As Always, It All Goes Back to La Jolla

After the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) pulled the #ExxonKnew campaign’s latest stunt, it should come as no surprise to anyone that this effort – like everything to do with #ExxonKnew – can be traced directly back to the 2012 Rockefeller-funded La Jolla conference.

As Energy in Depth has noted many times, the 2012 La Jolla conference was held so that activists could throw around ideas on how they could try and link Big Tobacco and Big Oil and use racketeering laws against oil companies. We already know that Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and CIEL board member Matt Pawa (who both briefed the AGs launching climate investigations ahead of their March 29th press conference with Al Gore) were at the La Jolla conference. We also know that Michael MacCracken, who apparently “tipped off” InsideClimate News about Exxon documents that have been publicly available for decades, was also there. And we know that the conference was funded by wealthy foundations like the V.Kann Rasmussen Foundation, Mertz Gilmore Foundation, and the Grantham Foundation.

Now, it turns out the documents CIEL “released” yesterday (they’re not new by the way) are linked to a  fellow called Stanton Glantz, a professor at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Center for Tobacco Control who also attended that very same La Jolla conference.

That’s important because the tobacco documents are housed by UCSF TruthTobacco Documents Library, which is funded by a RICO settlement that requires tobacco companies to improve transparency. While at the La Jolla conference, Glantz offered up the possibility that the #ExxonKnew campaign could use the UCSF Industry Document Library to host Exxon’s climate documents because the infrastructure was already in place. As the report that came out of the conference explained,

Stanton Glantz, a professor of cardiology at the University of California−San Francisco who directs the project, noted the importance of the decision to create an integrated collection accessible to all. One advantage of such a collection, he said, is that it becomes a magnet for more documents from disparate sources. Because the Legacy Collection’s software and infrastructure is already in place, Glantz suggested it could be a possible home for a parallel collection of documents from the fossil fuel industry pertaining to climate change. He stressed the need to think carefully about which companies and which trade groups might have documents that could be especially useful. And he underscored the point that bringing documents to light must be established as an objective independent of the litigation, or else the most valuable documents are not likely be made public.”

Yet even Glantz noted that linking Big Oil and Big Tobacco doesn’t exactly work, as was also noted in the La Jolla report:

Glantz did note a fundamental difference between tobacco and climate change, however: while tobacco companies offer no useful product, he explained, “The fact is we do need some form of energy. Unless other alternative energy firms replace the current carbon producers, which seems unlikely, at some point there will likely have to be some kind of positive engagement. Less clear, however, is how best to create a political environment for that engagement to work.”

The few outlets that covered CIEL’s supposed “new” documents didn’t take the time to do their homework. Climatewire, for instance, failed to mention that CIEL has been funded by Rockefellers and other #ExxonKnew funders (like $755k from V. Kann Rasmussen foundation), or that the entire effort stems – again – from the La Jolla Conference. That’s pretty important information for folks to know.

As for CIEL’s supposedly damning evidence that the oil and tobacco companies were in cahoots? It essentially boils down to this:

“Gas stations are the most important retail outlets for cigarettes, with gas stations and convenience stores accounting for more than 60% of all cigarette sales by 2002. At the same time, cigarettes have long been the most important retail product of gas stations after gasoline, making up 28% of merchandise sales.”

Not only do gas stations sell cigarettes but the oil industry and the tobacco industry, according to CIEL’s documents, partnered up to sponsor – wait for it – baseball teams. Included among the “hundreds” of documents on CIEL’s website are excerpts of a letter discussing the co-sponsorship of the Detroit Tigers and a transcript of an announcer listing the Yankees’ sponsors ahead of a 1964 game! That’s it, case closed.

As for ClimateWire’s reporting, they state that “CIEL alerted ClimateWire to the existence of the tobacco documents and has been researching for years what the oil industry knew about climate change and what it did in response.” Yet the story only provided links to two actual documents. One is a memo from an unknown author and the other talks about professor that was associated with both industries separated over a thirty year time frame.

Next, CIEL’s dedicated Smoke & Fumes website is a mess. In addition to misspelling the names of their key characters (Cheveron and ExxonMobile, anyone?), the website is seemingly designed to obfuscate and prevent independent verification of the narrative they present. Instead of hyperlinking their material, CIEL clutters the page with its own narrative and then carelessly tosses a handful of documents at the bottom of each section, leaving it to the reader to attempt to make sense of a series of documents without any context.

But even if an enterprising reader were to click on the document link in hopes of being redirected to the source document, they are instead sent to another page of the website where CIEL again leads with its narrative, followed by perhaps a page or two excerpted from the full document. Only at the bottom of the new page does CIEL finally provide a link to the source document within the tobacco library.

So what is CIEL hiding and why are they discouraging people from reading the full documents? Is it because they show that they were cherry-picked, taken out of context, and incorporated into an ever-shifting overall narrative that demonizes any connection, however benign, between companies?

Considering that this stunt – like everything to do with #ExxonKnew – can be traced back to the La Jolla conference, we’re thinking the answer is: yes.


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