When leaders of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) convene for their annual board meeting this week, they'll face concerted calls to cut ties with corporate sponsor and fossil fuels giant ExxonMobil, a company accused of having "funded, promoted, and disseminated climate science disinformation for decades."
"The impacts of Exxon's deceptive tactics have been devastating," reads a petition signed by hundreds of Earth scientists and tens of thousands of citizens who support their work. "For decades the company has been pouring millions of dollars into sowing climate change denial, confusing the public, and putting us years behind in combating climate change. We call on you to protect the integrity of climate science by rejecting sponsorship, or any future funding, from Exxon."
"We teach our children not to prevaricate; we should expect no less from corporate leaders who seek to align themselves with the scientific community and whose actions, inconsistent with the science they claim to accept, so profoundly threatens to disrupt natural ecosystems and human well-being across this planet."
—Ken Kimmell & Peter Frumhoff, Union of Concerned Scientists
Among the petition's signatories are James Hansen, the former director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
"Exxon has been deceiving the public on the science of climate change for decades—deception that continues to this day," they say. "That's why we Earth scientists and 300 of our colleagues, including nearly 200 AGU members, have signed an open letter calling on the AGU to reject sponsorship from Exxon. Despite our pleas, the AGU board decided at their last meeting to continue to accept money from Exxon."
"The standard that the AGU board appears to have adopted in your evaluation of ExxonMobil's compliance with your organizational support policy is whether or not the company is currently supporting climate science misinformation, i.e. whether it is doing so today," wrote Kimmell and Frumhoff in their letter to AGU leaders.
Outlining why they "firmly disagree" with the AGU's conclusion, the scientists further charge that "such a narrow interpretation of your policy misses the point of it. ExxonMobil has long behaved shamefully in response to the scientific consensus of climate change and the urgent need for emissions reductions that AGU has forcefully communicated."
Kimmell and Frumhoff continued:
Their actions, including very recent actions, put future generations at grave risk.
We teach our children not to prevaricate; we should expect no less from corporate leaders who seek to align themselves with the scientific community and whose actions, inconsistent with the science they claim to accept, so profoundly threatens to disrupt natural ecosystems and human well-being across this planet.
Continued acceptance of corporate sponsorship from ExxonMobil poses significant reputational risks to AGU and bestows undeserved reputational benefits to the company, and the climate deniers it has long supported, to the detriment of our common future.
We encourage you to reconsider your decision at your September Board meeting and reject further funding from ExxonMobil until such time as their actions are clearly and unequivocally consistent with AGU's policy and mission.
According to InsideClimate News's recent investigation of AGU's relationship with the oil giant, "donations tied to Exxon have totaled a little over $620,000 from 2001-15."
The publication wrote in May:
The $620,000 represents just 0.1 percent of AGU's total revenue during that time, but it reflects the company's deep ongoing, even mutually beneficial involvement with AGU. According to interviews with more than a dozen past and present AGU members and officials, severing ties with the company is not a simple issue, despite the calls from more than a hundred scientists and AGU members to stop accepting the company's money. From recruiting AGU scientists to sharing common interest in better understanding Earth's geoscience, the AGU and Exxon have been intertwined for at least four decades. In recent years, however, Exxon's funding of climate misinformation campaigns has come to light, raising ethical concerns among the scientists.
The AGU, which bills itself as "the largest single organization dedicated to the advancement of geophysics," holds its board meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and Thursday. Earth scientist and AGU member Charles Greene will deliver the petitions on Wednesday.