UPDATE: AGU Board Maintains Its Decision Regarding ExxonMobil


UPDATE (29 November 2016): In September, the AGU Board voted to maintain its April 2016 decision (see below) to continue engagement with ExxonMobil, including allowing the organization to sponsor AGU’s Student Breakfast event at the Fall Meeting. That decision was communicated to AGU’s members, as well as to representatives of ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil has since informed AGU that they do not intend to sponsor the Student Breakfast at the 2016 Fall Meeting. We have communicated our thanks to them for their support in previous years.

The Student Breakfast is an annual Fall Meeting event organized and hosted by AGU. The event is held whether a sponsor has offered to support it or not.

Original Post:

By Margaret Leinen, President, American Geophysical Union and Eric Davidson, President-elect, American Geophysical Union

Last week the AGU Board of Directors discussed the organization’s April decision to continue engagement with ExxonMobil after receiving additional information from several sources. The Board maintained its original decision after another careful and systematic review of hundreds of pages of both newly provided and previous documentation and a thoughtful and comprehensive discussion. We thank all those who made their voices heard.

AGU has always valued open dialogue and exchange of ideas, and we believe this decision best reflects AGU’s unique value to the scientific community: our ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries. With membership spanning all Earth and space sciences, AGU has an increasingly important role to play – building on our recognized convening power – in providing a space for active, vibrant dialogue that advances collective scientific understanding of the world and our place within it. This is an important function and strategic goal of our organization as scientific issues continue to be top-of-mind for the public and legislators alike and as places for thoughtful discussion of diverging viewpoints become increasingly rare. We remain, as always, committed to cultivating a space that is inclusive to scientists working across all sectors of society in service of exceptional scientific research and discovery.

We welcome your questions and comments via comments on this blog post or by direct email to [email protected].

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  1. Mark Chopping

    This is very disappointing. Why not put this to a general vote of the AGU membership? Then if the current position is upheld, those of us who feel we cannot be part of an organization that takes ExxonMobil money can make the necessary if difficult decision. Thank you.

    • ulrich knittel

      yes, very disappointing!! And yes, it is a good idea to ask the members, obviously the board is blind to the fact that AGU is loosing credibility, if it continues to accept Exxon money- there was even a broadcast on German radio about the dubious role of AGU in that discussion 🙁 and as a member I had nothing to say to defend AGU’s position!

  2. Geoffrey Supran

    Speaking as a young AGU member, this is disgraceful and perplexing.

    The AGU’s doubling-down on Exxon sponsorship flatly ignores evidence of Exxon’s ongoing support of misinformation, which itself flatly violates AGU’s own sponsorship policy. Perhaps that is why AGU’s announcement offers zero explanation for its decision.

    I wrote about some of the reasons AGU should drop Exxon in The Huffington Post (I also sent this to AGU’s leadership, evidently to no avail):

  3. Andrew Marsh

    Great article Geoffrey! This is a very spineless move by the AGU. I’m disappointed, and hope this vote will be discussed at the December meeting and beyond.

  4. Allan Treiman

    As a very-long-time member of AGU, the board’s decision is disheartening. I agree with Mark Chopping above – why not put the question to a vote of the whole AGU membership?

  5. John D. Wiener, J.D., Ph.D.

    The decision to remain associated with Exxon casts a dark shadow over one of the most respected science organizations in the world. Reconsideration is needed, please.

    • Dennis Ray Martin

      I am appalled by this decision to follow and support fake studies over real science. I guess the real reasons are quite apparent big money influence breaking over yet another thorn in their side. Today’s news is disappointing — and perplexing. By making this decision, the AGU board has ignored the pleas of 300 prominent climate scientists, hundreds of AGU members, and 56,000 petition signers. I am one of them but will not stop here, and will continue to fight on for what I know to be right. We will spread this message and gain more standing along side us until our voices are heard. What makes good causes turn bad, a question you must now answer to yourself. Others already know for they see the answer clearly. If one makes a mire of things they also must wallow in it like the swine.

  6. Frank Kroger

    Your motto states you “promote discovery in Earth and space science for the benefit of humanity.” You forget to mention that you also work hard for the benefit of EXXon, a polluting oil company.
    The AGU decision to keep working for Exxon also renders your organization’s own sponsorship policy meaningless, since the policy explicitly bars AGU from receiving funds from companies that disseminate misinformation about science. You know it and I know it — Exxon certainly fits the bill! Somehow, AGU hasn’t gotten the message.

  7. Brian Allen

    This is incredibly disturbing. I rely on organizations like the AGU for absolute integrity where questions of science are concerned. Without it, what credibility does the AGU have on any topic?

  8. Umberto Fracassi

    I’ve been an AGU member since 1993, with utmost dedication and sense of belonging. I’ve taken it very seriously – in return for the efforts that AGU has tangibly set forth in its great mission and vision. But there’s something pretty wrong here: it’s pointless to state that “we have a space for voices..”, “we cultivate a space..” if those very voices from within AGU itself – numerous and significative – end up being ignored. This is not the AGU I had joined back in those days: I wonder whether I want to stay with it in these days.
    PS: great article, Geoffrey: this is the sort of sane, intellectually challenging endeavors that have made AGU the way it is: how can those voices get unheard?

    • Mark Shore

      Hello Umberto. We attended the University of New Mexico’s volcanology field course together in 1990. I’m glad to see you taking this stand as well.
      Best regards, Mark

      • Umberto Fracassi

        Dear Mark – what a circle is this world. I signed for membership at AGU exactly in the aftermath of visiting UNM in those days (it was July-August 1992). One of the greatest things of AGU was (and possibly still is) that student membership did cost mere 7 USD, which was truly nothing, even for a perennially broke student (just like any student of this world). And what a door to the world did it open. In fact, UNM and that volcanology field were so instrumental in my little personal growth. All the very best, Mark.

        • Euan Mitchell

          Mark, Umberto

          I join you both in your connection with that UNM volcanology field course (as an alumnus from 2004 and TA from 2006), which also spurred me to become an AGU member in 2004, and as a very disappointed member of AGU with regards to this decision. I second the calls of others to put this to a vote of the entire AGU membership.


  9. Mary Snow, Ph.D.

    Do my membership dues (and my husband’s) in any way help pay the salaries of the board?
    I would imaging so, which means we will withdraw our affiliation with the AGU.
    I teach a college course on Global Climate Change.
    I cannot afford to tarnish my credibility by being a member of the AGU and its misguided board.
    Does the board even realize the major policy setbacks we have endured as a nation due to ExxonMobil’s well-healed misinformation campaign? This corporation continues to funnel dark money through green-sounding front groups to support pro-fossil fuel candidates and shows no signs of leaving this disgraceful track they have been on and have spear-headed for decades ~
    all in the name of their quarterly profits. If the board comes to its senses, we’ll rejoin.

  10. Sue Trowbridge

    I find this decision unconscionable! How can you be scientists and support Exxon who is fighting climate change facts? I hope your members will reverse this decision with their protests; otherwise, your group is meaningless in a scientific world.

  11. James Byrne

    This is an extremely disappointing decision by the AGU board. I have been a member for 20 years but will seriously considering leaving AGU over this decision. I will attend the fall 2016 meeting to meet commitments to sessions that involve honorable colleagues. But one seriously questions ever attending an AGU meeting again until the agency begins to show true leadership for the research community and society. Maintaining a relationship with Exxon is an absolute abrogation of our responsibility to humanity.

  12. J. Steven Livacich

    To maintain its reputation for truthfulness — AGU must not be seen as beholden to selfish special interests that can gain or retain a prominence in discourse about public policy wherein the risks of public danger are real or likely; in accepting Exxon sponsorship, AGU makes such a risk needlessly, and to no rightful end. The “Prow” is sinking, the beacon is dimming!

  13. Kent Peacock

    I am very disappointed in the AGU’s deeply-mistaken decision to continue to accept Exxon sponsorship. I am also disappointed because the statement by Margaret Leinen completely fails to address the substantive reasons why so many AGU members believe that the AGU should not continue “business-as-usual” with Exxon. Why, indeed, has the AGU Board decided to look the other way in the face of the very strong evidence that Exxon has actively supported disinformation about climate science for many years? A principled explanation for this decision is needed, not soft-soap and platitudes.

  14. Dr. Bob Abell

    If people don’t listen to scientists and don’t support science in general it is in part because too many scientists today are “bought and paid for”. This is a disgraceful decision on the part of a group that should be upholding the highest of scientific standards. Bad ethics is not compatible with good science. Shame ….

  15. Jay Cutts

    This decision very much discredits AGU as a scientific organization. Shame on you for caving to the big Exxon money and enabling Exxon’s continued distortion of an absolutely critical truth.

  16. Michael Ballin

    As one very concerned about climate changed i am convinced that Exxonmobile has spread disinformation about climate change and is a major source of carbon pollution. Please revise your decision to continue support of Exxonmobile

  17. Michael Ballin

    I am very concerned about climate change and I am convinced that Exxon has been a major source of disinformation about climate change and carbon pollution Please revise your decision to support Exxon

  18. Chris Measures

    Truly disappointing and hard to understand. AGU is not having a dialogue with Exxon, they are taking money from an organization that has deliberately misled the public and castigated scientists many of whom are AGU members. I think this decisions will be seen as the time AGU started to lose the respect of its members. I will resign my membership and find a different organisation to join

  19. Roy Young

    As the sponsor of the Climate Communication Prize I can only express my continuing amazement at the continuation of this collaboration with ExxonMobil. The current AGU Board has ignored and subverted the Organizational Support Policy voted by the previous AGU Board in 2015. For it’s $35,000 contribution to the student breakfast at the Fall Meeting, ExxonMobil buys it’s way in to use AGU as a recruiting platform for the fossil fuel industry. Please read ExxonMobil’s own publication of a 40 year plan where they reassure their investors that they will “leave no stranded assets.”

    The red flags of climate change are everywhere.

    The decision of this board is blatant and shameful hypocrisy which does enormous damage to AGU’s brand and credibility and, to the planet.

  20. Roger Jones

    I was a coordinating lead author in the last two IPCC reports and a lead author in the previous report and a current AGU member. Cannot properly convey how disappointed and perplexed I am by this decision. Science is an ethically-driven activity – it has to be to maintain its social licence. The only question is whether to oppose this nonsensical conclusion from without or within.

  21. Mark Moldwin

    Very disappointed and hope that the Board hears from members and students that disagree with this decision. The sponsorship actually does harm to our credibility as an independent scientific organization.

  22. Bill Bour

    The AGU has demonstrated a lack of conviction in its own policies that state: “AGU will
    not accept funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science, or that fund organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science,” and that partner organizations “do not harm AGU’s brand and reputation, and that share a vested interest in and commitment to advancing and communicating science and its power to ensure a sustainable future”.

    There is a vast conflict of interest when one organization, the AGU, that purports to be dedicated to finding the truth of nature is associated with another organization, Exxon, that has been so profoundly engaged in obfuscating that truth.

    In the update posted on the AGU website, President Leinen claims that its membership numbers from a wide range of disciplines in the earth and space sciences give AGU an authority to advance “collective scientific understanding of the world and our place within it.” I fear that the AGU leadership will find its membership, and hence that authority, considerably diminished in response to this truly dreadful decision.

    I find that I can no longer be a member of an organization that lacks the backbone to stand up for its own principles.

  23. roy young

    Margaret, Eric, and the AGU Board,

    Feels like current politics. You, and your “leadership” are helping the fossil fuel industry destroy the credibility of the organization you have helped build.

    The climate/ocean/atmosphere science people need to find somewhere else to go.

    What, Can you be thinking? Or is this just a sop for ExxonMobil’s $35,000 student breakfast every year? Sold out too cheaply, if that.

  24. Eleanor Stumped

    The American Cancer Society could conceivably take money from Reynolds Tobacco because it would enable them to keep more staff on board to better combat cancer….but would that really make sense?

  25. Eileen MacDougall

    Your statement ignores Exxon’s role in denying climate change. If you were to be more honest, you could have said that you need the financial support. Then there could be a discussion on alternate funding sources. The buzzword blather you posted here does you no credit and reeks of PR damage control.

  26. Walter Yerk

    The Board just double-downed on the bad decision with a prolonged consequences. I’m glad I paid my own breakfast on my way to the Moscone Center.

  27. Alice L Ayers

    So EXXON continues weaving its money spell around gullible organizations who become hypnotized by pretty words and lots of money. What did you teach at the student luncheon – how to be taken by dollar signs in order to serve lunch?

  28. Allan Thomas

    I couldn’t believe my eyes! What possible defense could the AGU board come up with for such an incredible, illogical, and ultimately irresponsible decision? Some kind of cowardly receipt of a payoff has to be behind this. Think of the damage to our current and future generations.

  29. Christian Bläul

    As a scientific organization, I wish for AGU to decline funding from companies like Exxon that have a track-record of intransparency and extremely lax interpretation of scientific results. Thank you for your consideration.

  30. Esther Andrews

    Why would this not be put to a vote of the membership? I am losing faith in the credibility of AGU as a professional organization. I am a former AGU student member.

  31. Andy Frassetto

    It is more than a little bizarre that AGU, in the face of what is overwhelming evidence of obfuscation, would continue to accept $35K from XOM every year to run a student breakfast. This becomes perverse when you consider that it would take just 137 students to register to cover this cost completely.

    But, we have to acknowledge that geoscience programs produce an overwhelming number of graduates that go into jobs related to resource extraction. This is the foremost commercial application of our science. In addition, how many of us fly to AGU? Or other meetings? Of course, we rationalize this carbon contribution because it greatly improves our ability to share knowledge, collaborate, etc. We do this for years. Meanwhile, many rational, environmentally conscious geologists with fond memories of Decembers in San Francisco go to work in the oil industry. In many cases, because it was the only job available to them that utilizes their skills and knowledge base.

    I guess my point is that you can disagree with something, but still be culpable in perpetuating it either discretely or at the institutional level.

    My conclusion is that AGU’s board is taking a circumspect approach to this issue as it tries to corporatize its operations and cater to as many different demographics as possible in the geosciences. You can certainly disagree with that, but it’s important to reflect on the symbiotic aspects of our profession. How many geoscience departments with excellent climate science programs also allow oil company recruiters to visit every fall? How many take contributions from either alumni who work at these companies, or from the companies themselves? In my estimate, many.

    I would also that that with the calls for changing this decision, people here should consider whether AGU is a Republic or a Democracy. Posting on message boards is a perfectly fine display of intent, but electing people who support your views, or running for office, is the appropriate way to effect change within a large organization.


      We ca do better than that in all aspects you mention Andy, I agree. A start would be to make this both a “Democracy” and a “Republic” in your acception of these terms. Let the whole community of members decide on the most important issues such as accepting oil money.

    • Mark Chopping

      Hi Andy, I agree absolutely with your view: “electing people who support your views, or running for office, is the appropriate way to effect change within a large organization.” However, this would only be feasible if the candidates were actually asked to provide their views on this issue. They were not, so AGU members have no way of knowing where the candidates stand on Exxon sponsorship. If I recall correctly, voting ends tomorrow 9/27/16 – but it’s a guessing game. –Mark

  32. Mike MacCracken

    In addition to the various issues about their past behavior, their present position also needs attention. At the ExxonMobil shareholders meeting in May to offer a statement about the science of climate change, chance also led to a direct discussion with Rex Tillerson in the lobby before the meeting. Despite his statement at the meeting that they support a tax on carbon (although there is no real indication they are pushing for this), Tillerson (and so ExxonMobil) seems to have no appreciation of the seriousness of the impacts that lie ahead (e.g., the potential rise in sea level, the loss of biodiversity, the acidification of the oceans, disruption of the weather, etc.) and a high confidence that technological solutions will be found, as they have in the past, to deal with all of the climate change impacts (and their new ad series seems to be aimed at suggesting how many issues they are working to address–without really addressing the hard issues). He views ExxonMobil as doing the world a great service in providing fossil fuels to meet the surely increasing demand for gasoline by the up and coming generations in Asia and Africa, not seeming to even consider that an electric bike with battery recharging by solar could provide the same service without the irreversible damage to the Earth’s climate system. In that we will ultimately need industry to be producing the solutions we need, there might be legitimate disagreement on punishing them for past actions spreading information far understating the IPCC consensus, that they are stuck in a pollyannish mindset regarding impacts and potential technological solutions to deal with all of them seems to me as serious an issue.

  33. John Hernlund

    It took a while, but finally AGU has done something so wrong that it has awoken all of the membership to the fact that this is no longer an organization that serves or cares about its members. We are treated as if we were the customers of a monopoly public utility company, and there is no recourse or means for us to affect change at the top. This undermines AGU’s ability to advocate in public policy matters, I have already informed my congressman and senators that AGU does not represent or speak on behalf of this scientific community.

  34. Trevor McDougall

    I, for one, will not publish in any AGU journal until AGU severs its links with EXXON. The next step is to cease my membership of AGU. I have been a member since 1980, that’s 36 years. It’s so disappointing to witness a great professional body lose its conscience. But now, my membership of AGU is smearing my reputation.

  35. American Geophysical Union Again Agrees to Continue Accepting Exxon Money – InsideClimate News

    […] “AGU has always valued open dialogue and exchange of ideas, and we believe this decision best reflects AGU’s unique value to the scientific community: our ability to convene scientists of diverse views and from different backgrounds, disciplines, and industries,” AGU president Margaret Leinen and president-elect Eric Davidson wrote in a brief blog post announcing the decision. […]

  36. Simon Cox

    This decision is baffling. Clearly in violation of AGU’s statutes. AGU has surrendered and not even for very much money ($35k for the Fall Meeting student breakfast).

    (Member since 1981, and definitely reconsidering.)

  37. Terrence Gerlach

    No more words. Take action. Let’s withdraw our own ‘sponsorship’ in mass — no more donations to AGU. If you disagree with this decision, stop your AGU donations and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

  38. Christopher Chapman

    ExxonMobil has for years funded efforts to confuse the public about the nature of climate change. They’ve funded for years anti-science efforts. They’ve funded, _for years_ those who accuse climate scientists, your members, of lying about climate change in order to feather their own nests. That AGU, as an organisation that respects science and those who do it, would take money from ExxonMobil is beyond belief.
    The board’s decision is appalling and as an AGU member, and contemplating resigning and never publishing in your journals, going to your conferences ever again.

  39. Jeremy Fyke

    To AGU leadership,

    My name is Dr. Jeremy Fyke; I’m an AGU member and and early-career staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where I work with a team to develop and use climate models to understand past and future climate change. In particular I am working to simulate ice sheets within global coupled models. This work has been published and highlighted in AGU journals.

    In the spirit of an engaged AGU member, I’d like to register concern with the continued relationship between Exxon Mobil and AGU. Exxon has carried out a multi-decade campaign of misinformation via extensive lobbying and funding of third-party climate change denial PR organizations. This effort, which has largely occurred in secrecy, continues at a rate of $27M/yr rate towards groups such as ALEC. It is directly intended to (via demonstrably disingenuous means) blunt the effectiveness of well-intentioned, honest research of many AGU members such as myself. Thus, my AGU membership places me in a fundamental conflict of interest, whereby I am a member of an organization that accepts gifts and support from a corporation that is simultaneously undermining the impact of my (societally-relevant) research.

    This conflict of interest, which impacts many other AGU members, has three possible resolutions:

    1) At the earliest opportunity, AGU leadership convinces Exxon Mobil to completely discontinue support for efforts to derail AGU member research (with a mechanism for verification)
    2) At the earliest opportunity, AGU leadership reverses the decision to continue to accept Exxon Mobil support
    3) I allow my AGU membership to lapse (which would be a horrible shame, since AGU membership is a premier mechanism for scientific collaboration in my field).

    Pending a reversal of your recent re-affirmation of the decision to accept Exxon funding, I have no choice but to follow option 3 after the upcoming (2016) AGU meeting. I will happily reconsider my decision if AGU leadership decides to reject Exxon funding.

    Thanks for your time and, aside from the unfortunate decision to retain Exxon funding: thanks for your selfless work to keep AGU on the forefront of excellent generation and dissemination of scientific knowledge for the benefit of a sustainable future.


    Jeremy Fyke

  40. Daniel Kirk-Davidoff

    I’d love to see a more thorough explanation of the Board’s thinking? What evidence did they consider convincing? What concerns did they have? Were they worried about a slippery slope that would lead to zero corporate funding? How much of AGU’s budget comes from corporate sponsorship? A 4-5 page document laying out a consistent policy on corporate sponsorship, and how ExxonMobil fits in with it, and how AGU understood the evidence in this case, would be very helpful.

  41. Erik Nordgren

    As many others have already eloquently stated, this doubling-down on an already-terrible decision by the AGU board is simply appalling. It flies in the face of the Union’s stated principles, and is an embarrassment to the scientific community. And the decision announcements (both now and back in April) — buzzword-salads, completely lacking any details regarding WHY this decision was made — leave us only to assume the worst… that the Board’s ethics are compromised. Shameful and utterly disappointing.

  42. Ed Maurer

    This is a very disappointing decision, if not completely surprising. It would be more difficult to be a mentor for my students if I resigned from AGU, so I would prefer some other response. How about something visible at the Fall meeting? Something like distributing name badge ribbons, like those for fellows and award winners, but colored black as coal with bright lettering sating something supporting the idea that a membership vote should be held on this issue. I don’t have a knack for marketing so don’t have great ideas on concise, powerful wording. Anyone interested in this please reply!

  43. Jeremy Winick

    Interesting that this “reconfirmation” of the past decision on Exxon comes out just before the AGU elections are over. What were the elections for anyway? A popularity contest, a contest about who has the best resume? The questions and most answers by the candidates were mostly window dressing motherhood, no questions or answers about important questions of scientific integrity that are relevant to the taking of funding from Exxon. So we “elect” leaders who we are supposed to believe will direct our scientific organization without knowing where they stand. So much like not knowing where the current board members stand. This is like the supposedly benevolent parents saying to their children, “just trust me I know better” without giving any justification. We have learned that the board has reviewed new information and came to the same conclusions without telling us what information and how it was used to re-enforce their previous decision.
    What recourse to current members have, other than to be embarrassed that they have previously taken pride in their membership? Resigning and not paying dues does no good for a life member, and not much impact for others unless they do something more. Try to start a new organization or organize for the fall meeting where they will invite the current board to face the music. Other choices are not to publish in AGU publications – choose others – say EGU Copernicus journals. Maybe members can have as much leverage as Exxon’s supposed $35,000, but probably not since Exxon and others have much more power behind the scenes.

  44. Mathew Owens

    Just to add another voice: After 15 years and a 4-year term as an Associate Editor for JGR, I too will not be renewing my AGU membership for 2017.

  45. Gunnar Schade

    I am a 20-yr member. I second the request for an explanation made above by Daniel Kirk-Davidoff. Since it is abundantly clear that Exxon is still misinforming via numerous proxies (see, e.g., the board may have been going through some interesting mental yoga to justify its position. If you want the membership to accept, if not support, that position, you need to explain it in detail, anything else is insufficient and political, rather than scientific. Also, I would expect to hear the positions of individual board members, and whether a vote of any kind was taken. Everybody posting here has revealed their position and many explain why they hold it, it is only fair to expect the same from the board. Till then, member loss and credibility loss will be the response. The revenue loss from the former can be compensated by ExxonMobil, the revenue loss form the latter is immeasurable. Good Luck!

  46. Mark Eakin

    This decision by AGU to continue to accept money from ExxonMobil is a disappointing demonstration that the old roots of AGU’s association with the oil and gas industry is stronger than their either AGU’s scientific integrity or its principles. A quick review of the AGU position statement “Human‐Induced Climate Change Requires Urgent Action” finds the sentence: “Actions that could diminish the threats posed by climate change to society and ecosystems include substantial emissions cuts to reduce the magnitude of climate change, as well as preparing for changes that are now unavoidable.” One of those unavoidable changes is that AGU must sever its relationship with those companies that have worked so hard to discredit AGU scientists and science. To continue to accept over $35,000 in blood money each year from ExxonMobil is a clear violation of the AGU sponsorship policy. The right thing to do would be for AGU to place the burden of proof on ExxonMobil and end any financial ties until ExxonMobil can demonstrate unequivocally that they are not participating in misinformation about science. Until such a decision is made, AGU will continue to be complicit in ExxonMobil’s disinformation campaign.

    I can no longer remain a member and financially support AGU, as doing so implicitly demonstrates my support for AGU and ExxonMobil. While AGU is willing to overlook its principles for $35,000, I am not.

    I have just confirmed that my credit card information is not stored on file at AGU. That means AGU will not be able to automatically re-enroll my membership at the end of the year. Unless AGU changes its policy and ends it relationship with ExxonMobil, I will be ending my membership that has been continuous since 1987.

  47. Geir Rasmussen

    AGU members promoting objective, critical thinking should evaluate a fuller picture around this issue. Recall that the coalition of Rockefeller Family Fund,, and Greenpeace held a secret meeting in January 2016 “To establish in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution”; “To delegitimize them as a political actor; and “To drive Exxon & climate into center of 2016 election cycle.” Once exposed, Lee Wasserman, director of the Rockefeller Family Fund, rather shamed, told the WallStreet Journal: “‘It’s about helping the larger public to understand the urgencies of finding climate solutions.” “‘It’s not really about Exxon.” Of course, the claim that the campaign was “not really about Exxon” should raise new questions about its real purpose; could it be politically motivated? (WSJ & WFB, 4/14/16).
    While there is little doubt that climate change is indeed taking place – also acknowledged by Exxon – there must be room for a civilized debate on what policies and regulations we need to enact to limit the effects of climate change. If policy solutions happen to differ from your belief system you should construct solid arguments – not label an entire industry sector as “deceptive”.

    • Jeremy Fyke

      To be clear: the reason there is a large complaint with Exxon supporting AGU, is that Exxon is simultaneously supporting efforts to discredit AGU scientist’s work. This is a basic conflict of interest. It has nothing to do with anything Rockefeller Family Fund did/does. Beware of conflating issues, please.

    • Gunnar Schade

      I am sorry Geir, but the first paragraph of your posting is called a Red Herring. It has nothing to do with the discussion here unless one or more of the groups you listed is sponsoring AGU. Using a Red Herring is not endorsing your comment as “critical thinking”.
      I did endorse your call for a “fuller picture” above, from AGU .. still waiting.

    • Nathan Phillips

      Geir, are you the same Geir advocating for drilling the arctic in the comment posted on The Hill, below?

      Geir Rasmussen a year ago
      The world’s population is growing, and the demand for energy will increase at a fast rate over the next 20 years. This need must be met at the same time as climate gas emissions are reduced. (The International Energy Agency
      The areas north of the Polar Circle hold a fifth of the world’s undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources. They can therefore make a substantial contribution to the supply of energy for several decades to come.
      Example: Altogether more than 100 exploration wells have been drilled in the Norwegian and Russian Barents Sea alone. All these wells have been drilled in a safe and secure manner without any unintended emissions or discharges. Some of the leading oil and gas companies have operated in Arctic conditions for 80+ years.
      The stepwise approach to more demanding areas is based on long experience and new technologies. Yesterday’s challenges become today’s solutions. Many areas in the Arctic are considered to be ‘workable Arctic’, or areas where there is no sea ice, or where such ice occurs only very infrequently, the water depths are shallow, the geological conditions exhibit normal pressure gradients and where responsible industry companies can apply well known technologies.

    • G Rasmussen

      Mr. Eakin,

      Having not met you, it is unclear where you are coming from with your question and posting. I will assume good intent as you seem to have a genuine interest in sounds in the ocean (although marine acoustics is not the focus of this grievance blog).

      The best source for scientific information on marine acoustics and marine mammal hearing is the DOSITS website (Discovery of Sound in the Sea; by The University of Rhode Island, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Naval Research and The National Science Foundation. If you are interested in attending conferences, may I recommend the “Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life” conference (, – the most recent of which was held in Dublin, Ireland, during July 2016, and organized by Professor Arthur Popper (University of Maryland) and Professor Anthony Hawkins (Bristol University).

      On the subject of off-shore seismic surveys by academia, the petrol industry, or government institutes, I can offer the following conclusions:

      1. The US National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (opinion leader) stated: “No scientific studies have conclusively demonstrated a link between exposure to sound and adverse effects on a marine mammal populations.  (Source: Marine Mammal Populations and Ocean Noise, Determining When Noise Causes Biologically Significant Effects (2005), page 15).

      2. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Services, the agency administering the Marine Mammal Protection Act, states (2012) regarding seismic surveys for petrol exploration: “To date, there is no evidence that serious injury, death or stranding by marine mammals can occur from exposure to air-gun pulses, even in the case of large air-gun arrays”. 

      3. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM) (2015) concluded that “there are no data to suggest that activities from the pre-existing OCS [petrol] Program are significantly impacting marine mammal populations.”

      With this in mind, you will note that the claims by the environmental NGO “Oceana” have little to no scientific merit. Their claims are primarily political and aimed at fund-raising. The target audience for such claims are citizens with little or no science education, nor time, nor desire, in their daily lives to research such issues. To Oceana’s specific claims, Dr. William Brown with BOEM states that: “this is a serious misrepresentation of the facts”. (

      I hope this has been helpful. For more information, see Discovery of Sound in the Sea;

  48. Steve Livacich

    It might be noted that today Exxon has now been sued for it falsifications and suppression of facts as to climate change–while it is being investigated by the SEC–it bears mentioning that Exxon is being held to account for crimes that it can be held both culpable and liable. “Green washing” indeed!!

  49. Elisabeth Holland

    As Professor of Climate Change at the University of the South Pacific, working for 15 Pacific Island countries, and life member of AGU, I am disappointed and angry with this decision by the board. The existence of many of our communities and countries depends on scientific integrity. When vulnerable countries cannot depend on the scientific community to stand for integrity, trust in science is betrayed. I had hoped to see AGU lead by example. I have abstained from voting for any nominees for the AGU board because no one had a clearly stated position on receiving Exxon funding and/or scientific integrity. I believe in AGU and its capacity for course correction, I will resign in a year from now if there is not significant progress towards regaining trust and credibility.

    Elisabeth Holland, Director Pacific Center for the Environment and Sustainable Development, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji

  50. Sandra

    I believe that it is possible to take money from other entities and not be persuaded by them. Keep an open mind & just dismiss their rhetoric if it is wrong or underhanded. If they don’t like it, they can withdraw their funding & go jump in the lake. Then just find another source of funding that is more conducive to your goals.

  51. Alex Morgan

    Three comments:
    (1) Get a grip, people. There are real issues involving corporate involvement in preventing climate change, this isnt one of them. ExxonMobil funds a breakfast for students, which features a 2 minute talk from an Exxon geologist. That’s it. The breakfast is a great opportunity to meet other students and senior researchers and there is no evidence that this is in any way affecting AGU’s academic integrity.

    (2) To everyone so riled about the AGU Board’s decision, I hope you are also writing every other academic entity to tell them to end their oil industry-funded projects and positions. This includes the Geologic Society of America’s ExxonMobil-sponsored funding for graduate student research projects, or Chevron, Texaco, and Exxon-funded graduate fellowships and post-docs at dozens (maybe hundreds) of universities across the country.

    (3) We live in a society that is largely powered by fossil fuels and will be for the near future, and the petroleum industry employs thousands of geoscientists with PhDs. It is no secret that the number of students graduating with a PhD is increasing faster than the number of academic job opportunities, and many students have looked at the private sector (including the energy industry) for potential future employment. There is a reason why the Exxon booth at the Fall Meeting Career Center is always busy.

  52. Michael Way

    We should organize a protest against the decision of the board at the Fall AGU meeting to make sure that more members are aware of this. We should demand the board either reconsider their decision or resign. Period. It’s that simple.

  53. Katie

    As long as Exxon Mobil does not influence the presentation of scientific results, then by all means accept their money to help fund student programs and scientific research. Also, from a policy stand point, the best way to affect change is to have buy in from multiple stakeholders. Scientists standing around confirming their opinions on climate change with other scientists has not been the most effective way forward thus far, so perhaps having representatives from natural resource extraction companies at scientific conferences to engage in discourse would be productive. And my final point is one about the hypocrisy of all these comments if you all as individuals have not disinvested your retirement and investment portfolios from coal, oil and gas. Your retirement fund is doing more to support ExxonMobil than is AGU accepting money from them to support programs.

    • Nathan Phillips

      Katie, do you believe your premise – that Exxon doesn’t influence the presentation of scientific results? I think that’s what this is all about.

      • Katie

        I certainly do believe that Exxon is not influencing the scientific discussion at AGU. If they were, don’t you think there would be a lot less talks on climate change? Yes, they have influenced the scientists that work for them, but there is an investigation from the attorney general for that. Furthermore, if we are not raising a generation of scientists who can use their own judgement on scientific merit and integrity and are rather allowing their opinions to be persuaded by free breakfast, then the fault is really on us.

  54. Alan Robock

    Mike MacCracken’s comment is very thoughtful. I think the one that speaks to me is, “The only question is whether to oppose this nonsensical conclusion from without or within.” I do not plan to resign now, as AGU does many other great things, like the Fall Meeting, journals, and Chapman Conferences, but I will stop my contributions. I would really like some more information about the deliberations, evidence they considered, and what it would take to change the decision. But a major issue is the rock people at AGU, who like Exxon, vs. the climate scientists.

    I am also giving an oral presentation at the Fall Meeting, 5:20p-5:30p on Monday, Dec. 12, talk PA14A-09 in Moscone South 104. Please come. Here is the abstract:

    Exxon and AGU; Denying Deniers A Platform

    Solution to the global warming problem is being stymied in the U.S. by a well-funded disinformation and lobbying campaign by fossil fuel interests. There is a long history of this, and today one need look no farther than the Republican Party, their 2016 Platform, and the actions of the House “Science” Committee Chair, Lamar Smith on their behalf. It is no coincidence that oil and gas interests are the top contributors to Mr. Smith during his political career, 1989-2016. So how is a professional organization of scientists like AGU to deal with this influence?

    At the 2006 Fall AGU Meeting, I was shocked to see a full-page ad in the written program for the ExxonMobil Student Breakfast. I was a member of the AGU Council at the time, as Atmospheric Sciences Section President-Elect. My motion at the December 2006 Council Meeting resulted in Exxon no longer being able to do this. Some geology members of the Council saw nothing wrong with Exxon, but I explained that AGU is a science organization, and as far as climate science, goes, Exxon is anti-science. Still, 10 years later, AGU accepts donations from Exxon to support, although no longer control, the Student Breakfast, in the vain hope that AGU can engage Exxon to change its ways.

    I will discuss what I see as the continuing responsibility of scientists to speak out on dangers to society that they discover in their work, and how to deal with the consequences. For example, I was targeted by fossil fuel interests with demands for my emails after signing a letter supporting investigation of them, and I now find in the 2016 Democratic Platform, “Democrats also respectfully request the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of corporate fraud on the part of fossil fuel companies accused of misleading shareholders and the public on the scientific reality of climate change.” How do scientists and professional societies deal with this politicization of science? I find that my most useful activity is educating students and the public about global warming, in talks and publications, explaining what we know and are sure of, rather than engaging in false debates.

  55. Frank T. Manheim

    I’m astonished by the near unanimity of the comments deploring the AGU board’s decision. I presume AGU discussed rationales for its decision though I haven’t followed the issue closely enough to know the background. But none of the critics I read offered much more than righteous indignation that AGU should cooperate with EXXON.

    Regardless of what AGU members might legitimately feel as private citizens I think we all should consider very carefully what it would mean for AGU as a nonpartisan scientific organization to distance itself from EXXON. To begin with, most of the U.S. fossil fuel-based energy industry – that with the nuclear power industry still supplies 90% of the U.S.’s total energy needs, shares EXXON’s views on energy policy. And so does the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, that represents 3 million American companies.

    In the early 1980s conflict over environmental policy widened into devastating partisan political polarization. The Democratic party became the party of environmentalists and the Republican party became the party of industry. The ensuing political gridlock has thwarted goals of both environmentalists and industry. It led to the U.S. becoming an international black sheep in global climate change policy. In contrast, advanced European nations that pursued policies of cooperation rather than mutual hostility have far outstripped the U.S. in percent renewable energy development. Sweden just reached renewables meeting 50% of total energy needs. Stockholm daily newspapers have been reported to call the U.S. “an environmental gangster”.

    I’m a member of several environmental organizations but don’t agree with their more counterproductive and antagonism-provoking policies. For example Sierra Club boasts about having retired 257 coal fired power plants. But it, the League of Conservation Voters and other NGOs are generically opposed to fracking (or any new oil and gas drilling). So let’s consider: before fracking the U.S. imported over 60% of its oil and gas consumption in 2006, which also accounted for a significant part of our foreign exchange deficit. In 2015 imports were down to 25% in large part owing to fracking. Without that source of natural gas retiring so many coal-fired power plants would likely have been unfeasible without jeopardizing electrical power supply.

    Let me end with a telling story. I’m a policy researcher and in 2007 was in Hamburg interviewing the head of German Greenpeace’s energy division. He related a story about his visit to American Greenpeace counterparts in New York City. At one point he asked his host to arrange a meeting with oil company executives. The American Greenpeace leader looked at him and said “Oh, we don’t talk with those people.”

    • Mark Chopping

      Dear Frank,

      You wrote “…none of the critics I read offered much more than righteous indignation that AGU should cooperate with EXXON.” Unfortunately, you did not read sufficiently carefully: as others have already pointed out up-thread, this is not about _cooperation with ExxonMobil — it would be great if there were more of that — it’s about whether accepting its sponsorship violates AGU rules. This seems incontrovertible, which is why so many of us are shocked at the Board’s decision. It is also not about where or how the US obtains its energy — to which you devote the majority of your post — it is about scientific integrity.

      Best wishes,


  56. Gunnar Schade

    Dear Alex, Katie and Frank,
    Your comments here are well-received and I believe you are probably well-meaning. However, nearly all of your statements amount to red herrings or beating strawmen.
    The board’s decision has little to do with the broad arguments you are making. For instance, whether AGU engages with ExxonMobil is completely independent of whether the Union accepts their sponsoring.
    Rather, the board’s decision was an exercise in determining whether acceptance of sponsoring from ExxonMobil violates the Union’s own rules and should thus be rescinded. Strong arguments were made months ago before the first board decision addressing this issue, and again before the latest meeting, outlining the incompatibility of ExxonMobil’s corporate actions with AGU rules. If you have a comment on that, please make it.

    Unfortunately, we are still waiting on what arguments the board itself had, e.g. what “comprehensive discussion” was actually taking place.

  57. Jon Claerbout

    Rather than berate the Exxon team leader for expounding on what he has not studied, we might do better ourselves to ponder moving food to our tables from the fields without the use of liquid fuels.

  58. Mark Eakin

    I encourage you to all read the article just published in EOS:

    It starts out with:
    “For decades, Exxon-Mobil has engaged in a campaign of disinformation: funding individuals and organizations committed to portraying climate change as highly uncertain, if not a hoax; questioning the motives of climate scientists; and targeting researchers for personal attacks aimed at discrediting their findings.

    ExxonMobil executives have repeatedly suggested in speeches, in interviews, and in “advertorials” that climate science was too unreliable to be trusted as a basis for policy making. Flying in the face of peer-reviewed economic studies, they have also insisted that the costs of mitigating climate change would be greater than the benefits.

    Accepting ExxonMobil money violates AGU’s own policy on accepting funding from groups that peddle misinformation.Given these facts, it baffles us that the American Geophysical Union (AGU) continues to accept money from ExxonMobil. The more than half a million dollars of ExxonMobil money that AGU has accepted over the past 15 years violates AGU’s own policy on accepting funding from groups that peddle misinformation.”

    Exxon-Mobil should be allowed to pay for space in the vendor hall just as any other group can. However, accepting Exxon-Mobil money to be a “sponsor” of the AGU is no better than if tobacco companies were “sponsoring” the American Medical Association while at the same time funding a disinformation campaign to discredit AMA scientists’ work on the harmful effects of tobacco use.

  59. Alex Dessler

    Exxon is OK now. Past sins should be forgiven. Exxon should be welcomed for seeing the light and supporting us. We should welcome all the right-minded help we can get.

  60. Alex Dessler

    I wish to rescind my comment above. I was misled because Exxon is no longer funding large disinformation groups, such as The Heartland Institute, and no longer saying that global warming could not be caused by CO2 emissions. However, a colleague has pointed me to an AGU report that shows, as late as 2015, its CEO in public statements and in Exxon reports to stockholders, has drawn back only to say the IPCC report and its underlying research was too unreliable to suggest remedial policy. Exxon needs to move one additional step before it is absolved of sin.

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