This column is sponsored by my kind friends at ExxonMobil: the Gaia-raping, children-of-the-future-murderers you can trust!
No, of course it isn’t really and that’s my only serious beef with ExxonMobil. It ought to support its media defenders but it doesn’t.
So what if it’s a big oil company? Big oil companies make the world go round.
So what if its annual revenues, if expressed in GDP, would make it one of the world’s 30 largest countries? That’s capitalism.
But there’s one thing about ExxonMobil I find hard to excuse. And that’s the way that instead of trying to defend the values of industrial civilization which have made it so rich and powerful, it has instead all too often squandered its PR, CSR and research budgets not rewarding its friends but giving succour to its enemies.
Sure for a period it supported the Competitive Enterprise Institute to the modest tune of around $300,000 a year. (Not a lot when your annual profits can be as much as $40 billion). But the money it has given to liberal causes vastly outweighs anything it has given to free market ones: for example the $100 million (yes that’s million, not thousand) it donated to Stanford in 2002 to help launch its Global Climate and Energy Project.
Some might call this ‘investment in the future’. I’d call it greenwashing. Or, worse than that, Danegeld.
It’s a form of protection money paid to the green Mafia to ensure they go easy on your main business. Except they don’t. Just like the Vikings, just like the mobsters, when you bribe them to stay away they only keep coming back for more.
This is the background context against we should judge the outrageous and iniquitous proposals by various green activists that ExxonMobil should face prosecution on RICO charges for having knowingly concealed “the truth” about climate change.
These activists include Sharon Eubanks, a former US Department of Justice attorney who once helped bring a similar case against Big Tobacco; House Democrats Ted Lieu and Mark DeSaulnier; Canadian eco-loon Bill McKibben (who talks, with characteristic wry understatement, of Exxon’s “sheer, profound, and – I think – unparalleled evil”); and, of course, Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse, another attorney determined to use lawfare to shut down the debate on climate change once and for all.
Their claims are based on two articles which appeared in the liberal media and which – at least in the authors’ perfervid imaginations – showed Exxon ignoring its scientists in the 70s, 80s and 90s and setting out deliberately to conceal “the truth” about global warming.
That is, it is clear from their accusatory tone (“What Exxon knew about Earth’s melting Arctic”; “top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions”) that the authors believe Exxon was guilty of something seriously amiss. But in vain do you search the body of the text for any damning evidence that might justify all this righteous rage. In fact if anything, Exxon emerges from this non-scandal rather well: socially responsible; mindful of due diligence; properly concerned about the security and future of its core business and of the needs of its shareholders; keen to keep abreast of the latest science.
The story goes like this: from the late 70s to the mid 80s, Exxon dedicated a chunk of its then-annual $300 million research budget looking into the effects of CO2 and the possible risks of man-made global warming.
“Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical,” said one of its technical experts in 1978.
“There are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered” an in house corporate primer said in 1982. “Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible.”
“Models are controversial,” as their head of theoretical sciences was honest enough to put it in a May 1980 status report on Exxon’s climate modelling programme. “Therefore, there are research opportunities for us.”
All this is no more than you would have expected scientists in that field to say in that particular era, as man-made-global-warming theory was becoming increasingly fashionable. By raising these issues, they were simply doing their job. Note, however, the caution of their phrasing. “Present thinking holds”; “might”; “potentially”; “might not be.” The science wasn’t certain and neither were the scientists: they were merely raising Exxon’s awareness of possible future scenarios.
What’s more, even though this fashionable new theory was detrimental to Exxon’s business model, Exxon still – to its enormous moral credit – chose to publish its research anyway in a series of papers and monographs.
Then in the mid-Eighties, Exxon began changing its tune. Its discretionary budget had been hit by the collapsing oil price and it had, perhaps, begun to recognise that the science on global warming was being manipulated by hucksters like NASA’s James Hansen and climate activist Senator Tim Wirth and that fossil fuel producers were now their public enemy number one – for reasons more to do with green ideology than science.
In 1997, Exxon’s chairman and CEO Lee Raymond was among business leaders who argued successfully against America’s adoption of the Kyoto Protocol.
“Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will change in the 21st century and beyond. We need to understand the issue better and fortunately, we have time. It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.”
Does any of that statement strike you as crackpot or extreme or parti-pris?
Rather, I’d suggest, it accords much more closely with what we now know about climate change than anything Exxon’s scientists were saying in the early 80s. Indeed, if Exxon had chosen to act on some of the more extreme scenarios painted by the in-house experts, they would not only now be looking very silly but they’d also be out of business. Exxon, let it be stressed, were quite right to be cautious on catastrophic man-made global warming theory. This was never a cover up. This was a company responding sensibly and proportionately to the evidence available at the time – and taking a stance which has subsequently been vindicated by observed reality.