Desperate #ExxonKnew Activists Call in RFK Jr. to Push Debunked Talking Points

Since news broke that ExxonMobil’s CEO was president-elect’s choice to be the next Secretary of State, desperate #ExxonKnew activists, who continue to be all but absent in mainstream media coverage of the nomination, have been desperately trying to get media to loop them into the story. Unable to accomplish that on the merits, though, they’ve shifted to a new strategy: trot out people with famous last names to see if they can finally move the needle in their direction.

Enter: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. To kick off his media tour, RFK Jr. sent a petition yesterday through his group WaterKeeper Alliance to the EPA asking it to end all contracts it has with ExxonMobil because of “misinformation spread over a period of many years…denying the very existence of climate change.” He then appeared on a CNN segment on the Rex Tillerson nomination to rehash these same tired #ExxonKnew talking points.

So let’s take a moment to look at his claims in both the petition and the CNN segment, and then provide the facts.

RFK Jr. Claim: “They’ve had a 50-year propaganda campaign. Exxon has known about global warming since the 1970’s and that it was going to raise the temperature six degrees Celsius by the end of the century. This is the end of the planet and they knew it. They had 16,000 scientists that knew more about the fate of the carbon atom than any company or government institution in the world.”

FACT: RFK Jr. is, of course, referring to the Exxon hit pieces written by InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism – both funded by the Rockefellers – which claimed that Exxon somehow knew about climate change in the 1970s and 1980s, before the world’s top scientists had come to any firm conclusions, and then hid that research from the public. This claim has been so thoroughly debunked it’s surprising that they’re even still pushing it.

First, as EID’s video clearly shows, InsideClimate News and Columbia School of Journalism cherry-picked some facts, and ignored others, to produce a completely distorted view of the company’s work on climate change. To provide just one example, InsideClimate claims ExxonMobil’s 1982 primer had come to unequivocal conclusions about climate change, but they simply leave out passages like this, which show that no, Exxon’s scientists had not reached any conclusions:

“Fossil fuel combustion and the clearing of virgin forests (deforestation) are believed to be the primary anthropogenic contributors although the relative contribution of each is uncertain.”

ExxonMobil has been invested heavily in climate research for over 30 years and the company’s scientists have produced more than 50 peer reviewed papers spanning from the 1983 to 2014. Scientists from the company have been involved with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) science since its inception, even contributing five different sections to its Third Assessment Report. Some of ExxonMobil’s other important efforts include working with MIT on climate modeling, developing lower-emission solutions alongside researchers at Stanford University, and working with the U.S. Department of Energy and many others on a number of climate projects. All of this research is either online or in libraries, and fully accessible to the public.

In fact the claim that Exxon “knew” about climate change is so weak that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who originally launched an investigation into what ExxonMobil “knew,” had to change his tune completely when he realized he was on very shaky legal ground (he’s changed the reason for his investigation now at least three times, by the way).

RFK Jr. Claim: “They were doing the same thing the tobacco industry did. Rex Tillerson is part of Exxon’s strategy (to copy Big Tobacco’s playbook).”

FACT: Just about every legal expert has said this claim is totally bogus – and even InsideClimate has admitted that the argument doesn’t hold up. Let’s just have a look at a few examples (for an even longer list, click here):

Dennis Vacco, the former New York Attorney General of New York, who actually did sue the tobacco companies, said in a Washington Post op-ed in the “I was one of 46 state attorneys general who signed the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in November 1998. On behalf of New York’s taxpayers, I filed one of the suits that eventually pushed the cigarette makers to settle. I can tell you from experience that our fight against the tobacco industry has almost nothing in common with today’s campaign by several state attorneys general against ExxonMobil — despite what supporters of the effort would like you to believe.” (emphasis added)

Brendan Collins, a partner at Ballard Spahr and an expert on environmental regulations, told the Washington Examiner that the evidence brought against the tobacco industry two decades ago is “pretty substantially different from the idea that Exxon may have duped me from getting a low-mileage [car] and now the island of Tuvalu is going to get covered by water,” He went on to note it’s a “very big leap.”

Kevin Ewing, an attorney with Bracewell said, “Tobacco was shown to cause specific harm to specific individuals. Not so with climate change, where we cannot yet discern the factual connection between a company’s conduct and individual harm, even though we can observe the global effects of climate change at large.”

Christopher Helman authored a Forbes piece entitled, “Big Oil Is Not Big Tobacco: Why The Witch Hunt Against Exxon Is Absurd,” which explains, “Exxon Mobil sells oil and natural gas. And stuff it makes out of oil and gas, like gasoline and diesel and plastics and lubricants. These products are far different from cigarettes. Cigarettes, like all non-medicinal drugs, have no overriding utility, no redeeming value. They exist only to satisfy an addiction.”

Even Lisa Song, author of InsideClimate News hit pieces on Exxon, admitted in a presentation, “There’s been a lot of people comparing Exxon’s actions to what the tobacco industry did. I think there may be some similarities but the biggest difference is that the tobacco industry had done research on the health effects of tobacco but suppressed the research. They never published it. They never shared it publicly. Whereas Exxon in the 70’s and 80’s were doing climate research publicly in collaboration with the government. The thing was, people simply forgot about that research after it was done. So Exxon wasn’t suppressing their research.” (emphasis added)

RFK Jr. Claim: “Rex is better than Lee Raymond. He ended a lot of the connections that Exxon had with the climate denier groups, but they’re continuing to pay climate denier climate denier groups.”

FACT: ExxonMobil provides funding to a broad range of groups that support free market solutions and economic growth.  But if any of these groups take positions not supported by science – and in fact move into outright climate change denial – Exxon cuts off their funding.

RFK Jr. Claim: “ExxonMobil’s campaign of misinformation has led quite directly to the election of scores of political representatives and the appointment of scores of officials who expressly deny the existence of climate change and its anthropogenic causes and staunchly oppose any efforts to take steps to remedy the problem or mitigate the damage.”

FACT: First, just about every news outlet over the past few days has acknowledged the obvious fact that both Tillerson and Exxon agree with the science on climate change and support a carbon tax as well as the Paris agreement. As Financial Times reported, Tillerson said in an October speech in London,

“We share the view that the risks of climate change are real and require serious action,” he said, adding that Exxon had long supported a tax on carbon in preference to the current “hodgepodge” of regulations around the world.

Tillerson and ExxonMobil have long backed the Paris climate deal. ExxonMobil called it “an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risk of climate change.” ExxonMobil has supported a carbon tax since 2009 calling it the best, least complex and most balanced approach toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

#ExxonKnew activists like to blame Exxon for the United States never voting for legislative action on climate change, but what they fail to mention is that the U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto treaty and President Clinton never even submitted it to the Senate to be ratified. Notably James Hansen, one of the most prominent climate scientists, said that Kyoto Protocol “will have little effect” on global temperature in the 21st century.

Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation didn’t pass even at a time when Democrats had the majority in both the House and the Senate. The last time a climate bill hit the floor of the United States Senate was the Lieberman-Warner bill in 2008 and it was defeated largely due to strong Democratic opposition. James Hansen also called cap-and-trade the “temple of doom” and actually placed a large share of the blame for lack of action on climate on environmental groups: “The first concerns ‘Big Green,’ the large environmental organizations, which have become one of the biggest obstacles to solving the climate problem.”




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