April 09, 2020


Sens. Olympia Snowe and Jay Rockefeller want ExxonMobil to stop funding organizations that doubt the human-induced effects of global warming, noting that the corporation in 2004 funded 29 separate groups that deny climate change. This battle sounds similar to the decades in which tobacco companies denied the dangers of their products, but this time the results will affect not only smokers and those near smokers but nearly everyone.

Specifically, the senators object to claims, such as the one the corporation made Monday – “ExxonMobil believes that research and new technology must play a major role in addressing climate change” – while at the same time it continues to fund groups with the purpose of obfuscating the debate.

In September, Nick Thomas of The Royal Society in London totaled about $2.9 million in spending by ExxonMobil in 2005 for organizations “which mis-informed the public about climate change.” In a letter to Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, Sens. Snowe and Rockefeller say the corporation has used the media to confuse the public on the nature of the consensus already reached by a large majority of scientists. This confusion, they say, has “given cover to a few senior elected and appointed government officials whose positions and opinions enable them to damage U.S. credibility abroad.”

The senators, noting that a study expected from the Union of Concerned Scientists will soon detail the extent of the corporation’s funding of this confusion, urge Mr. Tillerson to end the funding, repudiate the anti-climate change campaign and devote more money to remediation. All three requests are fair and correctly anticipate the best possible direction for climate-change politics.

The larger issue is how much time nations, through rigorous research and scientifically based conclusions, have to confront the many complex effects of a changing climate. Britain earlier this week urged all nations to double the effort worldwide for finding low-carbon technologies. The opportunities for U.S. industries to provide the technology for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions are large but shrinking by the month as governments of other countries devote R&D money to this area.

Science, inevitably, will change as the specifics of the debate over climate change advance. But the direction of the science clearly points toward a human effect on the weather that will spread disease, submerge lands and destroy species. The best hope for the planet is to rely on the broad thinking of nonpartisan scientific conclusions. That demands an end to counterclaims designed solely to confuse.

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