Exxon joins the real world

by John Quiggin on January 14, 2007

For the last few years, Exxon Mobil has been the biggest single source of support for global warming denialism, and has also exercised a lot of influence on the Bush Administration in its do-nothing stance. For a long while, Exxon was able to act through front groups like the Global Climate Coalition, but the corporation has been increasingly isolated and its activities have been exposed to public scrutiny, most notably with the open letter from the Royal Society last year.

Now Exxon has changed its position, recognising the inevitability of some sort of controls on CO2 emissions, and lobbying for a broad approach that will be relatively favourable to businesses like Exxon, rather than one tightly focused on the energy industry. At this point, an association with shills for denialism like the Competitive Enterprise Institute is counterproductive as well as being embarrassing, so they’ve been cut adrift (along with half a dozen others not yet named).

In other news, Stern has responded to critics of his review in a recently published postscript. There’s also a Technical Annex with a sensitivity analysis, something that both critics and those (like myself) with a generally favorable view should welcome.

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the __earthinc » Blog Archive » [1056] Of Exxon surrenders! Sort of…
01.19.07 at 9:49 pm

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1

Exxon Exec's kid 01.14.07 at 1:34 pm

From what I understand, there’s been an undercurrent within XOM for a while which basically said “those assholes are taking our money to tell us lies we want to hear and making us look like laughingstocks.” It was not a winning position.

New Chairman, new era. Tillerson is not Raymond, but can’t call his former boss an idiot and big ships change course slowly. They’re changing course without changing course. The ‘now the Dems are in control” line allows everyone to change without admitting anyone was wrong before.

Not that Tillerson is joining the Sierra Club. He doesn’t want the controversy or the bad media attention, or his competitors to turf XOM out of the solution space. It’s pragmatic, which is an improvement.

2

jre 01.14.07 at 2:21 pm

Stunning!
For some time now, Exxon’s robust denialism has divided it from the rest of the oil industry. I recall a Wall Street Journal editorial (the gold standard, if that’s the phrase, for this kind of thing) praising Exxon for sticking to climate-change denial and deriding its competitors for bedding down with the enemy.
Interestingly, the WSJ’s news pages seem to have known this was coming from at least last September. Will the WSJ’s editorialists now heap scorn on Exxon for cooperating with environmental groups? Doesn’t there come a time when you notice that there’s no one else left in the foxhole?

3

Atlas Spanked 01.14.07 at 4:01 pm

At least Exxon-Mobil’s PR DEPT is changing course. And they’re saving some money – and face – by abandoning a few ‘black-helicopter’ pressure groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute who are increasingly seen as buffoonish.

But talk, unlike oil, is cheap — and all too often effective in deflecting public or press criticism. We’ll see.

4

Steve LaBonne 01.14.07 at 4:50 pm

Gee, the trolls who pop up on all the global warming threads around here are really going to be confused now. I almost feel sorry for them…

I wonder if the Bush Administration’s rumored soon-to-come about-face is the result of Cheney getting new marching orders from Exxon Mobil.

5

Disco 01.14.07 at 4:54 pm

WTF is ‘denialism?’ That’s not a word. The word is ‘denial.’ That’s the noun form.

Goodbye English language. Jesus.

6

Paul Turner 01.14.07 at 7:08 pm

The Wall Street Journal admitted in an editorial November 2 that global warming is taking place and that it probably is related in part to human activity. So it looks like the WSJ, Exxon, and Bush-Cheney are moving together on this.

7

rm 01.14.07 at 8:41 pm

Hwaet! Disco (or Jesus, or whatever your name is).

“Denial” is a state of mind in which a person isn’t consciously aware that he or she is not facing facts.

“Denialism” is a conscious strategy in which a corporation publically refuses to face facts, hoping to encourage denial in the public mind.

It is a neologism, yes, and I share your distaste for neologisms (let me never use “meme” or “captcha” outside of quotation marks), but adding the -ism morpheme changes the meaning.

Your moft humble and obedient servant,

rm

8

John Quiggin 01.14.07 at 9:24 pm

A grammar snark! – the undeniable sign that the substantive debate has been lost. And, as rm notes, wrong on the linguistic point as well, as is so often the case.

9

Jim Harrison 01.15.07 at 1:53 am

In my experience, even the least green companies harbor plenty of engineers and execs who, even if they don’t buy into environmentalism as an ideology, know which way the wind is blowing on issues such as global warming. For example, you often read that the big auto companies were merely making a PR gesture when they announced programs to develop hybrids or electrics. That may have been true at the higher levels of the companies, but the people who staffed the alternate car divisions were quite serious about producing real products on a large scale. I’ve felt for some time that pro-environmental groups should make a special effort to target the realistic people inside the corporations.

10

abb1 01.15.07 at 3:27 am

Denial or denialism – looks like no skiing this winter.

11

Timon Braun 01.15.07 at 6:20 am

How remarkable that even Exxon Mobile is warming up to a cap-and-trade system, under which it will be gifted the right to collect monopoly rents on the very public resource it has been degrading. The better question is why it took so long for this baptist-bootlegger marriage to happen. Global warming skeptics will pretend to care about Greenland in exchange for the right to collect the tax that supply-demand skeptics are politically unable to impose fairly, and which they don’t understand anyway.

Corporate outreach has shown perfect timing in marginalizing the crew at CEI. It had been invaluable to Exxon to let this “debate” continue in the Crossfire yes/no format, with “do something” and “do nothing” in opposing corners. The lines thus drawn, it is accounted a victory for progressivism when Exxon agrees to take ownership of scarce, valuable pollution credits in exact proportion to the damage it is already doing. Accounting for actual cost of that “something”, as with a Pigovian tax or a Lomborgian priority list, becomes just an underhanded way of opposing the good guys, such as Exxon.

12

Hasan Jafri 01.15.07 at 7:27 am

This a true snow job. Exxon Mobil’s friends — and a few of its detractors — will meet in Davos soon and the slopes will NOT be white. The reason is global warming, and XOM doesn’t want recognition as the grinch who stole the fun.

Be that as it may, Europe’s ski resorts are experiencing one of the worst winters on record. That’s right XOM: It’s all downhill from here, babe.

13

Steve LaBonne 01.15.07 at 8:18 am

Umm, people, year-to-year weather fluctuations can’t be securely related to long-term climate trends. Things are a bit more complex than that.

14

Tom T. 01.15.07 at 12:10 pm

Re: #10. I believe they’re skiing in Colorado.

15

Anarch 01.15.07 at 1:33 pm

And as of this weekend, Wisconsin and much of the Midwest as well.

16

Slocum 01.15.07 at 2:07 pm

Re: #10. I believe they’re skiing in Colorado.

Yep, not only are they skiing, but Denver may be heading for a record snowfall year:

http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/10751097/detail.html

Global warming is, no doubt, responsible for this as well.

All snark aside, it is a bit ridiculous to cite the lack of snow in the Alps as ‘proof’ of global warming while ignoring record snowfall in Denver and record cold temperatures in Southern California:

http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_5015126

Global warming advocates would do much better to resist the temptation to cite every bit of unusual weather as conclusive evidence.

17

raj 01.15.07 at 3:03 pm

Slocum · January 15th, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Yep, not only are they skiing, but Denver may be heading for a record snowfall year…

Global warming is, no doubt, responsible for this as well.

All snark aside…

Actually, this may very well be correct. Warming of the atmosphere may very well be allowing it to take up more water, which may be deposited in the form of snow. It doesn’t require that much of an elevation in temperature to allow the atmosphere to increase its moisture content, and, quite frankly, it doesn’t require that much of a lower temperature (at night, for example, or in particular regions of the country) to provide for the moisture to be deposited as snow.

18

raj 01.15.07 at 3:04 pm

On the subject matter of the post, if memory serves, the European Union has lambasted Exxon Mobil for its support of anti-global-warming “think tanks,” and I wonder how much of EM’s supposed change of heart is a result of them fearing sanctions by the EU.

19

readyforchange 01.15.07 at 3:42 pm

#16

Actually YOU would do better to try understanding the affects of climate change a little better.

The record snowfall in Denver can be attributed at least partially to global warming. The direct cause this time has been the result of an unusually strong el nino. The el nino effect is due to a cyclical warming of ocean waters. It is perfectly logical to assume that as the entire atmosphere heats up, it will increase the intensity of warm weather phenomenon such as el nino.

20

jet 01.15.07 at 5:55 pm

Exxon, the last bastion of major funding for anti-global warming science, has been defeated. Does this mean that we’ll see people blasting Al Gore and the rest of the hysterical nuts who say we’re looking at 20-40 feet of sea level rise in the next 50 years unless George Bush is impeached?

All jokes aside, if you watched the Discovery channel last night, you would have seen Gore not quite being an outright bald faced liar. But he certainly was doing Exxon quality of work in debasing science. In one sentence he would say that this or that would cause 20 or 40 feet of sea level rise, and then the next sentence would talk about how “this” could happen in the next 50 or 100 years. So, while “technically” he wasn’t lying, Exxon probably never “technically” lied either.

Gore et al have no problem scaring the “sheeple” into their line of thought. I hadn’t realized that conning the majority into a specific position was such a liberal ideal. Kind of makes bashing Exxon a bit hypocritical, doesn’t it?

21

John Quiggin 01.15.07 at 10:41 pm

Melting of ice sheets is the one area where Gore differed from mainstream scientific consensus. But his claim that the scientists are rapidly revising their views seems to have some basis.

Of course, comparisons with the systematic lying of Exxon shills are baseless, though I’m glad to see that jet has now seen through these guys, whom s/he was quoting not that long ago.

22

Slocum 01.16.07 at 7:36 am

Actually YOU would do better to try understanding the affects of climate change a little better.

The record snowfall in Denver can be attributed at least partially to global warming. The direct cause this time has been the result of an unusually strong el nino. The el nino effect is due to a cyclical warming of ocean waters. It is perfectly logical to assume that as the entire atmosphere heats up, it will increase the intensity of warm weather phenomenon such as el nino.

OK, so you’re saying that this year, global warming caused a lack of snow in the Alps and record snows in Colorado. I’m guessing that next year, if the opposite occurs (record snow in the Alps and below-normal snow in Colorado) that will also be an indication of global warming as well? Along those lines, last year, it was claimed that Katrina was caused by global warming. What happened this year? No hurricanes at all came ashore in the U.S. The cause? According to the weather service, it was El Nino. And the cause of El Nino? You suggest it is global warming.

I don’t, in fact, doubt average global temps are rising. But blaming every instance of unusual or dramatic weather on global warming has become a joke…one that’s more likely to undercut support for action on global warming that increase it.

23

Steve LaBonne 01.16.07 at 8:22 am

I don’t, in fact, doubt average global temps are rising. But blaming every instance of unusual or dramatic weather on global warming has become a joke…one that’s more likely to undercut support for action on global warming that increase it.

I have to say that I agree with Slocum about this, as I already indicated above.

24

Jim Harrison 01.16.07 at 12:26 pm

Attacks on Gore often amount to an instance of the fallacy of the lazy reason. He’s supposedly an alarmist, but is actually rather optimistic because he figures we’ll get our act together and take serious steps to deal with global warming. His opponents, on the other hand, reason that it can’t be all that bad, without recogning that the main reason it may not be so bad is that people like Gore will eventually succeed in promoting the practical measures that limit the damage.

If we really don’t do anything to deal with greenhouse gases, climatic and sea level effects similar or worse than those pictured in an Inconvenient Truth will probably take place. If we’re lucky, the accuracy of his predictions will never be tested. Of course, one prediction can be made with 100% reliability: if things work out because of the strenuous and expensive efforts of governments, NGOs, corporations, and individuals, the Conservatives will claim that there had never been a problem in the first place.

25

John Emerson 01.19.07 at 1:26 pm

Minnesota stats confirm what LaBonne says. While this January and last are the two warmest in 110 years (2006 Link) the ten coldest Januaries are fairly evenly scattered ( Link).

26

Valuethinker 01.19.07 at 5:37 pm

slocum

Colorado is having *above average* temperatures this year.

This is not inconsistent with global warming.

Snow = water vapour + temperature below 0 degrees centigrade.

So if it’s normally cold in Colorado in winter, it can still be warmer than average, and if an unusually moist air mass comes in, the snow dumps.

Residents of Buffalo NY get far more snow than much colder places further north or west, for precisely this reason.

27

Valuethinker 01.19.07 at 5:39 pm

jim harrison

good point. This is already the case on the hole in the ozone layer.

There never was a problem, because it is not getting bigger. I was flabbergasted by this line of argument, but there you have it.

and in any case, what did it matter if we had to wear more suntan lotion?

(the bit about phytoplankton collapse, and birds going blind, is of course never mentioned).

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