Climate activists Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran took to Twitter Wednesday, posting links to a new cache of Mobil documents that they hoped would help expand their #ExxonKnew campaign to include #MobilKnew. The activists allege that the documents, which explain grants given to various organizations by the Mobil Foundation in the 1990s, show that Mobil was also trying to manipulate information about climate change.
In reality, the activists exposed how they mislead the public by cherry-picking and manipulating documents to fit their preconceived narrative.
If you read one tweet from me this week, please read this. It’s not just #Exxon who knew, it’s #Mobil, too. @BenFranta @billmckibben @Agent350 @jswatz @CoralMDavenport @yvessciama @ret_ward https://t.co/8WU9WlCSAh
— Naomi Oreskes (@NaomiOreskes) June 12, 2019
Supran joined her, tweeting that:
2/n: Mobil had inside access to climate models “that will be the basis for regulatory action”. Privately self-proclaimed funding “Benefits to Mobil” such as these epitomize what @BenFranta & I term fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia: https://t.co/yvc9lTBfC0
— Geoffrey Supran (@GeoffreySupran) June 12, 2019
The documents were obtained by Kert Davies’s Climate Investigations Center. Davies, a central figure in the #ExxonKnew campaign, has been dogging energy companies for years, trying to find some sort of an admission in company documents that can be leveraged into legal action.
Mobil Funded Cutting-Edge Research on Environmental Protection, Safety
The papers published this week laid out the foundation’s grants for the year, which are annotated with highlights and comments. In 1994, the Mobil Foundation had $1.2 million in recommended grants. The money went to a variety of groups working in health and environmental science, engineering, and research.
This money funded research into how to evaluate “whether a bioremediation projection has been successful for cleaning up contaminated groundwater,” “the role that skin irritation plays in causing skin cancer,” and developing techniques to treat waterfowl damaged by spilled oil. Other grants supported both environmental conservation projects and programs promoting broader public safety, such as a grant to the National Safety Council, a group well-known for its campaigns to promote seat-belt use, prevent inner city lead poisoning, and otherwise reduce accidental deaths in the U.S.
Notably, Mobil was far from the only company to support many of these groups. The documents themselves show that many other companies, including AT&T, Colgate, and IBM also gave donations, which were often larger than Mobil’s.
The Mobil Foundation’s support of third-party research groups undercuts the claim that energy companies like Exxon and Mobil had secret hidden knowledge of the link between fossil fuels and climate change. By supporting independent groups, like the Lament-Doherty Geological Observatory, the foundation was contributing to research that could be seen and used by outsiders and the general public.
Activists Opposed to Wildlife Conservation Donations
After first criticizing energy companies for supporting right-leaning groups, climate activists are now criticizing them for supporting centrist groups, pro-safety groups, and conservation groups. Oreskes and Supran argue that accepting any sum of money taints an organization.
Oreskes said in another tweet, “funding doesn’t have 2 B ‘quid pro quo’ 2 B troubling.” To Oreskes, the Mobil Foundation was up to no good when it supported groups like the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, the Greater Caribbean Energy & Environment Foundation, and the University of Chicago Department of Geophysical Sciences.
A Scientist’s Perspective
Though the activists are trying to promote the documents as a slam dunk, they haven’t been able to demonstrate that the Mobil Foundation’s support for these projects influenced the scientists’ findings in any way.
In fact, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe admitted as much in an op-ed two years ago, revealing that she had been an Exxon-funded climate scientist, but that this did not impact the quality or direction of her work:
“A scientist is a scientist no matter where we work, and my Exxon colleagues were no exception. Thoughtful, cautious and in full agreement with the scientific consensus on climate – these are characteristics any scientist would be proud to own…
“Their research and development was targeted, and in my case, it was targeted at something that would raise no red flags in climate policy circles: quantifying the benefits of methane reduction…
“For the gas and oil industry, reducing methane emissions means saving energy. So it’s no surprise that, during my research, I didn’t experience any heavy-handed guidance or interference with my results. No one asked to review my code or suggested ways to ‘adjust’ my findings. The only requirement was that a journal article with an Exxon co-author pass an internal review before it could be submitted for peer review, a policy similar to that of many federal agencies.”
Hayhoe now accuses Exxon of funding climate denial and suggests that she probably wouldn’t accept a similar grant today. But her firsthand experience, from a similar company during a similar time as the Mobil donations, reveals the donations were not the sinister arrangements Oreskes and Supran would have people believe.