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).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
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.
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.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.
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.
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.