In an unusually intense interview featured on the National Public Radio (NPR) program On the Media, ExxonMobil spokesman and former journalist Richard Keil repeatedly failed to offer a reasonable explanation in response to charges that the energy giant shifted funding in the 1980s away from climate scientists and towards climate change deniers after company-funded research revealed that human carbon emissions were changing the climate of the earth.
The allegations stem from exhaustive research performed by InsideClimate News, which became part of a series called “Exxon: The Road Not Taken.” InsideClimate News reports that “Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then, without revealing all that it had learned, worked at the forefront of climate denial, manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus that its own scientists had confirmed.”
Keil responded to the accusations by claiming that Exxon never knew for certain that climate change was man made and no longer funds climate denial. Of course, as was pointed out, that’s not what InsideClimate News reported.
The story said Exxon knew through its own research that humans were changing the climate through carbon emission and had previously funded climate denial, a point the NPR host Bob Garfield called Keil on:
NPR Bob Garfield: On The Media’s interest in all of this is partly the story by InsideClimate News, it’s also partly the issue of how proactive Exxon was over a couple of decades in funding these groups and in printing these op-ed ads in the New York Times —
ExxonMobil Richard Keil: Bob we don’t fund those groups as the science has emerged and become clearer we are more committed than ever to researching this important topic —
NPR: “We don’t fund them” or “we didn’t fund them?” You got out of the funding business 2009 or some such, but for 20 years before that you poured —
Exxon: [cross talk] I’m going to finish my thought here Bob —
NPR: Please clarify this for me. “Are not” funding or “did not” fund them?
Exxon: We are not funding.
NPR: OK, so, who cares? It’s so simple. If you did fund these different disinformation campaigns to muddy the issues on climate science – the question is why? Why go from white hat operation that funds very serious research into a damage control operation that seeks to muddy the issues for the public. Why?
Emphasis mine. While Keil went on to continue to claim the story was “flat wrong,” he refused to specifically refute the primary allegation of the story – that after doing research that provided evidence that Exxon was contributing to climate change, the company shifted funding to climate deniers in the 1980s.
The answer the NPR host was looking for – though likely had no expectation of getting – was that Exxon shifted funding to deniers because they knew the results of the public understanding the link between fossil fuels and climate change would mean higher taxes and increased regulation for ExxonMobil.
In other words, Exxon could lose billions if people accepted the evidence the company itself had discovered during its research. By supporting climate change deniers the company was able to ensure public opinion was as divided as possible and therefore protect company profits.
Though climate scientists have accepted the evidence of man-made climate change, the public in the US remains divided. Those divisions are more than sufficient to enable Exxon and other energy companies to deploy an army of lobbyists and lawyers as well as an ocean of cash to thwart carbon tax legislation.
The only problem for Exxon executives is, don’t they have to live on the planet too? Listen to the NPR interview below.