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I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist

I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist thumbnail

ExxonMobil’s deliberate attempts to sow doubt on the reality and urgency of climate change and their donations to front groups to disseminate false information about climate change have been public knowledge for a long time, now.

Investigative reports in 2015 revealed that Exxon had its own scientists doing its own climate modeling as far back as the 1970s: science and modeling that was not only accurate, but that was being used to plan for the company’s future.

Now, a peer-reviewed study published August 23 has confirmed that what Exxon was saying internally about climate change was quantitatively very different from their public statements. Specifically, researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes found that at least 80 percent of the internal documents and peer-reviewed publications they studied from between 1977 and 2014 were consistent with the state of the science — acknowledging that climate change is real and caused by humans, and identifying “reasonable uncertainties” that any climate scientist would agree with at the time. Yet over 80 percent of Exxon’s editorial-style paid advertisements over the same period specifically focused on uncertainty and doubt, the study found.

The stark contrast between internally discussing cutting-edge climate research while externally conducting a climate disinformation campaign is enough to blow many minds. What was going on at Exxon?

I have a unique perspective — because I was there.

From 1995 to 1997, Exxon provided partial financial support for my master’s thesis, which focused on methane chemistry and emissions. I spent several weeks in 1996 as an intern at their Annandale research lab in New Jersey and years working on the collaborative research that resulted in three of the published studies referenced in Supran and Oreskes’ new analysis.

Climate research at Exxon

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.

Did Exxon have an agenda for our research? Of course — it’s not a charity. 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.

Methane is a waste product released by coal mining and natural gas leaks; wastewater treatment plants; farting and belching cows, sheep, goats and anything else that chews its cud; decaying organic trash in garbage dumps; giant termite mounds in Africa; and even, in vanishingly small amounts, our own lactose-intolerant family members.

On a mass basis, methane absorbs about 35 times more of the Earth’s heat than carbon dioxide. Methane has a much shorter lifetime than carbon dioxide gas, and we produce a lot less of it, so there’s no escaping the fact that carbon has to go. But if our concern is how fast the Earth is warming, we can get a big bang for our buck by cutting methane emissions as soon as possible, while continuing to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels long-term.

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.

Did I know what else they were up to at the time? I couldn’t even imagine it.

Fresh out of Canada, I was unaware that there were people who didn’t accept climate science — so unaware, in fact, that it was nearly half a year before I realized I’d married one — let alone that Exxon was funding a disinformation campaign at the very same time it was supporting my research on the most expedient ways to reduce the impact of humans on climate.

Yet Exxon’s choices have contributed directly to the situation we are in today, a situation that in many ways seems unreal: one where many elected representatives oppose climate action, while China leads the U.S. in wind energysolar powereconomic investment in clean energy and even the existence of a national cap and trade policy similar to the ill-fated Waxman-Markey bill of 2009.

Personal decisions

This latest study underscores why many are calling on Exxon to be held responsible for knowingly misleading the public on such a critical issue. For scientists and academics, though, it may fuel another, different, yet similarly moral debate.

Are we willing to accept financial support that is offered as a sop to the public conscience?

The concept of tendering literal payment for sin is nothing new. From the indulgences of the Middle Ages to the criticisms some have leveled at carbon offsets today, we humans have always sought to stave off the consequences of our actions and ease our conscience with good deeds, particularly of the financial kind. Today, many industry groups follow this familiar path: supporting science denial with the left hand, while giving to cutting-edge research and science with the right.

The Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University conducts fundamental research on efficient and clean energy technologies — with Exxon as a founding sponsor. Philanthropist and political donor David Koch gave an unprecedented US$35 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2015, after which three dozen scientists called on the museum to cut ties with him for funding lobbying groups that “misrepresent” climate science. Shell underwrote the London Science Museum’s “Atmosphere” program and then used its leverage to muddy the waters on what scientists know about climate.

It may be easy to point a finger at others, but when it happens to us, the choice might not seem so clear. Which is most important — the benefit of the research and education, or the rejection of tainted funds?

The appropriate response to morally tainted offerings is an ancient question. In the book of Corinthians, the apostle Paul responds to a query on what to do with food that has been sacrificed to idols — eat or reject?

His response illustrates the complexity of this issue. Food is food, he says — and by the same token, we might say money is money today. Both food and money, though, can imply alliance or acceptance. And if it affects others, a more discerning response may be needed.

What are we as academics to do? In this open and transparent new publishing world of ours, declaration of financial supporters is both important and necessary. Some would argue that a funder, however loose and distant the ties, casts a shadow over the resulting research. Others would respond that the funds can be used for good. Which carries the greatest weight?

After two decades in the trenches of climate science, I’m no longer the ingenue I was. I’m all too aware, now, of those who dismiss climate science as a “liberal hoax.” Every day, they attack me on Facebook, vilify me on Twitter and even send the occasional hand-typed letter — which begs appreciation of the artistry, if not the contents. So now, if Exxon came calling, what would I do?

There’s no one right answer to this question. Speaking for myself, I might ask them to give those funds to politicians who endorse sensible climate policy — and cut their funding to those who don’t. Or I admire one colleague’s practical response: to use a Koch-funded honorarium to purchase a lifetime membership in the Sierra Club.

Despite the fact that there’s no easy answer, it’s a question that’s being posed to more and more of us every day, and we cannot straddle the fence any longer. As academics and scientists, we have some tough choices to make; and only by recognizing the broader implications of these choices are we able to make these decisions with our eyes wide open, rather than half shut.

DeSmog Blog

128 Comments on "I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist"

  1. onlooker on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 1:38 pm 

    So Simon you are a Moral Relativist. You would think our species can do better than after all this time still be debating the morality or lack thereof of Murder, Wars, Injustice, Inequality etc. The US is an immoral Empire, all Empires by definition tend to be immoral

  2. Cloggie on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 1:53 pm 

    China is going to be the new #1 and hence needs to be contained.

  3. Anonymouse1 on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:17 pm 

    Have at it Cloggen-fraud. I vote you to spearhead operation ‘confine China’.
    No need to send up progress reports or anything like that. In fact, the less we hear from you, the better.

    Now off you go cloggen-stein, China isn’t going to confine itself.

  4. Simon on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:17 pm 

    Greg, that seems fair enough, I kinda agree with you.


    I am open to be called a moral relativist and/or a hedgehog molester, however could you explain to me why adolf hitler or Genghis Khan or Pol Pot or Wise old uncle Joe was not in his opinion


  5. Davy on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:17 pm 

    Home run! Simon

  6. Davy on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:23 pm 

    Onlooker the rest of he world is an accomplice to this horror. Tell me Russia and China smell sweet. Europe started us down this road. Anglosphere is pissed becuase their empire is gone and their bastard offspring never got their chance. Yea the US is horrible but spare me the drama that the US is uniquely bad.

  7. onlooker on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:30 pm 

    No, Davy, I said all Empires including the English one etc

  8. Simon on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 2:34 pm 

    lets expand the discussion.

    I propose the definition of the state (government) is

    ‘The only body that can kill a human and not answer in law’

    if I am correct, all governments, let alone all empires are equal.
    I have setup the strawman, who is gonna knock it down ?

  9. Boat on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 3:05 pm 

    Cloggie on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 1:53 pm
    China is going to be the new #1 and hence needs to be contained.

    I read China needs to keep showing economic progress to keep it’s citizenry hopeful. This kinda makes sense when for example in the US a favorite saying is “it’s the economy stupid”.
    As China grows and asserts itself on the world stage their military options are limited if they want to continue to trade. China is primarily a product exporting country. So who does China need to keep happy to grow this robust trade. United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, Brazil, Russia.

    Seems to me the top six trading partners have the peaceful leverage to keep China from doing anything extreme. They are contained in an economic sense.

  10. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 3:34 pm 

    Economically speaking, we are all going down, including China. The best strategy going forward would be a multipolar world power structure, IMO. The U.S. Has made it very clear at the UNSC meetings, that it will settle for nothing less than a unipolar world order. That is not going to happen without a fight. A fight I might add, that the U.S. is no longer in a position of winning.

  11. Boat on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 3:43 pm 


    So when was the US in a position of winning a fight for a unipolar world. You went off the diving board with no water in the pool….again.

  12. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 3:44 pm 


    Empires have existed for 3000 years of recorded world history, and likely forever before that.

    What we consider to be economies have only been around for a couple of hundred years. Globalism in it’s current form, less than 100 years, probably closer to 50.

    We are heading into a much different world than the one you and I have lived in for our entire lives, and it isn’t going to be pleasant.

  13. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 3:49 pm 

    “So when was the US in a position of winning a fight for a unipolar world.”

    The U.S. won that fight in Afghanistan, which was the catalyst for the collapse of the only other world power at the time, the USSR.

  14. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 4:11 pm 


    If you feel an inclining to get yourself up to speed on geopolitics, if I may suggest the following books:

    The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia

    “The term “Great Game” was used by nineteenth-century British imperialists to describe the British-Russian struggle for position on the chessboard of Afghanistan and Central Asia”

    The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia

    “What the U.S. is up to is the 21st century’s version of the “Great Game,” the competition that pitted 19th century imperial powers against one another in a bid to control Central Asia and the Middle East. The move to surround Russia and hinder China’s access to energy is part of the Bush Administration’s 2002 “West Point Doctrine,” a strategic posture aimed at preventing the rise of any economic or military competitors.”

    “The struggle to control the world’s remaining energy reserves increasingly culminates in bloody conflicts and the killing of innocent civilians, with the war in Iraq being only the latest example.”

  15. Cloggie on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 4:18 pm 

    One thing is certain, the US empire is walking on its last legs in Germany. Again Merkel received massive booes today in Erlangen, like every day during her campaign:

    [1:00] Volksverraeter! (people’s traitress)

    There is a distinct 1989 smell hanging over Germany.

    I hope she will make it safe to Santiago de Chile in time. We don’t want ugly scenes, now do we?

  16. Boat on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 4:50 pm 


    The US, and coalition partners I might add, have not won in Afghanistan. They can control areas at a high cost but the funding it would take to control all of Afghanistan is prohibitive.
    China gets all the oil it wants on the open market like Japan, S Korea, US, Europe etc. I see nothing there but free markets.
    People write those books to fleece like minded individuals.

    Bush Administration’s 2002 “West Point Doctrine,” a strategic posture aimed at preventing the rise of any economic or military competitors.”

    lol, like any doctrine has any credibility in the face of reality and commonsense. Kinda like saying oil demand will drop when there is a glut. Or the world can’t afford/grow on $50 oil. Or Jews are a threat. You live in a world of propaganda and have bought into some of it’s darkest corners. Reading that crap is a waste of my time.

  17. Apneaman on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 5:09 pm 

    clog, too funny. A very orderly protest. Not exactly close to a unite the right savage America version. The only way the POTUS gets anywhere near that close to the citizenry is after they have gone through the metal detectors and bag searches and he is surrounded by hundreds of secret service agents and snipers. Merkel may be a traitor, but she ain’t scared like tough talking Trump. And he is all talk.

    See the video for yourself how he runs like a little bitch when he gets scared.

    Trump visibly shaken by security breach during rally

    US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts on stage to what he may have thought was a security breach during a rally in Ohio

    Now watch what a Canadian PM does when a protester gets past what little security there is and tries to get in his face.

    Meet Jean Chretien, Canada’s ass kicking Prime Minister

    “In 1996, Chretien was confronted by a anti-poverty protester at a flag day rally in Quebec. So what does Jean Chretien do when a protestor gets up in his grill? Easy, he grabs the guy by the neck, and chokes him!”

    ” Chretien refuses to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq

    In 2003, George W. Bush asked Chretien for Canada’s support in the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Shockingly, Chretien said no. That Chretien would so publicly reject Canada’s pimp and protector was as much a shock to the US as it was a point of pride for Canadians. Chretien’s reasoning was sound: he wanted proof that Saddam Hussein was building WMDs before he’d support the war. But that’s not the best part, when answering questions to the press about what would be acceptable proof, he delivered quite the insight: “A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof! A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because its proven.” – Jean Chretien”

    Jean Chretien manhandles Canadians

    LMAO when that one happened. Now they have that snowflake Trudeau. He wasn’t always such a pussy. He used to be a bit of a scrapper. His old man was no push over.

    Trudeau vs Brazeau BOXING FOR CANCER (Full fight)

    Here’s the old man in 1970. Did not need to hide behind any press secretary and/or have prearranged/screened interviews like America pussies and all the managed and corporate owned politicians today. Every one is coached and every word is scripted. Booooooooooooooooooring.

  18. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 5:31 pm 

    “Reading that crap is a waste of my time.”

    Not the least bit surprising.

    “The US, and coalition partners I might add, have not won in Afghanistan.”

    I was talking about 1979-1988 Boat.

  19. JuanP on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 5:42 pm 

    Boat “The US, and coalition partners I might add, have not won in Afghanistan.”
    I disagree. If the US goal is to keep Eurasia broken and divided and prevent peace, development, unity, and prosperity there, as I believe it is, then the Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria wars have been a total success for the USA. The same goes for Lybia; the USA succeeded in dividing and destroying what was the most prosperous and developed country in North Africa. The same could be said for Venezuela, too. The USA is not trying to bring peace, freedom, democracy, and prosperity to the countries it attacks, Boat. It is trying to divide, destroy, control, and dominate them. Once you understand what the US goals are these wars make more sense.

  20. Cloggie on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 6:01 pm 

    Disagree Juan that Iraq and Syria were a success. Both countries are now in the Iranian sphere of influence. And neither is Afganistan a success since it is not pacified and never will.

  21. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 6:13 pm 

    Afghanistan was a partial success. Opium production is now a 500 billion USD per year ‘industry’.

  22. Boat on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 6:29 pm 


    That might explain your thought process. Do you smoke it every day?

  23. GregT on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 6:34 pm 

    Never tried it Boat, but I’d like to. It was, after all, the drug of choice for high society back in the 20s. Probably a lot better than drinking alcohol, or being addicted to prescription drugs.

  24. Makati1 on Thu, 31st Aug 2017 7:01 pm 

    Afgan poppies are the major crop of the CIA. It funds all of their Black Ops activities, while making Americans feel good. A win-win for TPTB.

    “U.S. Leads the World in Illegal Drug Use” (2008)

    “President Obama addressed the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin summit in Atlanta Tuesday, calling further attention to the drug epidemic in America just two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control issued new recommendations on limited the use of narcotic painkillers. Data clearly shows that opioid and heroin addiction have become an epidemic in the past 15 years.” (2015)

    Interesting! How long has the US been in Afghan/poppy country? About 15 years? LOL

  25. JuanP on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:09 am 

    Cloggie, I agree with your observation about Iran, but if the goal is to prevent other areas of the world, particularly Eurasia, from developing then a divided and destroyed Iraq and Syria are a success. Those countries are significantly worse off than they were before the USA intervened in them. Of course, the USA would prefer to control and dominate peaceful, developed countries like they do in Europe, but if they can’t do that then destroying them as much as possible is their second best option. I know it is a sick perspective but it has worked for them so far. That is the inadmissible philosophy on which the USA was created since they did that to the natives, the Spanish, English, French and Mexicans to create their country. Bribe, buy, corrupt, extort, or destroy. The funny thing is that they expect to be liked for it and get mad when they are not. It is nor for nothing that the USA is the most disliked country in the world.

  26. Hello on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 7:16 am 

    >>>> Bribe, buy, corrupt, extort, or destroy

    Why don’t they do that with china? Or asked differently, why do all the 3rd world holes let them self being bribed, bought, corrupted, extorted and destroyed?

    It always takes two …..

  27. Cloggie on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 8:07 am 

    The funny thing is that they expect to be liked for it and get mad when they are not. It is nor for nothing that the USA is the most disliked country in the world.

    @JuanP – indeed. Davy has great trouble understanding why Washington is not liked all over the world. Neither was the USSR, especially not in Eastern Europe. And if somewhere in the next decade the US will have to acknowledge that China has superseded the US, China will be the most hated country in the world.

    Being the most hated country in the world has its advantages though. It means you are the most powerful and with power usually comes material wealth, via some extortion racket. In the US that racket is owning the reserve currency, leading to a scheme that can be best summarized by: “you work, we print”.

    Being a geopolitical top dog usually lasts ca. one century, just like a human lives on average 80 years. Geopolitics is like participating in a football competition. Team A might have won the cup last year, but all the other teams are already planning to be the winner next year. The difference with a football competition is that in geopolitics, team B and team C can conspire against team A and advance from position 2 and 3 resp, to position 1 and 2 resp, all at the cost of team A, that is usually reduced to a pile of rubble.

    The latter happened to the poor Germans twice. First they were the victim of a conspiracy, led by the British and supported by France and Russia (WW1). The second time the Americans #2 and Soviets #3 conspired from 1933 onwards to destroy Europe, the #1 before 1940.

    After 1991, the US was the sole remaining super power, or so it seemed. But then Russia recovered, China began its meteoric rise and Europe united. That’s a lot of competition. Russia and China both know what the US is up to, a global empire run from the NE-USA (or Israel as an alternative seat for a global government). The SCO-alliance is too big to defeat militarily, so the US tries regime change from within (“color-coded revolutions”).

    But since 2016 all a sudden the US is a divided house. The new US president still wants America to be the strongest and become magnificent again (MAGA), but apparently is no longer keen on subjugating Russia (“wants to get along instead”). But the so-called “deep state” (=real hidden rulers, tptb) still want to see a global empire under their thumb become a reality (“world in the hand of the self-chosen”) and tries to topple Trump.

    The US stepping down from #1 position will eventually happen, not because of a war against the US, instigated by a successor wannabee, but as a result of growing internal tensions. The US deep state wants a world without borders, in their pocket, and since 1965 began to remodel the US in anticipation of such a border-less world empire (NWO) and began to promote replacing a white majority with a ethnic-religious diverse population. It is against exactly that model that the disposed white majority is now revolting against and tries to save from (white) America what can be saved. This inevitably will lead to secession, which will lead to the US abandoning global pole position.

    Enter China.

    Forget about the UN taking global control (NWO). The #7 in the list is going to be China.

  28. Davy on Fri, 1st Sep 2017 9:06 am 

    Please, clog, don’t play your drama games with me. I know the world does not like the US. The problem is the excuses all you stupid anti-Americans here use to justify your narrow personal agendas based on that hate. You are one big fat history revision and future fantasy. Very convenient for you to have the big bad US to hate. Anti-Americans are blame and complain children more worried about their emotions then the truth.

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