21 February 2016

Exxon, AGU, and Corporate Support

Posted by Margaret Leinen

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.