Report: Big Money Confusing Public on Global Warming

A new report details what it calls an "enormously successful" disinformation campaign by ExxonMobil that used tobacco-industry tactics to fund groups who cast doubts and deceive the public on the scientific consensus regarding global warming.

The report was released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a nonprofit environmental advocacy group based in Massachusetts. Much of the information contained in the report had been previously uncovered by ExxonSecrets.org, a database run by environmenalists at Greenpeace.

ExxonMobil spokesman Dave Gardner, in an e-mail to reporters, initially called the report an "an attempt to smear our name and confuse the discussion of the serious issue of [carbon dioxide] emissions and global climate change."

Gardner later deleted that portion of the statement about the report, but reiterated that "many of the conclusions are inaccurate."

The UCS report found that between 1998 and 2005, ExxonMobil has funnelled about $16 million to 43 advocacy groups and 16 individuals in an effort to "manufacture uncertainty" and ultimately stall government action that would require a mandatory cut in greenhouse gasses such as carbon dioxide. The group said the figures in the report were compiled from ExxonMobil corporate reports.

"ExxonMobil has, in a cynical and manipulative strategy, helped create a kind of echo chamber to amplify the views of a carefully selected group of spokespeople whose work has been largely discredited by the scientific community," said Seth Schulman, the report's primary author, in a conference call today with reporters.

The strategy is built on the notion, the report found, that "public opinion can be easily manipulated because science is complex, because people tend not to notice where their information comes from, and because the effects of global warming are just beginning to become visible."

The report compared the company's efforts to the strategy used by tobacco companies to downplay the effects of smoking.

The vast majority of the world's climate scientists agree that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are contributing to a greenhouse gas effect that has warmed the globe at an unprecedented rate.

ExxonMobil has acknowledged as much.

"Even with many scientific uncertainties, the risk that greenhouse gas emissions may have serious impacts justifies taking action," Gardner said. "What is clear today is that greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change, and that the use of fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions."

The UCS report, however, calls the financial connections between ExxonMobil and a number of organizations -- including the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Center-- part of an effort to obscure the scientific evidence on global warming.

ExxonMobil has said it is reviewing the organizations the company funds and has noted in the past that the Competitive Enterprise Institute did not receive any Exxon money this year.

"Our support extends to a fairly broad array of organizations," Gardner said in his email today. "Our financial support does not connote any substantive control over or responsibility for the policy recommendations or analyses they produce."

The UCS report also found that ExxonMobil has, through various organizations, funded a number of climate science contrarians. In the conference call, several were singled out, including Dr. Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Baliunas coauthored a widely criticized 2003 article that suggested natural cycles, not human activity, are causing the planet to warm. The report was widely cited by groups that receive funding from ExxonMobil, according to UCS.

Contacted by ABC News, Baliunas declined to comment on the UCS report because she had not yet seen it.

In October, Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., wrote a letter to ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, asking the company to "come clean about its past denial activities."

A month earlier, Britain's scientific academy -- the Royal Society -- criticized ExxonMobil for funding groups that "misrepresented the science of climate change, by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge."

The company responded in a statement, saying "we know that carbon emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change -- we don't debate or dispute this."

Tillerson also acknowledged the issue of global warming in comments to a group of business executives in November, saying "the potential risks to society could prove to be significant, so despite the areas of uncertainties that do exist, it is prudent to develop and implement strategies that address the potential risks."

The full Union of Concerned Scientists report can be found here.

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