Rockefeller Family Fund accuses ExxonMobil of “morally reprehensible conduct”
The New York Review of Books recently published an interesting article written by David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund, explaining why they are divesting its holdings in fossil fuels, with particular attention given to ExxonMobil, whom they single out for their “morally reprehensible conduct.”
Part one of the article, available here, reviews the pertinent facts that have come to light in recent years regarding ExxonMobil’s knowledge of the serious dangers posed by climate change decades ago. For example:
In 1980, a report written by Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary and distributed to Exxon managers around the world stated matter-of-factly, “It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels … and oxidation of carbon stored in trees and soil humus…. There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases in forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.” The next year Roger Cohen, director of Exxon’s Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Laboratory, wrote in an internal memo that by 2030, projected cumulative carbon emissions could, after a delay, “produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).”
Nonetheless, Exxon embarked on a decades-long campaign of obfuscation, framing the issue as a “controversy” or “debate,” when in fact overwhelming scientific consensus exists.
A NASA review concluded that 97% of working climate scientists agree that “Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
The UN International Panel on Climate Change, the body responsible for coordinating international research on global warming, said the following in their 2013 Synthesis Report for policy makers:
Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
There is an interesting philosophical question regarding how or even if the good folk at ExxonMobil, who have spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against the IPCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and climate science in general, understand or rationalize what they are doing – if they truly believe that the overwhelming majority of specialists are mistaken, if they are simply indifferent to the devastating impact climate change is predicted to have, or if they simply don’t trouble themselves with this reflection.
One would think that they would at least have a self-interested rationale for being concerned – after all, the widely-cited Stern Report of 2006 estimates that if left unaddressed, climate change will cost between 5% and 20% of global GDP every year to mitigate.