ExxonMobil, Funder of Climate Change Deniers

Stacks and burn-off from the Exxon Mobil refinery are seen at dusk in St. Bernard Parish, La., Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. (AP Pho
Stacks and burn-off from the Exxon Mobil refinery are seen at dusk in St. Bernard Parish, La., Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It's been an interesting time watching the ExxonMobil attempt to defend its track record on climate science, in the wake of revelations that it had bone fide climate scientists properly studying the issue since the 1970's.

The #ExxonKnew investigations by Inside Climate News and the LA Times have had ExxonMobil's head of PR, Ken Cohen, furiously tweeting, writing letters, and appearing on news programmes to defend his company's honor.

"Our company's work to help understand the role that man-made CO2 emissions play in climate fluctuations has continued unabated for four decades," he opined in the Wall St Journal.

But that's the point. ExxonMobil did know about the science. So the question now is how can the company explain its role in funding, to the tune of $31m 1998-2014, the think tanks running climate denial campaigns specifically aimed at undermining the very science that Exxon's own scientists were studying?

A new review of the climate change papers published by ExxonMobil to somehow defend its position has shown that there was 100 percent consensus among its scientists that global warming is caused by human interference.

Exxon's denial appears to have begun in earnest with CEO Lee Raymond, back in the 90's. Raymond became CEO of Exxon in 1993, and CEO and Chairman of the newly-merged ExxonMobil in 1999.

"A factual, common sense approach will also serve us well as we address the issue that perhaps poses the greatest long-term threat to our industry -- so-called global climate change," Raymond told the annual meeting of the America Petroleum Institute (API) in 1996.

The same year, he told Exxon staff in the company magazine "Lamplight" that "scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate."

In 1998, Exxon lobbyist Randy Randol was present at a meeting organised by the API, along with a number of the think tanks Exxon funded, where they created a communications strategy to undermine support for the Kyoto Protool, by questioning the science.

The leaked strategy's stated goal was "A majority of the American Public, including industry leadership, recognizes that signifcant uncertainties exist in climate science and therefore raises questions among those (e.g. U.S. Congress) who chart the future U.S. course on global climate change."

Victory, it stated, would be achieved when Americans, industry and media understood the uncertainties on climate science, and those supporting the Kyoto Protocol "on the basis of extant science appear out of touch with reality."

Leaks of the paper may have led to the campaign being quashed, but this was the strategy that ExxonMobil was to fund to the present day.

The think tanks present at the meeting included a number of those funded by ExxonMobil Foundation, under the leadership of Ken Cohen, its chair since 1999.

The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), while it no longer receives ExxonMobil funding, is launching a film challenging the science of global warming in Paris on December 7, as part of its 20-year campaign undermining climate science.

Under Lee Raymond's chairmanship, before his retirement in 2005, ExxonMobil spent millions funding these denial campaigns, and on a number of ads in the New York Times opinion pages. In one, in 2000, entitled "Unsettled Science," ExxonMobil quoted science on temperatures in the Sargasso Sea to prove that global warming wasn't happening.

Raymond himself cited the study at the company's AGM that year. The scientist who authored it, wrote to ExxonMobil saying:

"I believe ExxonMobil has been misleading in its use of the Sargasso Sea data. There's really no way these results bear on the question of human induced climate warming... I think the sad thing is the a company with the resources of ExxonMobil is exploiting the data for political purposes."

Think tanks receiving grants from the ExxonMobil Foundation include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which was the leading think tank pushing climate denial, coordinating the "Cooler Heads Coalition." At one point, ExxonMobil funded nearly all the groups listed in the coalition.

In 2005, the CEI ran a TV ad proclaiming "C02 is Life." This was the last straw for the UK's Royal Society, which complained to ExxonMobil and led Cohen to declare, in 2007, that the company was no longer funding these organisations. The world's media heralded the move. But ExxonMobil quietly continued funding the think tanks, extensively. In 2009, it dropped a few more.

While Ken Cohen might try to state that the organizations he funded could do what they wanted, it's important to note that in some years, the company specifically spelt out its funding as being for their work on climate change.

Even today, ExxonMobil continues to be a member of -- and to fund -- the American Legislative Exchange Council which, at its annual meeting, has hosted a number of climate change-denying scientists to question the existence of global warming. Research has revealed that that ExxonMobil donated at least $1.6 million to ALEC between 1998 and 2012. In 2014 it gave them more.

A study published in PNAS on November 23 looked at the effect of grants from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers on the discourse around climate science. It showed that the climate denial echo chamber organizations they funded produced misinformation that effectively polluted mainstream media coverage of climate science and polarized the climate policy debate.

The way ExxonMobil is reacting to the #ExxonKnew revelations is bizarre. In the full knowledge of the climate change science, provided to it by its own scientists, this company has spent years, and many millions, funding the myths created by the denier industry to obfuscate the science and slow change.

To me, although I'm not a lawyer, knowing about the harm caused by your product, then spending millions on trying to create doubt about the facts of that harm, sounds very similar to what another industry did with its product.

This post is part of a "Corporate Skullduggery" series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.'s 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (Nov. 30-Dec. 11), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on businesses that have actively tried to mislead the public about the dangers of climate change or about their own contributions to rising temperatures. To view the entire series, visit here.