Exxon, AGU, and Corporate Support

UPDATE (22 February 2016): As you may have seen in recent news articles, this morning, a letter signed by 100 scientists, both members and non-members, was delivered to AGU. The letter calls on AGU to sever ties with ExxonMobil. First and foremost, we welcome these questions and requests from our members and others in the scientific community and look forward to engaging with them on these issues. AGU is an organization that strives to make well considered decisions based on facts and data, and we encourage the open exchange of ideas and views on important issues such as this one. 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. In the meantime, we welcome your comments on this blog or directly to me at President@AGU.org.

ORIGINAL POST: In the summer of 2015, AGU released its new organizational support policy. This policy was designed to help ensure that AGU’s relationships with the corporate sector are in keeping with our values of unselfish collaboration in research and the highest standards of scientific integrity. One of the core principles of that policy is that it mandates that any potential partner not be engaged in the public promotion of misinformation about science. Prior to approving a new partner, AGU checks publicly available sources of information, such as websites and corporate media releases and public statements, to assess whether our partner/sponsor statements are in conflict with our position statements and accepted scientific consensus.

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.

We recognize that companies can, and often do, modify their positions and actions on various issues over time. This can come about for a variety of reasons, and is something that should be encouraged. But, if a company is excluded from the community based on its past actions, in spite of corrections or improvements that have been made over time, what are the implications? Does the rejection – or the inclusion – of such a company in our scientific community best serve the continuation of the progress we seek? We believe that inclusion is the best option.

As the leaders of AGU, we welcome questions and requests from our members and others in the scientific community, and we assure you that if verifiable information becomes available that proves ExxonMobil is currently engaging in the promotion of misinformation about science or adopting positions that are in conflict with AGU’s own, or supporting groups that do, we will end the relationship,  as dictated by our policy – at least until the company is able to demonstrate that such actions have ceased. We encourage our members to share with us any information about current activities that may contradict ExxonMobil’s public statements about their position and actions.

32 Responses to “Exxon, AGU, and Corporate Support”

  1. John Goll

    I fully support your very reasoned approach to the review of Exxon. Inclusion of groups who may have different opinions is important to full understanding of issues. Thank you for your request for comments.

    Reply
  2. Prof. Malcolm J. Rutherford

    I am totally in support of the AGU policy now in place as described in the Feb., 22, 2016 news release. I absolutely do not support any change to the present policy such as requested in the letter submitted by the 100 scientists. If AGU separation from Exxon and similar companies becomes the AGU way forward, I would probably chose separation from the AGU.

    Malcolm Rutherford,
    Member and AGU supporter for thirty plus years.

    Reply
  3. Lewis E. Gilbert

    Is “not inconsistent” good enough? I would be much more comfortable with “consistent”…

    Reply
  4. Chao Liang

    It’s silly that AGU severs relationship from ExxonMobil. In the course of science, there’s no ground truth for all time, which all true scientists should bear in mind. We should be open to people who hold different opinions than the 100 scientists. At least, I think that way. The views from these 100 “scientists” look very suspicious and childish to me. It seems that anyone who doesn’t agree with their opinions on the climate issue is found guilty or immoral immediately. Anyone promoting his or her own view that is different from these “scientists” are found spreading misinformation and misleading the public. I definitely suggests all the true scientists stand up against this imprudent proposal of keeping Exxon out.

    Reply
  5. Hugh Hudson

    It seems that Exxon supports the ALEC lobbying group, as do the Koch brothers. Actions speak louder than words in this case, and I think the AGU should sever its relationship.

    Hugh Hudson (member since 1964)

    Reply
    • Schatzie Dudee

      I’m with Hugh Hudson and the others who think that this excuse-making and pandering to the fossil fuel industry is utterly unacceptable.

      Does the American Cancer Society accept money from (and associate with) the tobacco industry? Does the NAACP accept money from (and associate with) the KKK? Does Doctors Without Borders accept money from (and associate with) ISIS? While these examples may sound extreme, history will judge AGU harshly for precisely such an “unholy alliance” with ExxonMobil, a company determined to subvert (all of) science.

      Reply
  6. Lesli Wood

    Sever AGU’s relationship with ExxonMobil. What is in that statement? XOM is a corporation that serves it’s business interests and tries to balance a variety of varibles within the XOM definition of social goodm which likely includes maintaining stock prices to prop up several academic pension funds. Severing AGU’s relationship with ExxonMobil would be a loss for AGU scientific interaction with a major science organization. I think that approach is dictatorial and short sighted.

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  7. Peter Noerdlinger

    Hugh Hudson seems to have done his research well. ALEC group is execrable. Drop XOM.

    Reply
  8. R. Zaharia

    I guess AGU will consider, inter alia, the following links:

    http://insideclimatenews.org/content/Exxon-The-Road-Not-Taken

    http://insideclimatenews.org/search_documents?field_related_project=41124

    http://petrole.blog.lemonde.fr/2014/07/22/exxon-se-prepare-a-forer-dans-larctique-russe-malgre-les-sanctions-de-washington/

    All worldwide companies are in position to hire smart people and ask them to handle their communications with the medias.
    In my opinion, AGU should perform analysis of this request with some other stuff than Press releases issued by the company.

    Reply
  9. Brian Matthews

    I fully support the request of the 100 for AGU to sever all links to fossil fuel industries.
    The most pressing problem with renewables is that fossil fuel and related interests continue to fight for and receive massive subsidies. According to the US Government global fossil fuel subsidies amounted to $640 billion in 2013 while renewable subsidies were only $120 billion and falling.
    Fossil fuel funding supports publication in ‘peer reviewed’ journals by ‘calibrated reviewers’ guaranteed to support sponsor’s views (Keeling, C. D. 1998, Rewards and Penalties of Monitoring the Earth, Ann Rev Energy Env, 23(1), 25-82, doi: 10.1146/annurev.energy.23.1.25.).
    The result is that genuine experimental verified science cannot be reported if they take a contrary view. The so-called peer-review is so bad that Richard Smith, Editor of British Medical publications says it would be banned if it were a drug (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49696578_Classical_peer_review_An_empty_gun#full-text). That is why he founded ResearchGate for genuine researchers to have free frank and honest exchange of views and experimentally verified research results.
    That is what I thought AGU stood for. But as a 50-year gold award life member I am charged fees to read my publications, paid for from tax-payer funds, from as early as 1963.
    This includes Wiley and Elsevier who have massive profits from the work of me, and my esteemed colleagues. Many of them are dead and cannot fight back.
    Why does AGU allow this to happen to my JGR papers etc?.
    The result is that I am forced to publish on RG papers that demonstrate runaway global fossil fuel warming (e.g. https://dx.doi.org/10.13140/RG.2.1.1415.1843).
    The case for withdrawal is overwhelming in my opinion

    Reply
    • Donald Campbell

      We really need to get out from under the ubiquitous domination of the oil/gas industry, especially in our professional organizations and educational systems. The oil/gas industry hardly ever misses a chance to grease the wheels, if it favors them. It is clear that unbridled capitalism has produced a society heavily dependent on carbon-based fuels, and now we are beginning to suffer the social and climatic consequences. Capitalism, with its prevailing rule of profit, continuous pursuit of growth and influence, and the attitude of take it while you can, needs a remodeling. If we could develop a civilization based on Ecological Economics, a new form of capitalism founded in a socially concerned responsibility, we might survive.

      Reply
  10. Andy Frassetto

    I appreciate Margaret Leinen’s thoughtful note on behalf of AGU and the views expressed in the various comments here. There’s an elephant in the room that no one has addressed yet.

    Two things have been obvious for years now; the centerpiece of AGU’s yearly activities is its Fall Meeting, and publicly funded science and its practitioners are increasingly strapped for cash.

    My questions for AGU are:
    To what extent does ExxonMobil (and the entire fossil fuel industry for that matter) underwrite the costs of the Annual Fall Meeting?
    How much higher would the 2015 registration/abstract fees have been without their support? Would there have been less money available for student travel grant? How much less, per grant?

    To my colleagues who advocate severing this relationship, are you prepared to eat the cost of traveling the high road?

    When pondering this, consider also the following:
    -The high costs associated with the fall meeting’s traditional location, which is already prohibitive to many potential attendees
    -The fact that thousands of senior scientists, who do not necessarily require the networking and career growth, contribute to the meeting’s high carbon footprint by commuting by plane, in some cases over thousands of miles

    Maybe AGU should part with corporate sponsorship when such entities are actively flirting with questionable ethics, but I don’t think as many people as those advocating change have considered the full ramifications or the potentially unsustainable/morally questionable foundation on which this debate resides.

    Reply
  11. Ernest Hilsenrath

    ExxonMobil would like to have it both ways. On its website, the company claims concern about climate change. However, the company’s policy remains to exploit fossils fuels as the main energy source for society and to discourage alternative energy solutions. The following is from the ExxonMobil website:
    http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/current-issues/climate-policy/climate-perspectives/managing-climate-change-business-risks
    “..it is in the interest of every government to increase access to reliable and affordable supplies for its citizens. That is why consumers should be concerned with policies that could have an adverse impact on energy production.”
    “…., we see fossil fuels continuing to shoulder the bulk of societal needs in the future.” “…and we project that new technologies will open up new energy options, such as unconventional oil and natural gas in North America.”

    ExxonMobil’s investments reflect these positions. The company spends huge amounts of money searching for new sources of fossil fuels around the world with nearly the same aggressiveness as in the past, despite the deep drop in oil prices and despite the threat of climate change. ExxonMobil’s expectation is that fossil fuels will remain the main source of energy until at least 2040.

    Moreover, this policy is inconsistent with AGU’s position on climate change:
    http://sites.agu.org/sciencepolicy/files/2013/07/AGU-Climate-Change-Position-Statement_August-2013.pdf

    Justification for a supporting partner with AGU should go beyond whether or not, “..engaging in the promotion of misinformation..,” but whether that partner supports the principles and policies of the AGU.

    Reply
  12. Oliver K. Manuel

    As a former member of AGU and Former Principal Investigator of NASA’s Apollo Program, I strongly endorse open discussion of AGU’s policies and ask the AGU President to allow me to present at AGU’s 2016 Annual Spring Meeting precise measurements and observations that provide undeniable evidence the Sun itself made and sustains every atom, life and planet in the solar system. The evidence was recently published as “Solar energy” by the Cresco Online Publishing Company and is freely available to everyone to download and read.

    Reply

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