In today’s New York Times, the Sultan of Shrill, Paul Krugman, takes a richly deserved swipe at outgoing ExxonMobil Chairman Lee Raymond.
Since it’s behind the Time$elect subscription wall, here’s a large chunk:
[stuff about growing scientific consensus on global warming]
So how have corporate interests responded? In the early years, when the science was still somewhat in doubt, many companies from the oil industry, the auto industry and other sectors were members of a group called the Global Climate Coalition, whose de facto purpose was to oppose curbs on greenhouse gases. But as the scientific evidence became clearer, many members — including oil companies like BP and Shell — left the organization and conceded the need to do something about global warming.
Exxon, headed by Mr. Raymond, chose a different course of action: it decided to fight the science.
A leaked memo from a 1998 meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, in which Exxon (which hadn’t yet merged with Mobil) was a participant, describes a strategy of providing "logistical and moral support" to climate change dissenters, "thereby raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom.’ " And that’s just what Exxon Mobil has done: lavish grants have supported a sort of alternative intellectual universe of global warming skeptics.
The people and institutions Exxon Mobil supports aren’t actually engaged in climate research. They’re the real-world equivalents of the Academy of Tobacco Studies in the movie "Thank You for Smoking," whose purpose is to fail to find evidence of harmful effects.
But the fake research works for its sponsors, partly because it gets picked up by right-wing pundits, but mainly because it plays perfectly into the he-said-she-said conventions of "balanced" journalism. A 2003 study, by Maxwell Boykoff and Jules Boykoff, of reporting on global warming in major newspapers found that a majority of reports gave the skeptics — a few dozen people, many if not most receiving direct or indirect financial support from Exxon Mobil — roughly the same amount of attention as the scientific consensus, supported by thousands of independent researchers.
Has Exxon Mobil’s war on climate science actually changed policy for the worse? Maybe not. Although most governments have done little to curb greenhouse gases, and the Bush administration has done nothing, it’s not clear that policies would have been any better even if Exxon Mobil had acted more responsibly.
But the fact is that whatever small chance there was of action to limit global warming became even smaller because Exxon Mobil chose to protect its profits by trashing good science. And that, not the paycheck, is the real scandal of Mr. Raymond’s reign as Exxon Mobil’s chief executive.