a stand. Over 300 Earth scientists have signed on to an open letter calling on the AGU to reject Exxon sponsorship. Signers include renowned climatologists James E. Hansen, the former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Michael E. Mann, Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. Today, we’re asking you to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these scientists, and 50,000 citizens, by adding your name.

The AGU Board meets TOMORROW and we’ll be hand-delivering the thousands of petition signatures from across the nation directly to AGU headquarters in Washington, DC. It’s not too late! You can still join this collaborative campaign of scientists and citizens — and help us remind the AGU that its leadership matters to all of us.

Stand with scientists and tell the AGU: Stop taking funds from Exxon, a company that misleads the public about climate change.

Exxon has been deceiving the public about the science of climate change for decades and funding climate disinformation at a massive scale. Yet, the AGU Board couldn’t be convinced at their last meeting and decided to continue accepting funding from Exxon. It took a letter from U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Ted Lieu to push the AGU Board to vow to once again “review and discuss the information” at its next meeting tomorrow, on September 14.

Your voice matters. Tell the AGU to drop Exxon sponsorship.

Thank you for helping us hold the AGU accountable and for standing up for science — today and every day.
Truthfully Yours,

Amanda, Emily, Brant, Brandy, Daniela and the rest of the ClimateTruth.org team

Sheldon Whitehouse and Ted Lieu Demonstrate Superior Climate Change Activism

Subtitle: Politicians School Scientists In How To Do It

Alternative Title: Where were Bernie and Hillary????

You need to know right away that the Lede to this story is buried way the hell down the page.

That’s OK, though, because others are covering this, and the point of my missive is to put the current situation into a somewhat larger context. Ultimately, the point I want to make is this: Even when a problem is mired in deeply entrenched corporate interests, small groups of tenacious heroes can make the world measurably better, and there is such a thing happening right now in the interaction between scientists, one of the world’s largest scientific organizations, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and a handful of elected officials who are doing the right thing.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”


A handful of citizens recognize some sort of economic or social injustice involving a corporation. They organize on their own time (they have day jobs) to fight the injustice, and have some success.

A handful of employees of those businesses, or trade organizations that are funded by those businesses, are in charge of public relations and lobbying. They fight the citizens on both fronts, but the citizens were too well organized and the citizen efforts took them by surprise.

The citizens go home at the end of the day, have a party to celebrate their victory, and go back to their day jobs.

The public relations and lobbying employees go home at the end of the day, play with their kids and binge-watch something on Netflix. Then, they also go back to their day jobs. The thing is, their day jobs are to make sure that nothing like this happens again. And, if they can eventually undo the citizens’ group’s success, and maybe even push back a step or two, they get to keep those day jobs.

While the citizens are busy being librarians, sales people, school teachers, and union electricians, the public relations and lobbying employees are busy making sure that the next time a group of citizens comes out of nowhere to effect change, they won’t be able to. It may take a bit of time, but laws will be passed, regulations adjusted, and details of the the inner workings of the corporations and the think tanks and trade organizations that they fund will be updated.

If you’ve ever spent any time in a coffee house in an iffy neighborhood, you know about this problem, because at some point (this may have been more true back a few decades) you were approached by a young man or woman, or even a couple, carrying a clip board and a short stack of tabloid format newspapers. You had a conversation, and you and this person found yourselves in nearly complete agreement on all the issues: education, workers’ rights, health care, military spending, voting rights, women’s rights, social justice, and all of it.

But then the conversation takes an unexpected turn. The person you are talking to points out that every time the people (and you and this person are the people, as are the citizens in the story I related above) manage one step forward, pull off some sort of success, put into effect a small but meaningful incremental change, the corporations and their allies in government change the system to make sure that doesn’t ever happen again. And, for a bonus, they anticipate the next one or two possible incremental changes and make sure they don’t happen either. One step forward, two steps backwards.

Actually, that is not the unexpected turn in the conversation. You actually were already thinking that before the person in the coffee shop mentioned it. Once you think about how things actually work, you realize that incremental change is often the product of temporary and short term efforts by people otherwise involved in other things, but the efforts to stop such change is the product of well trained, richly resourced, and highly effective experts with full time employment with the job description of stopping future incremental change that is not in the interest of the corporation.

Then, the truly unexpected part of the conversation happens. The guy in the coffee shop makes the observation that incremental change will not only always ultimately fail, but it will generally strengthen the establishment and make future change increasingly difficult, so the only way to effect real change is to totally overthrow the government and their corporate overlords.

The only way to make the world work for regular people is a full scale bloody revolution.

The scary part of this conversation is that for a moment it makes total sense to you.

You realize that your new friend in the coffee shop, who by the way has the clip board out and is trying to sell you a subscription to Socialist Worker Monthly, is right. For a moment you imagine yourself wearing all black, with a beret, meeting in the basement of the pet shop down the street, learning how to make bombs or disassemble and reassemble an assault rifle. If you are a young straight unattached male and the guy in the coffee shop is an attractive girl, you may be liable to actually join the revolution for a few months.

But, most likely, that fantasy of overthrowing the government will be soon replaced with memories of some of your history lessons and Wikipedia readings. You’ll realize that these violent revolutions generally take decades, everybody dies, and the scenario, with the establishment cronies managing the opposition, also works at a much larger scale. For example, huge proto-corporate (and Royal) interests manipulated the government and military to maintain the lucrative Triangle Trade in the 18th century, with the American Colonists getting screwed on taxes and expected to be grunts in their colonial wars. The American Revolution put an end to that. But today, Big Energy, Big Ag, Big Pharm and all the rest are capable of pulling the strings of the government marionettes, exploiting the post-Revolutionary free American workers to do their bidding. In the words of Bono, F*ck the revolution.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”

-Desmond Tutu

Sounds pretty bad. Like there is no hope.

Hope does come along now and then, though. Bernie Sanders was hope for a lot of people, who saw his possible presidency as a full on revolution that would totally change the system, and contrasted that with a Clinton presidency, focused on incremental change.

But Sanders would have been one person, in one of the three equally powerful parts of our government, against 535 members of Congress whose careers require funding from the established corporations. And he’s not going to win anyway. So maybe we need to make the best of incremental change.

“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

-The lede of this post

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is one of the largest scientific organizations in the world. The AGU runs an annual meeting as well as a number of other programs that cost money, and there are many sponsors. One of those sponsors is ExxonMobil. This makes sense, because ExxonMobil, and other petroleum companies, rely on the science practiced by many member of the AGU. Not only does it make sense, but it is right and just that major corporations that benefit from a particular area of science spend money on that science. That expenditure can take many forms, including having well funded research laboratories staffed by excellent scientists within the corporation, supplying grants to scientists working at universities or think tanks, and pitching in with the AGU to help fund their conference.

But, remember those full time employees who were briefly bested by that organized group of citizens? Well, ExxonMobil has that. They have people who are focuses on managing their corporate interests at many levels. And, it recently became apparent that the excellent scientists who worked in the ExxonMobil (the name of the corporation was different then) decades ago had discovered, verified, and documented the important fact that Big Oil’s corporate activities would ultimately lead to catastrophic change in the planet’s environment because of the release of previously trapped carbon, though the burning of oil and gas (and coal as well).

Decisions were made to suppress that research. This is a little like a company making an unsafe car seat keeping their own research indicating this danger under wraps. But it is different from that example because car seats are inherently a safety device. So it is a little more like producing a profitable kind of food that has a serious, but hidden, health effect.

But really, those analogies are weak and, frankly, not needed. What it is like is producing the energy that runs our society and economy and knowing full well that using this form of energy to do so many things will, itself, be a civilization ending enterprise, while at the same time being aware that there are alternatives. But, those alternatives are the business interest of other corporations. So you keep that information under wraps.

The suppression of this important research became known just recently, and a highly specialized set of citizens – scientist associated with the American Geophysical Union – agitated to get the AGU to stop taking funding from ExxonMobil.

The higher ups in the AGU considered this possibility, and eventually decided that “it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly.”

A lot of people saw that as a ridiculous justification for a bad decision. Some might even figure that the previous acts of an earlier incarnation of this giant corporation would be sufficient for the AGU to refuse future sponsorship. But, one could argue that they were bad guys back then but now are good guys, so, well, the AGU needs the money anyway, so why not forgive and forget and get on with it?

Graham Readfearn at Desmog now tells us that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and House Representative Ted Lieu, have written a letter to the AGU explaining how ExxonMobil has pulled the wool over the AGU’s eyes, causing us to take a step or two backwards with this decision to continue receiving funds.

The letter is to AGU president Margaret Leinen (quoted above) and expresses disappointment with the AGU’s decision.

Here’s the key fact. The AGU has a policy to not accept funding from entities that spend money to promote science disinformation. The AGU had determined that they could not unequivocally know if ExxonMobil was doing so. Part of the reason the AGU determined this is because ExxonMobil told them that they were not funding science misinformation.

The letter from Senator Whitehouse and Representative Lieu states:

EM gave money as recently as 2014 to several organizations that cast doubt on climate change, so we are surprised at AGU’s conclusion. According to EM’s most recent Worldwide Giving and Community Investments report, in 2014, EM funded several organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science, including:

  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ($61,500): ALEC has promoted model legislation with a finding that human-induced global warming “may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes.”[1]
  • Hoover Institution ($50,000 to its Arctic Security Initiative): Hoover Senior Fellow Terry Anderson, who is not a climate scientist, argued that climate data since 1880 supports a conclusion that it would take as long as 500 years to reach 4 °C of global warming.[2]
  • Manhattan Institute of Policy Research ($100,000 to its Center for Energy Policy): Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce stated, “The science is not settled, not by a long shot…. If serious scientists [at the European Organization for Nuclear Research] can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, even if we accept that carbon dioxide is bad, it’s not clear exactly what we should do about it.”[3]
  • National Black Chamber of Commerce ($75,000): Chamber President and CEO Harry Alford stated, “[NOAA and NASA] have reported that there has been no global warming detected for the last 18 years. That is over 216 months in a row that there has been no detected global warming…. Scientists, as well as NOAA and NASA, call this state of no warming a ‘Global Pause.’ How long it will last no one predicts. For all we know it may last another 20 years or even forever.”[4]
  • Pacific Legal Foundation ($10,000): A senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation attacked EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 because it is a “ubiquitous natural substance essential to life on Earth.”[5]

We have seen no evidence to indicate EM’s behavior has changed since 2014.

You can read the entire letter here.

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

– Francis Bacon

This is obviously a significant development, with respect to the AGU, climate scientists, and all that. But this breaking new story has led me to think about four related but rather extended points.

First, Senator Whitehouse and Representative Lieu are true climate hawks, with records of congressional action on climate change. They are rare birds, too rare. It is not common to be fully active on climate change and have a job in the United States Congress. We need to appreciate their efforts and demand that others join them.

Second, the work done here by these two elected officials should have been done by the AGU. The AGU made weak decision, favoring the financially beneficial status quo and justifying this by not doing the research that was needed. The AGU had its eyes closed, and it is hard to imagine how that could not have been on purpose.

Third, and perhaps tangential to the current issue, but perhaps not: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders didn’t do what Whitehouse and Lieu did. I’m sure it is unfair to accuse them of negligence by not having picked up on this particular story, going after ExxonMobil and correcting the AGU. But think about this for a second. If either one of them had done this – if either’s campaign staff had figured this out and developed a public statement by the candidate that looked a lot like the Whitehouse-Lieu letter – their climate change stock would have gone through the roof, and they would have done something that could actually make a difference.

I don’t fault either of these Democrat’s campaign for failing to do this one specific thing. That would be asking too much. But the fact is that neither candidate has done anything like this during the current primary season, or ever in their previous career. A Sanders supporter might point to Sanders’ prior work on climate change legislation, but it must be understood that Sanders supports a reduction to 80% reliance on non fossil carbon fuel by 2050, which is too little too late. That has been his position for several years, and it is out of date and widely recognized as inadequate, especially following the post-Paris reorientation to a 1.5 degree limit.

A president Donald Trump would probably burn fossil fuel on purpose to piss off the hippies. Either Sanders or Clinton would be a thousand times better. But that stark difference should not lead us to accept mediocracy in our leaders in the issue of climate change.

So the fourth point is this, and it is not about the AGU, but inspired by these recent developments. There are climate hawks in Congress, but only a few, and none of them are running for president. In choosing between Sanders and Clinton to determine which one might have the best climate change policy, it is easy to decide that one of them (or even both of them) have a good policy. But the truth is, neither candidate is where we need them to be on climate change. Both candidates have strong points, and different strong points, backed up by detailed policy positions and enhanced by histories of legislation or activism of one sort or another. And when we list those strong points, we do not find climate change policy among them.

I reject all efforts to compare Sanders and Clinton on climate change, at this point in the primary process, for two reasons.

First, Clinton will be the nominee, based on math. So the comparison is moot. Second, the Democratic Party did not put forth a sustained climate change savvy candidate for us to choose. So, we can’t like what we have now, we can not be satisfied. We have to hold the candidate’s feet to the fire, push, cajole, insist, vigorously engage.

The scientists who asked, in a letter, the AGU to cut ties with ExxonMobil tried to take a step foreword. The AGU caused us to take a step backwards. Let’s help Whitehouse and Lieu push us two steps forward, one against ExoonMobile (by helping the AGU to make the right decision) and one in the current presidential race, by demanding better of our candidates.

Putting the “Ex” in “Exxon”: AGU asked to dump big oil sponsorship

It is all about the honest conversation. And the dishonest conversation.

Corporate Funding of the Research Endeavor: Good

Corporations have an interest in research. They use this research for profit or to minimize liability. Some corporations have their own researchers, some provide grants to scientists to conduct research, and some fund activities that might not be thought of as research, but really are. For example, the publication fees for peer reviewed journals, funds to pay for scientists to attend conferences, and funds to support a scientific conference are paying for an important part of the research endeavor.

It is not always the case that a conflict of interest arises when a corporation pays for research. In a former life, I was an administrator for a moderately sized research funding entity. We had “member” companies that paid annual dues that were rather high. In return for those dues, we provided experts who would show up and give talks. This was a total rip-off to the companies, because they also had to pay for the travel costs of the experts, but that is not why they contributed. These were Japanese companies, and the experts were all economists. The point was to distribute the money to young scholars — graduate students, post docs, and junior faculty — for whatever research projects they needed money for. The projects had to be real research, but they did not have to be on anything in particular. The results were generally put into a free and open access publication series (along with other research) and we would ship off copies of the publication to all the member companies. Nobody was paying anybody to produce any particular result, but the research was sometimes (but often not) valuable to those companies. For example, some Japanese companies, including at least one that paid us dues, had developed a great new way to manage warehousing of parts. It saved money and reduced waste. One of the research projects we funded looked at that system, compared it to other systems, and recommended how it might be applied elsewhere. In another project, one of the firs studies to ever look at putting some kind of price on carbon was carried out. None of the companies that funded this research had any interest, for or against, this concept.

In the old days, AT&T funded Bell Labs. It still exists today, and I have no idea how it works now. I’m told by people who worked there back in the mid 20th century that it was a place where funding came in from the mother company to allow scientists to do more or less what they wanted to. Numerous important inventions that we use today came out of Bell Labs, and the people who worked there even won a bunch of Nobel Prizes. That was probably another example of industry funding research for the purpose of finding out new stuff, and little or no nefarious intent was attached.

Conferences are typically funded by a combination of grants from institutions (like the National Science Foundation, etc.), conference fees (which can be rather hefty) charged to participants, and grants from interested commercial parties. For example, a company that makes microscopes might kick in some money for a biology conference. They may also be represented in the part of the conference where private companies (or institutions with a product) can set up booths (that they pay for), like a trade conference.

Those private companies may well have an interest in the outcome of the research being performed by the various scientists who attend the conference. Maybe they want to sell the scientists a gadget to use in their lab. Maybe they want to use the research to advance their corporate mission, such as better ways to produce or deliver a product. Most of the time they probably just want people to like them, or to recognize their names.

So far, there is not much wrong with that, either.

Corporate Funding of the Research Endeavor: Bad

But sometimes private corporations have different kind of interest. They don’t just want to get more information and knowledge about the areas where science overlaps with their corporate mission. They don’t just want to be seriously considered as a source for some matériel or equipment that scientists use. What some corporations want to do, sometimes, is to influence the outcome of scientific research, for their own interests, in ways that require that the science itself be adulterated in some substantial way. They want to see the dissemination of results that may be bogus but that serves their financial interests, or they may want to repress results that would lead policy makers, legislatures, the public, or the scientific community, to criticize, eschew, or even stop one or more of their profitable activities.

This is a sufficiently important problem that one of the largest (possibly the largest, depending on how one defines things) scientific organizations related to the study of Planet Earth, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), has a policy about this. As part of their “organizational support policy,” the AGU says,

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.

Organizational partners are defined as those that make an annual financial commitment to AGU
of $5,000 or more.

Why not accept the money? Doesn’t it make sense to take the money and then have lots of money and stuff, and ignore the wishes of potentially nefarious actors in this game?

I knew a guy once, only barely (a friend of the father of a friend). He was a major research scientist at a major institution, and he invented a technology for seeing things that are very small, which had applications in a wide range of research and praxis, including materials science and medicine. But his methodology involved the development of technology that one might use to make a terrible but effective weapon. He received a lot of his funding from those who might fund such things, and this allowed him to do his work without having to spend much money on grant proposals. But, he claimed (in his retirement), he never intended his work to be used to make a terrible weapon. Furthermore, he knew, privately, from his own research that it never could be. What he was doing would simply not work in that context. But he never mentioned that to his funders. He just took the money, and used it to save lives.

Well, one of the reasons one might not want to take money from sources with nefarious intent (and here we assume developing a terrible weapon is nefarious, though one could argue differently, I suppose) without ever advancing said nefarious goal, is that it is actually unethical. But one could counter argue that the savings of lives and advancement of civilization and such outweighs the ethics, or more exactly, that it is appropriate to develop situational ethics.

That is an extreme example, but in some ways, parallel to what a major organization like the AGU would be doing if they knowingly accepted money from major corporations who intended to encourage, develop, disseminate, or otherwise use for their own interests any kind of fake science or anti-science. Why not take the money and run? Partly, one assumes, because it isn’t exactly kosher.

Another reason is that if one takes anti-science money, one may end up advancing anti-science agendas even if one does not want to. The very fact that an anti-science entity (a corporation or foundation funded by a corporation) funds a major legit conference is a way of saying that the corporation itself is legit. It is a way that a scientific organization can advance anti-science even if it doesn’t want to.

Scientist Tell AGU To Drop Exxon Sponsorship

You all know about the Exxon maneno. Exxon, aka ExxonMobil, has recently been exposed as having repressed scientific information that indicated that we, our species, would ultimately need to change our energy systems in order to keep fossil fuels in the ground, else face dire consequences. Decades ago, when the science already indicated that this was a problem, Exxon independently verified that we needed to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, then shut up about it, because it was, and is, in their corporate interest to take the fossil fuel out of the ground.

I wrote about the Exxon kerfuffle back when it first broke, here. In that post, I provided a thumb-suck analysis comparing what Exxon knew about climate change then, and what the IPCC and NASA know about it now. They are pretty much the same, with respect to global surface warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gas pollution from burning fossil fuels such as those extracted and sold by Exxon.

Over a month ago, scientists Ploy Achakulwisut, Ben Scandella, Britta Voss asked the question, “Why is the largest Earth science conference still sponsored by Exxon?” They noted,

The impacts of Exxon’s tactics have been devastating. Thanks in part to Exxon, the American public remains confused and polarized about climate change. Thanks in part to Exxon, climate science-denying Republicans in Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level remain a major obstacle to U.S. efforts to mitigate climate change.

And thanks in no small part to Exxon, climate action has been delayed at the global level; as the international community began to consider curbing greenhouse gas emissions with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, Exxon orchestrated and funded anti-Kyoto campaigns, including participation in the Global Climate Coalition. The latter was so successful at shifting debate that the George W. Bush administration credited it with playing a key role in its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, now there is a letter signed by many top scientists asking the American Geophysical Union to make ExxonMobile an Ex-contributor to the conference. According to the Natural History Museum,

more than 100 geoscientists sent the following letter to the President of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) – the world’s largest association of Earth scientists – urging the association to end its sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil. The oil giant is currently under investigation by the New York and California Attorneys General for its long history of climate denial campaigns.

Many notable scientists have signed on, including the former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies James E. Hansen, the former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Harvard Professor James J. McCarthy, Harvard Professor and author of Merchants of Doubt Naomi Oreskes, and Michael Mann– Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The letter is the most recent example of a growing trend of scientists stepping out of their traditional roles to urge science institutions to cut ties to fossil fuel companies.

As part of the press release announcing this letter, Michael Mann (author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change) noted, “While I recognize that it is a contentious matter within the diverse AGU community, I just don’t see how we can, in good conscience, continue to accept contributions from a company that has spent millions of dollars over several decades funding bad faith attacks on scientists within our community whose scientific findings happen to be inconvenient for fossil fuel interests.”

InsideClimateNews has a timeline of what happened with Exxon, here.

AGU’s president, Margaret Leinen, wrote on the AGU’s blog, that “The AGU Board of Directors will take up the questions raised in this letter at their upcoming meeting in April, and prior to that will carefully review the information that has been provided, and any additional information that becomes available in the meantime. We will consult with our various member constituencies as well other stakeholders prior to the Board meeting. In addition, the Board will look more deeply into the question of what constitutes verifiable information about current activities.”

InsideClimateNews notes that this campaign “…is part of a growing trend of scientists’ protesting efforts by fossil fuel companies to undermine climate science. Last year, for instance, dozens of researchers urged Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to cut ties with David Koch of Koch Industries.” See this post at InsideClimateNews for more information about the Exxon-AGU problem, and the broader movement.

As I noted at the beginning, this is all about the honest conversation. I’ve talked about this before. So often, the conversation, usually public and policy-related, is not about the science at all, but about other things, and the science itself gets thrown under the bus. My understanding (limited, I know) of the criminal justice system is that if a prosecutor knows about exculpatory evidence, they are required to provide it to the court or defense, thus possibly negatively affecting their own chance of success, but at the same time, doing the right thing. One would think that in science, institutions or individuals who know about evidence important in understanding some scientific problem, that they are ethically obligated to make that information available with reasonable alacrity. If all those involved in the large scale and complex conversations about climate change and energy had as a central ethical theme a commitment to accuracy, openness, and to the process of mutual aid in advancing our understanding of the topics at hand, it wouldn’t matter who gave money to whom, because that money would not be linked to efforts to repress knowledge or to produce and disseminate misinformation.

And, certainly, such corporations should not be attacking the science or the scientists, or funding other organizations that do. Contributing to a valid scientific organization like the AGU does not make up for such behavior.

Had that been the way things worked fifty years ago, by now, Exxon-Mobile and other fossil fuel companies would have shifted their corporate activities away from fossil fuels. They would be phasing out coal, oil, and natural gas, and developing clean energy solutions. They would not have stuck themselves with vast stranded assets that they now have a corporate responsibility, no matter how immoral or antiscientific, to develop. There is an idea that corporations are primarily responsible to their stockholders, and this widely accepted but highly questionable “ethic” has been applied to justify, it seems, a significant departure from the pursuit of knowledge and the application of that knowledge to managing human problems and protecting our precious planet. This is a fundamental flaw in how we do things, and it is the reason AGU has to but the “ex” in Exxon as a sponsor.

Scientists’ Letter to the American Geophysical Union

Here is the letter:

Dear Dr. Margaret Leinen,

We, the undersigned members of AGU (and other concerned geoscientists), write to ask you to please reconsider ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of the AGU Fall Meetings.

As Earth scientists, we are deeply troubled by the well-documented complicity of ExxonMobil in climate denial and misinformation. For example, recent investigative journalism has shed light on the fact that Exxon, informed by their in-house scientists, has known about the devastating global warming effects of fossil fuel burning since the late 1970s, but spent the next decades funding misinformation campaigns to confuse the public, slander scientists, and sabotage science – the very science conducted by thousands of AGU members. Even today, Exxon continues to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbying group that routinely misrepresents climate science to US state legislators and attempts to block pro-renewable energy policies. Just last year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson downplayed the validity of climate models and the value of renewable energy policies.

The impacts of Exxon’s tactics have been devastating. Thanks in part to Exxon, the American public remains confused and polarized about climate change. And thanks in part to Exxon, climate science-denying members of Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level remain a major obstacle to US efforts to mitigate climate change.

The research disciplines of Earth sciences conducted by AGU members are diverse, but they are united by their shared value of truthfulness. AGU states that its mission and core values are to “promote discovery in Earth science for the benefit of humanity” and for “a sustainable future.” Indeed, AGU has established a long history of scientific excellence with its peer-reviewed publications and conferences, as well as a strong position statement on the urgency of climate action, and we’re proud to be included among its members.

But by allowing Exxon to appropriate AGU’s institutional social license to help legitimize the company’s climate misinformation, AGU is undermining its stated values as well as the work of many of its own members. The Union’s own Organizational Support Policy specifically 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.” We believe that in fully and transparently assessing sponsors on a case-by-case basis, AGU will determine that some, including ExxonMobil, do not meet the standards of this policy. We therefore call on you as the President of AGU to protect the integrity of climate science by rejecting the sponsorship of future AGU conferences by corporations complicit in climate misinformation, starting with ExxonMobil.

While we recognize that some of AGU’s scientific disciplines are deeply tied to the fossil fuel industry, we are also increasingly aware of the tension within our community regarding how we should respond to the urgency of climate change as individual scientists and as institutions. It is time to bring this tension into the light and determine how an organization such as AGU should approach the major challenges of today to ensure that we truly are working for the benefit of humanity. In particular, as the world’s largest organization of Earth scientists, if we do not take an active stand against climate misinformation now, when will we?

Yours respectfully,

AGU members:

Robert R. Bidigare, PhD, AGU Fellow, University of Hawaii

Cecilia Bitz, Professor, University of Washington

David Burdige, Professor and Eminent Scholar, Old Dominion University

Kerry Emanuel, Professor, MIT

Peter Frumhoff, PhD, Director of Science and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Richard H. Gammon, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington

Catherine Gautier, Professor Emerita, University of California Santa Barbara

Charles Greene, Professor, Cornell University

James E. Hansen, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University

Charles Harvey, Professor, MIT

Roger Hooke, Research Professor, University of Maine

Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor, Stanford University

Dan Jaffe, Professor and Chair, University of Washington Bothell

Michael C. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs, Climate Institute

Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University

James J. McCarthy, Professor, Harvard University

James Murray, Professor, University of Washington

Naomi Oreskes, Professor, Harvard University

Nathan Phillips, Professor, Boston University

Christopher Rapley, CBE, Professor, University College London

Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California San Diego

Pattanun Achakulwisut, PhD Student, Harvard University

Becky Alexander, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Theodore Barnhart, PhD Student, University of Colorado/INSTAAR

Yanina Barrera, PhD Student, Harvard University

Dino Bellugi, PhD Candidate, University of California Berkeley

Jo Browse, Postdoctoral Research, University of Leeds, UK

Adam Campbell, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Otago

Chawalit Charoenpong, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sarah Crump, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Daniel Czizco, Associate Professor, MIT

Katherine Dagon, PhD Student, Harvard University

Suzane Simoes de Sá, PhD Student, Harvard University

Michael Diamond, PhD Student, University of Washington

Kyle Delwiche, PhD Student, MIT

Sarah Doherty, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Liz Drenkard, Postdoctoral Researcher, Rutgers University

Emily V. Fischer, Assistant Professor

Priya Ganguli, Postdoctoral Fellow

Gretchen Goldman, PhD, Lead Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Meagan Gonneea, Postdoc

Jordon Hemingway, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Hannah Horowitz, PhD Student, Harvard University

Irene Hu, PhD student, MIT

Lu Hu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Eric Leibensperger, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

Marena Lin, PhD Student, Harvard University

Simon J. Lock, PhD Student, Harvard University

Andrew McDonnell, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bruce Monger, Senior Lecturer, Cornell University

Daniel Ohnemus, Postdoctoral Researcher, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Morgan O’Neill, Postdoctoral Fellow, Weizmann Institute of Science

Cruz Ortiz Jr., PhD Student, University of California Santa Barbara

Jonathan Petters, Research Fellow, University of California Santa Cruz

Allison Pfeiffer, PhD Student, University of California Santa Cruz

James L. Powell, PhD

Christina M. Richardson, MS Student, University of Hawaii Manoa

Ignatius Rigor, Senior Principal Research Scientist, University of Washington

Paul Richardson, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oregon

Erica Rosenblum, PhD Student, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ben Scandella, PhD Student, MIT

Neesha Schnepf, PhD Student, University of Colorado at Boulder/CIRES

Amos P. K. Tai, Assistant Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Robert Tardif, Research Scientist

Katherine Travis, PhD Student, Harvard University

Britta Voss, Postdoctoral Fellow

Andrew Wickert, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota

Kyle Young, Graduate Student, University of California Santa Cruz

Xu Yue, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

Emily Zakem, PhD Student, MIT

Cheryl Zurbrick, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT


Other concerned geoscientists:

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, CBE, Professor, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Helen Amos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Antara Banerjee, Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Emma Bertran, PhD Student, Harvard University

Skylar Bayer, PhD Student

Thomas Breider, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Stella R. Brodzik, Software Engineer, University of Washington

BB Cael, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sophie Chu, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Archana Dayalu, PhD Student, Harvard University

Gregory de Wet, PhD Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Christopher Fairless, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Mara Freilich, PhD Student, MIT

Wiebke Frey, Research Associate, University of Manchester, UK

Nicolas Grisouard, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Sydney Gunnarson, PhD Student, University of Iceland/University of Colorado Boulder

Sam Hardy, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

David Harning, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Sophie Haslett, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Richard Hogen, Aerospace Thermodynamic Engineer, United Launch Alliance

Anjuli Jain, PhD Student, MIT

Harriet Lau, PhD Student, Harvard University

Cara Lauria, Masters Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Franziska Lechleitner, PhD Student, ETH Zu?rich

Michael S. Long, Research Scientist

John Marsham, Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK

Catherine Scott, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds, UK

Rohini Shivamoggi, PhD student, MIT

Victoria Smith, PhD, Instrument Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds, UK

Gail Spencer, Environmental Specialist, Washington Department of Ecology

Melissa Sulprizio, Scientific Programmer, Harvard University

Rachel White, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Washington

Leehi Yona, BA, Senior Fellow, Dartmouth College

Yanxu Zhang, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University