ExxonSecrets was born out of a need to easily explain the complex web of organizations, pundits, lobbyists and skeptic scientists running Exxon's campaign to deny and undermine the scientific evidence on global warming.
Greenpeace has followed been following the anti-Kyoto crowd since the early 1990's. The same scientists and spokespeople kept popping up, along with the same organizations who were either backing, employing or celebrating the skeptic voices.
We found the easiest way to show the links between all the groups and individuals was to do it graphically. Thus we developed and launched the ExxonSecrets map tool in 2004. The code was developed by Josh On (of They Rule.net), the graphics by Amy Balkin. The project leaders at Greenpeace were Kert Davies and Cindy Baxter.
While the rest of the world is now accepting climate change and moving on the issue, especially in the business sector, ExxonMobil continues to fund the think tanks and organizations who are running a decades-long campaign denying the consensus of urgency from climate scientists and attacking policies to abate global warming. A major shift by ExxonMobil would send strong signals throughout the business world. While Exxon isn't the only company funding these organizations, it has played a leading role in several key anti-environmental lobby groups, including the Global Climate Coalition and the American Petroleum Institute.
But doesn't Exxon say it cares about climate change?
Exxon might "take climate change seriously" but the reality is that it has been spearheading this campaign to undermine action on climate change for many many years. The company has recently recognized that its longstanding position on global warming has become unpalatable with increasing public awareness and political momentum on climate change, so it has shifted its rhetoric and revised its choice of words around the issue.
Don't the deniers have a right to free speech?
There's a difference between free speech and a campaign to deny the climate science with the goal of undermining international action on climate change. However, there's also responsibility that goes with freedom of speech — which is based around honesty and transparency. Freedom of speech does not apply to misinformation and propaganda.
Debate is part of science, isn't it?
Real scientists always debate science — that is correct, its part of the scientific process, testing hypotheses and introducing new data and analysis. But the scientists named on ExxonSecrets rarely publish peer reviewed scientific work.
In 2001, American communications consultant Frank Luntz, wrote a long research memo to the Republicans advising them on the language they should use when talking about climate change.
"The scientific debate remains open," he wrote , "Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field"
Those scientists and experts recommended by Luntz have been provided by the Washington think tanks funded by ExxonMobil along with other oil, coal, electric utilities and car companies.
This is a similar campaign strategy to that adopted by the Tobacco industry decades earlier. "Doubt is our product" was the famous comment of one tobacco lobbyist to a US Senator. Indeed, you'll find that some of the key deniers and organizations named on ExxonSecrets were also paid by Big Tobacco to generate doubt about the hazards of smoking.
But Exxon says it's just funding the groups to debate policy issues because it doesn't like the Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol came about after rising scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming and when Governments realized that the voluntary UN Framework Convention on Climate Change wasn't going to bring about the cuts in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases needed to combat the problem. Essentially, the Kyoto Protocol was driven by the urgency generated by the science.
It follows, therefore, that the Exxon-funded groups and deniers have focused on challenging the science as the best way to challenge Kyoto.
The now famous 1998 American Petroleum Institute memo, Global Climate Science Communications Actions Plan, authored by Exxon, API and several of the individuals and organizations that headline ExxonSecrets, drew a bead on the importance of the debate on science framing the moment in 1998:
"The advocates of global warming have been successful on the basis of skillfully misrepresenting the science and the extent of agreement on the science, while industry and its partners ceded the science and fought on the economic issues. Yet if we can show that science does not support the Kyoto treaty - which most true climate scientists believe to be the case - this puts the United States in a stronger moral position and frees its negotiators from the need to make concessions as a defense against perceived selfish economic concerns.
Upon this tableau, the Global Climate Science Communications Team (GCSCT) developed an action plan to inform the American public that science does not support the precipitous actions Kyoto would dictate, thereby providing a climate for the right policy decisions to be made. The team considered results from a new public opinion survey in developing the plan.
Charlton Research's survey of 1,100 "informed Americans" suggests that while Americans currently perceive climate change to be a great threat, public opinion is open enough to change on climate science. When informed that "some scientists believe there is not enough evidence to suggest that [what is called global climate change] is a long-term change due to human behavior and activities," 58 percent of those surveyed said they were more likely to oppose the Kyoto treaty. Moreover, half the respondents harbored doubts about climate science."
But hasn't Exxon dropped its funding of the deniers?
After consistent campaigning by Greenpeace through ExxonSecrets, ExxonMobil was forced, in 2006, to drop funding to some of its key allies in the campaign to deny climate science and delay policy action The Competitive Enterprise Institute was the key group dropped — it had received $2.2 million from ExxonMobil since 1998, more than any other thinktank. But the relationship continues as CEI's climate operatives continue to work closely with the other think tanks funded by Exxon.
And ExxonMobil continues to fund many of the key groups, including most of those involved in the 1998 API memo mentioned above.
A key question remains: if these groups had not done anything that Exxon disagrees with, why has Exxon now decided to drop some of them? The company has not answered this question.