Despite the overwhelming consensus of scientists, a recent Gallup poll found that 43 percent of Americans still believe that global warming is caused by natural conditions, not by the emission of greenhouse gas pollutants from human activity. For an issue of settled science, that figure is startlingly high – after all, how many people still believe that the sun revolves around the earth? – but it’s not an accident. The oil company ExxonMobil is among the corporations that have paid out millions to lobbying organizations and academics who question whether global warming is a real phenomenon, or who claim that a link between global warming and human activity has not been established.
Investing in Anti-Science
Responding to shareholder concerns at a 2008 meeting, ExxonMobil pledged to reduce its support for organizations that deny climate science. One example would be ExxonMobil’s support for The Heartland Institute, a lobbying group also known for its long time work for the tobacco industry. ExxonMobil has also been a major funder of the well known climate denier Wei Hock Soon. A new report from Greenpeace U.S.A. indicates that ExxonMobil does appear to be spending less on climate denial, though as of last year it was still devoting some funds to the effort.
Climate Denial Investment Pays Off
Reducing its investment in climate deniers may have had more to do with a sound business decision by ExxonMobil than an exercise in corporate social responsibility. The investment has already paid off in the form of increased public confusion over the reality of climate change, so there is no justification for continuing to spend money at the same rate. Compared to just three years ago the aforementioned Gallup poll found that significantly fewer people now believe that the effects of global warming have already begun, and fewer people believe that man-made pollution is the cause of global warming. More people also doubt that the effects of global warming will ever occur. The Gallup report concludes that “Americans are clearly less concerned about global warming and its effects than they were a few years ago.”
ExxonMobil and Profitability
Much has been written about the corporate culture of ExxonMobil, but it can be summed up as a singular – and singularly successful – focus on profits. Over the past few years, while other oil companies invested in alternative energy projects that did not always pan out, ExxonMobil invested in a public relations exercise that has paid enormous returns by dampening public support for alternative energy, which after all would compete directly with its core business.
Other Ways to Support Climate Change Denial
As for the follow-through on its pledge, ExxonMobil may have followed the letter of that agreement by reducing support for high profile lobbyists and academic personalities. However, as of this writing it appears that ExxonMobil is still represented on the Board of Directors of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that writes and disseminates model legislation at the state level. In addition to its recent involvement with controversial state-level legislation on union rights, immigration, and student voter identification, ALEC’s templates have generated bills and resolutions that withdraw states from regional greenhouse gas reduction agreements. Until ExxonMobil adopts a more diversified energy profile, expect to see a continued investment in actions that work against climate change management.