IMAGE: ANTI-EXXONMOBIL PROTESTORS
Paul J. Richards  /  AFP/Getty Images file
ExxonMobil has long been the target of protestors, including this action near the White House in August 2005 against tax breaks, subsidies, and other incentives oil companies received despite rising oil prices at the time.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/3/2007 5:57:43 PM ET 2007-01-03T22:57:43

ExxonMobil Corp. gave $16 million to 43 ideological groups between 1998 and 2005 in a coordinated effort to mislead the public by discrediting the science behind global warming, the Union of Concerned Scientists asserted Wednesday.

The report by the science-based nonprofit advocacy group mirrors similar claims by Britain’s leading scientific academy. Last September, The Royal Society wrote the oil company asking it to halt support for groups that “misrepresented the science of climate change.”

ExxonMobil did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the scientific advocacy group’s report.

In the past, the company has said it recognizes the risk of climate change and has invested in technology to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, including plans to invest $100 million over 10 years in climate research.

Many scientists say accumulating carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from tailpipes and smokestacks are warming the atmosphere like a greenhouse, melting Arctic sea ice, alpine glaciers and disturbing the lives of animals and plants.

ExxonMobil lists on its Web site nearly $133 million in 2005 contributions globally, including $6.8 million for “public information and policy research” distributed to more than 140 think-tanks, universities, foundations, associations and other groups. Some of those have publicly disputed the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

But in September, the company said in response to the Royal Society that it funded groups that research “significant policy issues and promote informed discussion on issues of direct relevance to the company.” It said the groups do not speak for the company.

Tobacco tactic?
Alden Meyer, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ strategy and policy director, said in a teleconference that ExxonMobil based its tactics on those of tobacco companies, spreading uncertainty by misrepresenting peer-reviewed scientific studies or cherry-picking facts.

Dr. James McCarthy, a professor at Harvard University, said the company has sought to “create the illusion of a vigorous debate” about whether humans are behind global warming.

At its annual meeting last year, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson viewed the science behind global warming with skepticism.

"The term scientific consensus is an oxymoron in itself," Tillerson said when one shareholder suggested there was consensus on global warming.

"This is what's perplexing to me. I come away from these conversations and ask 'What exactly do they want?' I don't know what you want. We're going to be an active participant in this debate. We're just going to have to disagree."

Response from the other side
The Competitive Enterprise Institute, one of the groups cited by the Union of Concerned Scientists as having received funding from ExxonMobil, blasted the report as inaccurate.

"It’s mostly rubbish," Myron Ebell, director of global warming policy at CEI, said in a statement. "The report even mistakenly labels me an economist."

In the statement, CEI said it does not deny that human activities may be responsible for some or all of the warming. 

"The reason we are attacked is because we don’t believe the computer model predictions and resist the cries of alarm and imminent doom," Ebell stated. "Global warming may turn out to be a problem, but if it does, then it should be dealt with in a way that will do more good than harm."

"The policies promoted by groups such as the UCS would do much more harm than the warming itself," added Ebell. "Building coal-fired power plants in China and Africa will provide inestimable benefits to people with only slight risks of minor harms from global warming."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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