ExxonMobil and the Distortion of Climate Science

Last week, Mike Tokars of the Christian Science Monitor reported that:

New York state’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, and US Rep. Ted Lieu (D) of California are both looking into whether the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company intentionally misled the public and company shareholders about its own knowledge of climate change and the inherent risks it posed to the oil industry. The outcry started in September, when InsideClimate News published an investigation asserting that, since the 1970s, ExxonMobil, has known of fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change. The company’s own scientists are said to have raised concerns that were contradicted by executives.

The details are slowly emerging, and sadly no one is particularly surprised that such an outrageous conspiracy might have actually taken place. What is perhaps most interesting about InsideClimate‘s account of Exxon’s history in climate science was the company’s initial role in funding the basic research of climate science and its eventual role in funding climate science denial. Exxon’s corporate culture in the 1970s was future-oriented and saw science as an aid to accurate decision-making. The defensive anti-science stand came later as it became clearer that climate change threatened the fossil fuel industry’s long-term future.

The role of science continues to grow in our technologically-based and complex global economy. Effective governance requires scientific literacy and effective checks and balances on the wanton disregard of the facts that science presents. When scientific paradigms shift or when new scientific discoveries are made, there may be a period of uncertainty before a scientific consensus emerges and facts become accepted. Once consensus is achieved, scientific facts become part of the reality that helps explain how the world works. If economic power is projected to distort that reality, our system of governance is placed in jeopardy. —> Read More