More than 100 Earth scientists, ourselves included, have signed a letter urging our preeminent professional society, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) to cut financial ties with ExxonMobil. We are joining the growing chorus of scientists who refuse to turn a blind eye to the destructive behaviors of the industry partners of our profession, ExxonMobil being the most egregious. We hope that this action will inspire our community to embark on an open assessment of the role of fossil fuel companies in the Earth sciences.
For decades now, climate scientists have been quietly reporting astonishing findings about the causes and consequences of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions on the life-sustaining systems of the Earth. Some have even taken their findings directly to the public and to legislators at venues ranging from town hall meetings to Senate committee hearings to international political summits. And what has this tremendous effort achieved? In terms of meaningful large-scale policies resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, not nearly enough.
While scientists and science communicators have been hard at work generating factual information and attempting to share it with the public, those who hold a financial stake in perpetuating society’s reliance on fossil fuel energy have been diligently countering their efforts. Fossil fuel companies, among the most profitable enterprises on Earth, have employed every technique available to mislead the public and politicians about the veracity of climate science and, as pure denial grows ever less compelling, to argue that the potential costs and benefits of policy action warrant indefinite delay.
Today, most fossil fuel companies pay lip service to the reality of climate change, and many even officially support policies such as a carbon tax. Yet a great deal of damage--both to the climate and to our political systems--has already been done, and these statements generally are not accompanied by significant changes in R&D allocation, making them little more than political posturing. In particular, ExxonMobil continues to obstruct necessary policies to curb climate change, notably through its financial contributions to the climate-science-denying American Legislative Exchange Council.
Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. Fossil fuel companies were among the first to recognize the significance of carbon emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas. Scientists at Exxon alerted company leadership to the serious consequences that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere might pose to their business. As recent investigative journalism has revealed, Exxon initially dove into studying the problem, providing Exxon scientists and their academic colleagues a great deal of confidence that carbon emissions would warm the planet. But rather than pursuing climate mitigation research or looking for ways to shift their business into renewable energy, they embarked on a campaign of denying climate science and lobbying policymakers against emissions regulations. Regulations that, if enacted 25 years ago, might have saved untold sums of money and averted much human suffering.
It is quite frustrating then (to put it politely), that when thousands of scientists gather for the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU)--the largest conference of Earth scientists in the world--we express our gratitude for the sponsorship of none other than ExxonMobil. In supporting AGU, Exxon is able to demonstrate their alliance with the scientific research community, and to recruit budding young scientists for high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry. Meanwhile, down the hall, scientists are showing graphs of global temperature projections reaching 3-5°C above pre-industrial values by century’s end on the line labeled “business as usual.” Many of us look at these contradictions and wonder, what are we doing?
Our community is certainly not blind to this issue. In the last year, AGU even released a policy on criteria for financial partnerships, stipulating that they will not accept sponsorship from entities “that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science.” And yet, it still accepts support from ExxonMobil, a paying member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, and whose CEO Rex Tillerson described climate models as “simply not that good” in 2015. We have to wonder if AGU is sincere in its defense of scientific integrity, or its stated mission to “promote discovery in Earth science for the benefit of humanity” and for “a sustainable future.”
We have more than enough evidence to see that entities like ExxonMobil will not change their ways as long as their lies and delaying tactics are countered only with more facts and research. We must demonstrate that we will not associate with ExxonMobil while they continue to work against the very science we produce. If you are an Earth scientist and wish to support the call for AGU to cut ties with ExxonMobil, please sign the letter here.