Exxon linked to climate change pay out
Think tank offers scientists $10,000 to criticize UN study confirming global warming and placing blame on humans.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A think tank partly funded by Exxon Mobil sent letters to scientists offering them up to $10,000 to critique findings in a major global warming study released Friday which found that global warming was real and likely caused by burning fossil fuels.
The American Enterprise Institute sent the letters to scientists offering them $10,000, plus travel and other expenses, to highlight the shortcomings in a report from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group widely considered to be the authority on climate change science.
"The purpose of this project is to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the IPCC process, especially as it bears on potential policy responses to climate change," said the memo, which was sent to a professor at Texas A&M University.
"We are hoping to sponsor a paper...that thoughtfully explores the limitations of climate model [forecasting] outputs as they pertain to the development of climate policy..."
The letter was obtained by CNNMoney.com through ExxposeExxon, a coalition of environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
While there is nothing wrong with funding new research, activists said the intent of the letter seemed to be to criticize the UN report in the eyes of the public, outside the normal review process for scientific work.
"It is a major problem that scientists make arguments against climate change...that they can't back up [with] peer reviewed data," said Shawnee Hoover, campaign director for ExxposeExxon.
In a statement, AEI said Exxon's annual contribution to the group is small, amounting to less than 1 percent of AEI's annual budget.
It also said a $10,000 payment for scientific work was not unusual.
"A $10,000 fee for a research project involving the review of a large amount of dense scientific material, and the synthesis of that material into an original, footnoted and rigorous article is hardly exorbitant or unusual; many academics would call it modest," the statement read.
One academic disagreed with that claim.
"To me this is really amazing, you never get offered that kind of money," said Don Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois.
Wuebbles criticized the letter for attempting to influence the outcome of its authors.
"Even if groups ask you to write things, they don't try to give you the answer before hand," he said.
But David Karl, a climate professor at the University of Hawaii, said that the amount of money was typical for authoring such a report, although he did take issue with the tone of the letter.
"It sounds like they were looking for a particular outcome," he said.
Exxon has been criticized in the past for funding groups that promote what many experts believe to be junk science.
"This has become a strategy of Exxon's over the years," said Hoover. "The number one way to fight Kyoto was to insert doubt into people's mind."
A recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists said Exxon spent $16 million between 1998 and 2005 funding 43 "organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science."
According to Exxon's Web site, the company contributed $240,000 to AEI in 2005 and a similar amount in 2004.
The spokesman also noted that Exxon is one of many corporations that give to AEI, which is a well-known think tank.
But Exxon has recently acknowledged that global warming is happening. The oil giant conceded that humans are partly to blame for the phenomenon, and pledged to stop funding what many consider to be fringe groups that downplay human's role in global warming.
"There is increasing evidence that the earth's climate has warmed," reads Exxon's latest statement on global warming, issued Friday in response to the UN study. "CO2 emissions have increased...and emissions from fossil fuels and land use changes are one source of these emissions.
"Because the risks to society and ecosystems [posed by global warming] could prove to be significant, it is prudent now to develop and implement strategies that address the risks, keeping in mind the central importance of energy to the economies of the world. This includes putting policies in place that start us on a path to reduce emissions, while understanding the context of managing carbon emissions among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health."
But critics are calling Exxon's sincerity into question over their perceived attempts to cloud the public's perception of scientific opinion.
"What we want to see is that Exxon is making a policy change" before the company claims that it has reformed its old ways, said Hoover.