10 May 2016

UPDATE: AGU Board Votes to Continue Relationship with ExxonMobil

Posted by Margaret Leinen

Late last Friday afternoon, we received a letter and supporting information from Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) and Congressman Lieu (D-Cal), asking the AGU Board to reconsider its recent decision to maintain a relationship with ExxonMobil. Earlier this year, I informed you about a letter AGU had received from a group of members and other scientists calling for us to sever our relationship with ExxonMobil (which has sponsored the student breakfast at the Fall Meeting for a number of years). Then, nearly a month ago, I announced the AGU Board’s decision to continue a relationship with ExxonMobil including allowing them to be a sponsor of the breakfast should they offer it.

The Board felt that the issues raised presented an opportunity – and an obligation – to directly engage ExxonMobil and the energy industry more broadly, and to bring into that conversation representatives of governmental, environmental, economic and related scientific sectors. Societal challenges concerning energy use, demographic changes, climate change and more require that people and organizations with diverse viewpoints and expertise work together. As an evidence-based organization with roots in both the climate and energy communities, AGU is uniquely situated to convene that kind of dialogue. Since that announcement, we have received more than 100 emails and numerous tweets and comments. The opinions expressed in the emails were diverse, with members expressing both disapproval and approval of the decision – and many voicing support for AGU’s intention to increase our efforts to build a productive dialogue with the broader energy industry. The social media response was predominantly critical of the decision.

Regarding the most recent letter, for those of you who are not familiar, Senator Whitehouse has been an active proponent of action on climate change as well as a defender of climate science in Congress, and AGU awarded him the AGU Presidential Citation in 2015. Congressman Lieu is equally supportive of action on climate change, and he has recently been recognized as a rising star in the energy and environmental policy world.

We have communicated to Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Lieu the Board’s commitment to review and discuss the information they presented to us. We have also informed them that when we assess ExxonMobil’s actions, AGU must look at what they are saying and doing about the science, and not at potential legislation that we cannot take a position on, such as a carbon tax. In the meantime, we are continuing our work to establish a constructive dialogue about these issues, engaging all sides. We are exploring appointing a working group to develop options for engagement that we can consider.

This does not mean that we are endorsing ExxonMobil, or that we are not monitoring the outcomes of current investigations by State Attorneys General into ExxonMobil’s past actions.

While I understand that some of you are supportive of the Board’s recent decision and some of you remain uncomfortable, I sincerely encourage you all to consider being a part of the development of a strategy for our engagement with energy industry – and ExxonMobil, as part of that larger industry. Regardless of whether or not ExxonMobil continues to sponsor the student breakfast at the Fall Meeting, our goal for engaging the broader energy industry is to stimulate a more transparent and meaningful dialogue about climate and energy and the roles the science and business communities should play in addressing issues where science does – and needs to – inform society. We hope that you will be a part of that dialogue.

As always, we encourage all AGU members to share their thoughts and concerns with us so that they can inform any future discussions the Board (and Council) may have on this matter.