Big oil blows smoke on climate change

ExxonMobil funds illusionists. According to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report, the oil giant has been backing climate change skeptics,…

ExxonMobil funds illusionists.

According to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists report, the oil giant has been backing climate change skeptics, spreading false science and successfully clouding environmental issues for more than eight years.

Smoke, Mirrors and Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to  Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Change reports that between 1998 and 2005 the oil giant funneled $16 million to more than 43 front organizations and climate change contrarians.

“It’s like when the tobacco companies funded doctors and scientists to say smoking was healthy,” said Yukon Conservation Society’s energy co-ordinator Lewis Rifkind on Thursday.

By funding these skeptics ExxonMobil has been throwing doubt on the whole climate change issue, he said.

“ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer,” said Union of Concerned Scientist’s director Alden Meyer in a release.

“A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as big tobacco did for over 40 years.”

The oil company has raised doubts about even the most indisputable climate change evidence, and it attempts to defend its position by championing a quest for “sound science,” according to the report.

And ExxonMobil has a very targeted approach, said Rifkind.

“It funds groups in Washington DC or London or Ottawa — groups that are glued right into the national media.

“And the general public gets all their information from the media.

“So you have almost every single scientist saying climate change is a big, serious issue and if you look at the media, it says it might be an issue, but it’s not really human-caused and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Sowing this doubt in the media has also influenced politicians, said Rifkind.

“Politicians aren’t scientists,” he said.

“They respond to constituent concerns and if a lot of constituents are saying, ‘Well I hear climate change is an issue, but then I read in the newspaper the other day that someone said it wasn’t,’ the politicians will reflect that.”

The $16 million ExxonMobil’s spent on its disinformation campaign is chump change for the company, said Rifkind.

“But as far as funding individuals and groups, it’s a huge amount if all you’re doing is PR.

“You don’t have to do any research; you just take reports and adjust them — so you’re just paying for brains.

“I don’t think any groups up here are funded by Exxon,” he added with a laugh.

There’s always been the suspicion that climate skeptics were being funded by big oil, said Rifkind.

However, some environmental groups also fund scientists, so there are often agendas within agendas, he said.

“But I like to think environmental groups have the environment at heart and not personal gain and satisfaction, while the corporate directors of Exxon might not want to see their share prices drop.”

The UN inter-governmental panel on climate change has no vested interest, added Rifkind. And it is made up of academics who, year after year, have proved that climate change is getting worse, due to greenhouse gases caused by human activity.

If greenhouse gas emissions continue, global warming will accelerate with temperatures increasing by 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius between 1990 and 2100, according to a UN climate change panel summary.

“On balance, the impacts of global warming will be significantly negative,” said the summary.

“The climate change panel presents this information to the UN, which presents it to the world,” said Rifkind.

“And then to have big corporations come in and fund counter viewpoints — in the public circles it raises this huge spectre of doubt.”

“As a scientist, I like to think that facts will prevail, and they do eventually,” said Harvard oceanography professor Dr. James McCarthy in a release.

“It’s shameful that ExxonMobil has sought to obscure the facts for so long when the future of our planet depends on the steps we take now and in the coming years.”

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