Thursday, March 17, 2016

Exxon and the AGU

Contrary to the wisdom of many, continents do shift slowly with time, and learned societies do listen to the membership.  Recently a number of members (some very prominent, others not) wrote to the American Geophysical Union asking that the AGU divorce itself from Exxon sponsorship.

This was motivated by a series of articles which exposed Exxon's sponsorship of crank tanks opposing action on climate change, indeed, rejecting the idea that humans are driving climate change in ways that are not so good for the inhabitants, people and other critters.

Today an interesting letter came into Eli's mailbox from the Executive Director of the AGU
In addition to comments on the post itself, over the past three weeks we have received more than 100 emails, letters and phone calls, and countless tweets and comments on Facebook. And the letter referenced in the post, which calls for AGU to sever our relationship with Exxon, has since received additional signatures, growing from 71 AGU members and 33 non-members, to 136 members and 81 non-members (as of 15 March).

This feedback, from AGU members and others in our community and beyond, expressed a wide variety of views, ranging from requests to completely sever the relationship immediately to suggestions for how the relationship could be expanded and made more productive to the view that severing the relationship would violate our scientific integrity. While the social media posts and public comments have tended to be one-sided, the emails received directly from members have been more nuanced and diverse in views expressed. A major theme that emerged is a strong desire among our members to see this issue is treated thoughtfully and with integrity, and to ensure that our discussions be representative of all sides of AGU’s community.
The Union of Concerned Scientists wrote on the matter to the AGU late last year and the issues was not simply shrugged off by the AGU.  In the Feb 21st newsletter Eli read
Since the policy’s approval, we have received inquiries about AGU’s relationship with our partners, in particular, the one we have with ExxonMobil. The concerns brought to us stem from reports about ExxonMobil’s past actions that have appeared in the press and elsewhere, and the assertion that the company is today engaging in the promotion of misinformation about climate change, climate science and the role of human activity in climate change, or actively supporting organizations that do.

One of these inquiries came in the form of a letter from a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists AGU received last year. Because we take such concerns seriously, the Board conducted its own research and discussed the issue at great length during the September 2015 meeting. At that time, we decided that ExxonMobil’s current public statements and activities were not inconsistent with AGU’s positions and the scientific consensus.

It cannot be said that Exxon’s past positions and actions regarding climate change were in keeping with our policy or with the company’s current public positions, and we will be monitoring the results of the investigations by the Attorneys General of New York and California into those past actions. Yet our research did not find any information that demonstrates that they are currently involved in such activities.
Another letter, with over 100 signatories was delivered the next day and the number of signers has grown.  Since that time more information on Exxon's position has come to light.

The matter had been discussed at the AGU Council meeting
Finally, the Council addressed a recent request from members and non-members for AGU to sever ties with Exxon Mobil (From the Prow, 22 February 2016). Specifically, the Council was asked to consider Exxon’s current positions and statements in light of our recently approved organizational support policy, as well as the pros and cons of maintaining or ending such a partnership. These questions triggered spirited discussion, and the Council expressed a range of opinions as varied as those that have been expressed by members. These views range from severing ties to always keeping open a big tent, with several nuanced positions in between involving degrees of engagement. These exchanges were not trivial – my own opinion swayed more than once when confronted with new perspectives. Moreover, our debate provided a jumping off point for a broader discussion of the nature and purpose of corporate partnerships. Could AGU better engage its industry partners to foster more effective scientific dialogue at the highest levels? Our collective input will be forwarded to the Board of Directors, who will meet to consider these issues further next month.  
Our conversations around sexual harassment and corporate partnership drew intriguing parallels. Where is the boundary between behaviors that compel AGU to act, and those that do not? Should we distinguish between past and present behavior? Who judges whether behavior is ethical, and how do we identify (and verify) behavior in conflict with our policies? How can we best enforce our policies? Science and ethics are linked and will remain so. These are the types of questions AGU will need to address and revisit now and in the future.
and will be discussed further at the upcoming Board meeting.  The ball is in play.

29 comments:

Tom said...

Addicts like to blame the pusher. Wimps. You don't like Exxon, don't buy their product.

They were supposed to know more in the 80s than Steven Schneider and James Hansen? Hang the lot of 'em.

Russell Seitz said...

How can we trust Exxon after Esso's fraudulent merchandizing of millions of cotton tails in its ersatz 'Put A Tiger In Your Tank ' campaign ?

the once proud beasts were not only decimated in their endemic range , but forced abroad as frosted cereal shills .

David B. Benson said...

Existentially, AGU cannot plead scientific indifference.

BBD said...

Tom



Addicts like to blame the pusher. Wimps. You don't like Exxon, don't buy their product.


Addiction is by definition restrictive of choice. You need to think a little harder about your analogy. Or perhaps just stop defending the indefensible.

They were supposed to know more in the 80s than Steven Schneider and James Hansen? Hang the lot of 'em.

Schneider and Hansen spoke out. Exxon not so much. Nobody could be confused about this, so your post speaks volumes about where you are coming from.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

T: They were supposed to know more in the 80s than Steven Schneider and James Hansen? Hang the lot of 'em.

BPL: They knew, Tom. They knew very well. Their own internal experts told them what was happening. And the theory of anthropogenic global warming was not invented by Steven Schneider and James Hansen in the 1980s, it was invented by Svante August Arrhenius in the 1890s.

The Exxon climate team told them they should diversify from fossil fuels. Instead, they decided to fund and promote climate denial. They knew exactly what was going on and knowingly chose to do the wrong thing. Don't try to defend what they did, because it can't be defended. It was not an innocent mistake. It was pure, simple greed and arrogance and deceit. Deal with it.

Forrest said...

Perhaps there's room for them to remain if they demonstrate a willingness to spend as much time and money publicly and politically advocating their current views as they did for their denialist views in the past. Campaign contributions only to politicians who publicly accept science and endorse a carbon tax? Think tank contributions only to organizations that do the same? National advertising campaigns advocating a carbon tax to reduce dependence on fossil fuels? They say they support it - let's see!

Fernando Leanme said...

Given the reality of polarization we should have separate scientific societies and journals, one for the commies, and the other for righteous clean living patriots.

wheelism said...

"Could AGU better engage its industry partners to foster more effective scientific dialogue at the highest levels?"

What is the proper amount of handjobs...er, scientific dialogue to convince the world's wealthiest corporations to do the right thing?

(Yes, we ALL know that the answer is 42. I was trying to make a larger point.)

Brandon R. Gates said...

Yet our research did not find any information that demonstrates that they are currently involved in such activities.

Well obviously they're just hiding it better.

/sarc

I'm not a fan of the genetic fallacy, but I have noted that a number of outspoken climate contrarians are. What I would ask the AGU to do is only continue to accept funding if Exxon publicly stated that their current position is in line with the consensus that observed CO2 rise is anthropogenic and is the major cause of observed warming since 1950.

Due to pending litigation, I think it would be too much to ask Exxon to admit fault for past activities and disavow them.

david lewis said...

So if Hitler, Goering, Heydrich, Himmler, Eichmann etc managed to survive WWII and make big successes of themselves in South America or wherever, if they toned down their rhetoric and didn't actually start up the death camps again, should Jewish groups then take their donations and adopt them as "partners", and thus help them to launder their names and Nazi symbols by associating with them?

Hansen used to say he expected to be called to testify at the trials of the CEOs of the fossil fuel companies when they were on trial for crimes against humanity.

I think he had the right perspective.

Brandon R. Gates said...

david lewis,

I think that question would ultimately be left up to the individual Jewish groups. I might have my own opinions on the matter, but I would respect any decision they made either way.

I think the CEOs complicit in lying to the public about the state of the scientific consensus should be prosecuted. I think the companies should pay damages. If part of their voluntary restitution is to support the AGU, UCS and any other organization who advocates for CO2 mitigation, I have ZERO ethical problem with them taking it.

My main concern is the optics. As such, I would feel best about it if a contingency of accepting the funding was for Exxon (or whomever) to publicly state their support for the scientific consensus on AGW.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

FL: Given the reality of polarization we should have separate scientific societies and journals, one for the commies, and the other for righteous clean living patriots.

BPL: Science is not liberal or conservative, communist or capitalist, left or right. Science is empirical. Not liking scientific conclusions for political reasons is a special case of the logical fallacy, argumentum ad consequentiam.

snarkrates said...

Fernando, I sometimes forget what a fricking imbecile you are. It's nice to have the occasional reminder.

I suppose you would have supported the Reich's attempt to get rid of all the "Jewish Physics," like relativity and quantum mechanics?

Bernard J. said...

Even Fernando's not that stupid. Surely.

He has to be trawling.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Fdernando longs for the good ol' days of laissez faire capitalism when 9-year olds were free to work in coal mines, of 60 hour work weeks, no overtime, no paid vacations, the 'company store,' etc., etc.

That communism brought an end to the good ol' days is forever a thorn in Fernando's side. In Fernando's workd one need not worry about 9-year olds working in coal mines; they won't work there long - either an accident will kill them or they turn 10. See, capitalism has all the answers!

EliRabett said...

+1

Russell Seitz said...

I think the CEOs complicit in lying to the public about the state of the scientific consensus should be prosecuted

Defense exhibit A will be PBL's History of Climate Sensitivity Estimates , 1896 to the end of The Energy Crisis, which , the defense may recall, America got out of by switching from oil to coal fired power plants at the suggestion of Jimmy Carter's science advisors.

$14.95 will buy Kevin a trip back to the future down memory lane .

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Mr. Seitz, do you suffer from any verbal learning disabilities? I note you keep writing my initials as "PBL." Or is it some kind of joke? If so, I guess I'm too obtuse to get it.

Russell Seitz said...

Sorry BPL -- I must of been thinking of my political idols, Martin, Barton & Fish

Tom said...

BPL: "Schneider and Hansen spoke out. Exxon not so much. Nobody could be confused about this, so your post speaks volumes about where you are coming from."

Stephen Schneider in the forward to "The Cooling": :The dramatic importance of climate changes to the worlds future has been dangerously underestimated by many, often because we have been lulled by modern technology into thinking we have conquered nature. But this well-written book points out in clear language that the climatic threat could be as awesome as any we might face, and that massive world-wide actions to hedge against that threat deserve immediate consideration. At a minimum, public awareness of the possibilities must commence, and Lowell Ponte’s provocative work is a good place to start."

Schneider later told Discovery, "I was one of the ones who talked about global cooling," he says. "I was also the one who said what was wrong with that idea within three years."

Of course Exxon knew Schneider was wrong.

The IPCC in 1992: "the size of this warming is broadly consistent with
predictions of climate models, but it is also of the
same magnitude as natural climate variability. Thus
the observed increase could be largely due to this
natural variability; alternatively this variability and
other human factors could have offset a still larger
human-induced greenhouse warming"

Of course Exxon knew better. Hang 'em!

Canman said...

"Exxon's sponsorship of crank tanks opposing action on climate change".

I don't know who decides which think tanks are "crank tanks", but even cranks have a right to their views. If cranks become influential, then it seems to me that non-cranks should feel some sort of obligation to debate and refute them rather than use suppression and show trials.

Russell Seitz said...

Nyet, comrade Canman!

We're the ones being suppressed By Watts and Breitbart , and Heartland has been throwing us out of their show trials ever since we broke down laughing at the first one.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

No, Tom, Lamar Smith will be the only representative of the fossil fuel corporations to be hanged here, right after he is convicted in his 'Nuremburg Trial'. That's the way these kind of things work. The government doesn't go after small fry in the public sector like that.

BBD said...

Tom

Obfuscate much?

Schneider later told Discovery, "I was one of the ones who talked about global cooling," he says. "I was also the one who said what was wrong with that idea within three years."



Russell Seitz said...

Canman, watching cranks debate each other is much more fun .

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Tom posts:

BPL: "Schneider and Hansen spoke out. Exxon not so much. Nobody could be confused about this, so your post speaks volumes about where you are coming from."

BPL: Except the above was not from me. Look again.

Canman said...

Russell, your link is broke.

Canman said...

Oh yes, Watts and Breitbart are pulling all the strings. You're getting to be worse than your new historian colleague. At least she's got a couple of books and a movie out of it.

Russell Seitz said...

I know Canman- I'm denounced in them for making my old classmate Al unhappy.

Here's the repaired link