Scientists to AGU: Drop Exxon Sponsorship

  • Feb 22, 2016

Update May 6, 2016

Two Democratic lawmakers leading a campaign to hold ExxonMobil accountable for its decades of climate disinformation have written to AGU’s leadership, urging the world’s largest association of Earth scientists to reconsider its controversial decision last month to continue accepting money from the oil company.

“You have been fooled,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) write in a letter dated last Friday to AGU’s president, hot on the heels of similar frustrations expressed by some of the world’s leading climate scientists. “Whatever position AGU chooses to take, you should not take it based on self-serving representations by ExxonMobil,” say the lawmakers in their letter.

The lawmakers were “surprised at AGU’s conclusion,” pointing out that as recently as 2014, ExxonMobil was funding “several organizations that cast doubt on climate change.” AGU’s 2015 Organizational Support Policy states that “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.” One example Whitehouse and Lieu give is the American Legislative Exchange Council, whose official current position on climate change describes it as an “inevitable” and “historical phenomenon” and states that “the debate will continue on the significance of natural and anthropogenic contributions.”

Whitehouse and Lieu also believe that AGU’s decision to stick with ExxonMobil did not account for AGU’s Organizational Support Policy that “the public statement(s) of our organizational partners shall not directly oppose those of AGU,” which, they argue “cannot be reconciled” with ExxonMobil’s “lobbying efforts [that] are 100% opposed to any action on climate.” “As Members of Congress,” they add, “we wanted to warn you not to take the [ExxonMobil] ‘position’ on a carbon price at face value. It is false.”

President Leinen has posted a response to the lawmakers, saying that AGU’s Board will “review and discuss the information.”

Press coverage: Politico, Climate Wire, DeSmog Blog, ScienceBlogs, InsideClimate News, Think Progress.

Press release available here.


Update April 15, 2016

The AGU Board has announced its decision to continue its “current engagement between ExxonMobil and AGU including acceptance of funding from ExxonMobil,” explaining that “it was not possible to determine conclusively whether or not ExxonMobil is currently participating in misinformation about science, either directly or indirectly.”

This decision appears to ignore the consilience of evidence demonstrating ExxonMobil’s ongoing support of climate science misinformation. Originators of the open letter submitted a report documenting ExxonMobil’s present involvement in climate misinformation for the Board’s consideration (a copy of the report is available for download here). The report provides specific examples of how ExxonMobil is “in violation of AGU’s Policy because it remains a leading sponsor of think tanks, advocacy groups, and trade associations that promote climate science misinformation. Moreover, ExxonMobil financially supports more than 100 climate-denying members of Congress and continues to generate its own misinformative comments about climate science.”

Such examples include: (1) During ExxonMobil’s 2015 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson casted doubt about the reliability of climate models by remarking: “we don’t really know what the climate effects of 600 ppm versus 450 ppm [of atmospheric CO2] will be because the models simply are not that good”; (2) At the ExxonMobil-sponsored 2015 Annual Conference of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Stephen Moore, a member of ALEC’s Private Enterprise Advisory Board, asserted that: “The biggest scam of the last 100 years is global warming…It’s no surprise that when you give these professors $10 billion, they’re going to find a problem.”

Press release available here.

Press coverage: InsideClimate News, Climate Wire, DeSmog Blog, Climate Wire (addt’l)


Update February 26, 2016:

Press coverage: The GuardianNatureThink ProgressScientific American, InsideClimate News, Climate Wire, National Geographic ScienceBlogs, The New Republic, Triple Pundit, EcoWatch, Daily Kos, The Hill, Royal Society of Chemistry blog.

Since releasing this letter to the media, an additional 150 scientists (and counting) have signed on.

If you are a geoscientist and would like to add your name to the letter, please fill out this form

February 22, 2016: 

Today more than 100 geoscientists sent the following letter to the President of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) – the world’s largest association of Earth scientists – urging the association to end its sponsorship deal with ExxonMobil. The oil giant is currently under investigation by the New York and California Attorneys General for its long history of climate denial campaigns.

Many notable scientists have signed on, including the former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies James E. Hansen, the former President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Harvard Professor James J. McCarthy, Harvard Professor and author of Merchants of Doubt Naomi Oreskes, and Michael Mann– Director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

The letter is the most recent example of a growing trend of scientists stepping out of their traditional roles to urge science institutions to cut ties to fossil fuel companies.

Press release available here.  


Dear Dr. Margaret Leinen,

We, the undersigned members of AGU (and other concerned geoscientists), write to ask you to please reconsider ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of the AGU Fall Meetings.

As Earth scientists, we are deeply troubled by the well-documented complicity of ExxonMobil in climate denial and misinformation. For example, recent investigative journalism has shed light on the fact that Exxon, informed by their in-house scientists, has known about the devastating global warming effects of fossil fuel burning since the late 1970s, but spent the next decades funding misinformation campaigns to confuse the public, slander scientists, and sabotage science – the very science conducted by thousands of AGU members. Even today, Exxon continues to fund the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbying group that routinely misrepresents climate science to US state legislators and attempts to block pro-renewable energy policies. Just last year, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson downplayed the validity of climate models and the value of renewable energy policies.

The impacts of Exxon’s tactics have been devastating. Thanks in part to Exxon, the American public remains confused and polarized about climate change. And thanks in part to Exxon, climate science-denying members of Congress and lobby groups operating at the state level remain a major obstacle to US efforts to mitigate climate change.

The research disciplines of Earth sciences conducted by AGU members are diverse, but they are united by their shared value of truthfulness. AGU states that its mission and core values are to “promote discovery in Earth science for the benefit of humanity” and for “a sustainable future.” Indeed, AGU has established a long history of scientific excellence with its peer-reviewed publications and conferences, as well as a strong position statement on the urgency of climate action, and we’re proud to be included among its members.

But by allowing Exxon to appropriate AGU’s institutional social license to help legitimize the company’s climate misinformation, AGU is undermining its stated values as well as the work of many of its own members. The Union’s own Organizational Support Policy specifically states that “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.” We believe that in fully and transparently assessing sponsors on a case-by-case basis, AGU will determine that some, including ExxonMobil, do not meet the standards of this policy. We therefore call on you as the President of AGU to protect the integrity of climate science by rejecting the sponsorship of future AGU conferences by corporations complicit in climate misinformation, starting with ExxonMobil.

While we recognize that some of AGU’s scientific disciplines are deeply tied to the fossil fuel industry, we are also increasingly aware of the tension within our community regarding how we should respond to the urgency of climate change as individual scientists and as institutions. It is time to bring this tension into the light and determine how an organization such as AGU should approach the major challenges of today to ensure that we truly are working for the benefit of humanity. In particular, as the world’s largest organization of Earth scientists, if we do not take an active stand against climate misinformation now, when will we?

Yours respectfully,

AGU members:

Robert R. Bidigare, PhD, AGU Fellow, University of Hawaii

Cecilia Bitz, Professor, University of Washington

David Burdige, Professor and Eminent Scholar, Old Dominion University

Kerry Emanuel, Professor, MIT

Peter Frumhoff, PhD, Director of Science and Policy, Union of Concerned Scientists

Richard H. Gammon, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington

Catherine Gautier, Professor Emerita, University of California Santa Barbara

Charles Greene, Professor, Cornell University

James E. Hansen, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University

Charles Harvey, Professor, MIT

Roger Hooke, Research Professor, University of Maine

Mark Z. Jacobson, Professor, Stanford University

Dan Jaffe, Professor and Chair, University of Washington Bothell

Michael C. MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs, Climate Institute

Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor, Penn State University

James J. McCarthy, Professor, Harvard University

James Murray, Professor, University of Washington

Naomi Oreskes, Professor, Harvard University

Nathan Phillips, Professor, Boston University

Christopher Rapley, CBE, Professor, University College London

Richard Somerville, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, University of California San Diego

George M. Woodwell, Founder and Director Emeritus, The Woods Hole Research Center

Pattanun Achakulwisut, PhD Student, Harvard University

Becky Alexander, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Theodore Barnhart, PhD Student, University of Colorado/INSTAAR

Yanina Barrera, PhD Student, Harvard University

Dino Bellugi, PhD Candidate, University of California Berkeley

Jo Browse, Postdoctoral Research, University of Leeds, UK

Adam Campbell, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Otago

Chawalit Charoenpong, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sarah Crump, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Daniel Czizco, Associate Professor, MIT

Katherine Dagon, PhD Student, Harvard University

Suzane Simoes de Sá, PhD Student, Harvard University

Michael Diamond, PhD Student, University of Washington

Kyle Delwiche, PhD Student, MIT

Sarah Doherty, Associate Professor, University of Washington

Liz Drenkard, Postdoctoral Researcher, Rutgers University

Emily V. Fischer, Assistant Professor

Priya Ganguli, Postdoctoral Fellow

Gretchen Goldman, PhD, Lead Analyst, Union of Concerned Scientists

Meagan Gonneea, Postdoc

Jordon Hemingway, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Hannah Horowitz, PhD Student, Harvard University

Irene Hu, PhD student, MIT

Lu Hu, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Eric Leibensperger, Assistant Professor, State University of New York at Plattsburgh

Marena Lin, PhD Student, Harvard University

Simon J. Lock, PhD Student, Harvard University

Andrew McDonnell, Assistant Professor, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bruce Monger, Senior Lecturer, Cornell University

Daniel Ohnemus, Postdoctoral Researcher, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences

Morgan O’Neill, Postdoctoral Fellow, Weizmann Institute of Science

Cruz Ortiz Jr., PhD Student, University of California Santa Barbara

Jonathan Petters, Research Fellow, University of California Santa Cruz

Allison Pfeiffer, PhD Student, University of California Santa Cruz

James L. Powell, PhD

Christina M. Richardson, MS Student, University of Hawaii Manoa

Ignatius Rigor, Senior Principal Research Scientist, University of Washington

Paul Richardson, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Oregon

Erica Rosenblum, PhD Student, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Ben Scandella, PhD Student, MIT

Neesha Schnepf, PhD Student, University of Colorado at Boulder/CIRES

Amos P. K. Tai, Assistant Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Robert Tardif, Research Scientist

Katherine Travis, PhD Student, Harvard University

Britta Voss, Postdoctoral Fellow

Andrew Wickert, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota

Kyle Young, Graduate Student, University of California Santa Cruz

Xu Yue, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University

Emily Zakem, PhD Student, MIT

Cheryl Zurbrick, Postdoctoral Associate, MIT


Other concerned geoscientists:

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, CBE, Professor, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Helen Amos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard University

Antara Banerjee, Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Emma Bertran, PhD Student, Harvard University

Skylar Bayer, PhD Student

Thomas Breider, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Stella R. Brodzik, Software Engineer, University of Washington

BB Cael, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Sophie Chu, PhD Student, MIT/WHOI Joint Program

Archana Dayalu, PhD Student, Harvard University

Gregory de Wet, PhD Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Christopher Fairless, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Mara Freilich, PhD Student, MIT

Wiebke Frey, Research Associate, University of Manchester, UK

Nicolas Grisouard, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto

Sydney Gunnarson, PhD Student, University of Iceland/University of Colorado Boulder

Sam Hardy, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

David Harning, PhD Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Sophie Haslett, PhD Student, University of Manchester, UK

Richard Hogen, Aerospace Thermodynamic Engineer, United Launch Alliance

Anjuli Jain, PhD Student, MIT

Harriet Lau, PhD Student, Harvard University

Cara Lauria, Masters Student, University of Colorado Boulder

Franziska Lechleitner, PhD Student, ETH Zürich

Michael S. Long, Research Scientist

John Marsham, Associate Professor, University of Leeds, UK

Catherine Scott, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Leeds, UK

Rohini Shivamoggi, PhD student, MIT

Victoria Smith, PhD, Instrument Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Science, University of Leeds, UK

Melissa Sulprizio, Scientific Programmer, Harvard University

Rachel White, Postdoctoral Associate, University of Washington

Leehi Yona, BA, Senior Fellow, Dartmouth College

Yanxu Zhang, Postdoctoral Researcher, Harvard University

Note: Institutional affiliations are for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement.