By David Michaels

In today’s Wall Street Journal (sub required), Jeffrey Ball reports that ExxonMobil has decided to stop funding several of the groups that have been in the forefront of attacking the scientific evidence on global warming.

The campaign to shame ExxonMobil appears to be working. Earlier this week, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a damning report describing how the oil giant funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science:

In an effort to deceive the public about the reality of global warming, ExxonMobil has underwritten the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry misled the public about the scientific evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. As this report documents, the two disinformation campaigns are strikingly similar. ExxonMobil has drawn upon the tactics and even some of the organizations and actors involved in the callous disinformation campaign the tobacco industry waged for 40 years.


We’ve been writing about strategy of manufacturing uncertainty for some time (see here and here and here).

ExxonMobil’s policy change is a sign of the success of the efforts of scientists to expose the sham science of the cynical climate change deniers. While these mercenary scientists and public relations machines masquerading as “think tanks” are unlikely to back off, the corporations that fund them are susceptible to public pressure.

Most recently, the focus has been ExxonMobil. Chris Mooney laid the groundwork in a terrific piece in Mother Jones, detailing ExxonMobil’s generosity to climate change deniers. Then, in September, the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific society (founded in 1660!) wrote to ExxonMobil criticizing the company for supporting organizations “which misinformed the public about climate change.”

We can’t stop at ExxonMobil, of course. We should now begin talking about (and with) the companies that operate coal-burning power plants. For example, The Southern Company (which owns Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power), provides financial support to the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Policy, which is active in manufacturing uncertainty about global warming, along with the toxic effects of particulates produced by coal-burning power plants)

In addition to support from ExxonMobil ($688,575 between 1998 and 2005), the Annapolis Center received $325,000 from the Southern Company in 2003-2004.

I’d like to see public utilities be placed on notice that support of climate change deniers is wrong and should be stopped.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

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