Union of Concerned Scientists Tries – and Fails – to Reboot Failed #ExxonKnew Campaign with New Report

#ExxonKnew is long dead and buried but the activists who have spent the past four years pushing this utterly failed campaign are still in the denial phase, not ready to let go. Today it was reported that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is about to release what it calls a “climate accountability scorecard,” which interestingly targets a number of oil and gas companies – not just Exxon.

We know everyone will be shocked – shocked – to discover that the same group that created #ExxonKnew doesn’t give these companies (which by the way are pretty much responsible for the dramatic decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to their development of natural gas) very high marks.

But UCS is in a desperate spot, considering that just about everyone has been running as far away from its disastrous campaign as possible.

A few weeks ago, the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) board of directors announced that despite activists’ pleas, it will “continue engagement” with ExxonMobil. Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, after launching an #ExxonKnew rally earlier this year, disavowed the campaign entirely claiming “We’re definitely not pushing this thing. We are not part of this effort.” New batches of FOIA’d emails revealed that a number of AGs in New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s climate coalition called him a “wild card” and said being associated with his investigation made them “nervous.” Now, with the SEC taking over the Exxon investigation, many are speculating that this is Schneiderman’s big chance to exit quietly, stage left. So UCS is looking very lonely.

Ahead of their official rollout, UCS’s Kathy Mulvey previewed the report at an event at Stockholm Environment Institute at Queens College, Oxford, and the video was posted online. Let’s take a look at the claims made by UCS, per that video, followed by the facts.

UCS Claim: “All 8 companies maintain ties with trade associations and industry groups that spread climate disinformation.”

FACT: Oil and gas companies come in contact with a broad range of groups that support free market solutions and economic growth. In the case of ExxonMobil in particular, if any of the groups the company funds took positions not supported by science – or moved into outright climate change denial – Exxon cut off their funding.

UCS Claim: “We also looked at how these companies’ are planning for a world that is free of Carbon pollution and found that only BP and Shell have publicly expressed support for the international climate agreement reached in Paris and its global temperature goals.” 

FACT: Even prominent climate scientist James Hansen has said this is bogus. As the Washington Examiner reported just yesterday,

“[Hansen] said that the Paris climate change deal and President Obama’s climate agenda are virtually toothless, with no real way of paying for the technological changes required to meet the challenges presented by global warming. Hansen said the Paris Agreement doesn’t do much more than the Kyoto Protocol, United Nations’ original climate conference from 20 years ago.”

U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto treaty and President Clinton never even submitted it to the Senate to be ratified. The countries that passed Kyoto, like Canada, didn’t meet its obligations and it was abandoned before it moved to the next stage. Notably Hansen said then 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 and the bill had the support of President Obama.  The last time a climate bill hit the floor of the United States Senate was the Lieberman-Warner bill in 2008. 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.”

In other words, if energy companies don’t support Kyoto-like treaties they are simply agreeing with a prominent climate scientist. ExxonMobil, for instance, opposed the Kyoto Protocol because it was a bad policy and instead advocated for a much more economically feasible carbon tax (which Hansen also supports by the way).

UCS Claim: These eight companies “aren’t properly disclosing climate risks.”

FACT: This is what the SEC is looking into right now with ExxonMobil. But as many experts have noted, Exxon is widely known to be extremely conservative when booking the value of new oil and gas deposits, thus providing a buffer during hard times.

Regarding whether companies predict how future climate change regulations could impact their business, SEC’s 2010 climate disclosure guidance specifically states: “Appropriate disclosure also shall be made as to the material effects that compliance with Federal, State and local provisions which have been enacted or adopted regulating the discharge of materials into the environment…” Thus far, no legislation, treaty, or regulation has been adopted that would prevent Exxon from developing its reserves.

SEC’s guidance says that for “pending legislation or regulation,” disclosure may be omitted if “management determines that it is not reasonably likely to be enacted.”

Tristan Brown, a lawyer and assistant professor of Energy Resource Economics at State University of New York, said it best:

“Recent history indicates that the type of policy required to completely devalue the type of fossil fuel assets that Exxon Mobil holds is becoming less rather than more probable. Australia implemented a price on carbon emissions before repealing it in 2014. The United States was unable to muster enough political support to impose its own price on emissions in 2010 despite having a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. Even the European Union, which has operated a cap-and-trade scheme for several years, has allowed its carbon price to hover at a level that is too low to devalue fossil fuels for most of its existence.”

Even strong climate advocates say UCS and #ExxonKnew activists go way too far

When UCS’s Kathy Mulvey previewed the “scorecard” late last month, she got some pretty interesting questions from the audience, as the video of the event reveals.

Hugh Lee who works for the coal industry wondered, “You’ve been talking about investor owned companies, what about the national state owned companies like in Saudi Arabia or Gazprom in Russia?” In other words, since these companies are only responsible for, as UCS claims, 15 percent of emissions since 1850, what about all the state-run energy companies in countries with far more lax environmental regulations?

Mulvey was essentially forced to admit that UCS’s effort is purely symbolic with no substance in fighting climate change. Here’s what she said:

“In terms of the state owned enterprises, we’ve chosen to focus on the investor owned companies because of the responsibility that they bear and the leverage and I think in particular looking at the campaign of deception and disinformation that’s been carried out in a concerted way by several of the major fossil fuel producers that’s something that, it’s been the investor owned companies that have driven so there’s a particular role to play in getting those companies out of the way of policy advances.”

Charlie Kronic from Greenpeace then asked,

“I have a hard time visualizing in terms of retrospective remedy would be going back to emissions to 1850 beyond a financial one but finally, what do we really want? Is the expectation that these companies will transform themselves into a sustainable energy industry? I guess that’s implied in Myles’ suggestion that it’s about not net zero as much as opposed to just zero emissions or realistically are we suggesting that what we need is a mechanism that allows for the unwinding and ultimately the managed decline of these companies?”

Myles Allen of the Oxford Martin Net Zero Carbon Investment Initiative, who was on the panel with Mulvey and clearly believes in climate action, answered the question, explaining that’s it’s ludicrous to think (as UCS and Greenpeace do) that we can just turn off fossil fuels immediately:

“You’re absolutely right that we need to be clear on what we’re trying to get fossil fuel companies to do. I think we need to recognize, indeed campaigning organizations like Greenpeace need to recognize, that we will still be using fossil fuels at the end of this century for perhaps before the introduction of [cement?]…probably not for the generation of energy, and very possibly for flying around in planes unless we come up with an alternative jet fuel or whatever, that there will still be economically attractive applications of fossil fuels for the indefinite future. And therefore the determinant of whether we manage to stabilize the climate at some point this century is going to be whether we manage to achieve net zero CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, not whether we succeed in the banning of the fossil industry entirely. If the only option is a ban, then it’s not going to happen. So I think we need to move on from that kind of sort of – the objective cannot be to make the fossil fuel industry crawl away and die, because it won’t, and arguably it shouldn’t on a sort of human rights argument as well. Arguably we don’t have any rights telling the people working in that industry that they should just crawl away and die, but they do need to be able to demonstrate that they have a viable future in a net zero world, and that’s exactly what we argue for. Unfortunately mandatory sequestration now is a pretty horrible slogan, and so I’m not expecting any of you guys to be shouting it any time soon. But one day you will be shouting that slogan, or perhaps a snappier version of it, and that day is when we start to win on the climate issue.”

The full story on UCS

UCS was the Rockefeller-funded group that hosted the now infamous 2012 workshop in La Jolla, Calif., which they held along with the Climate Accountability Institute (also funded by the Rockefellers). The meeting brought together activists to brainstorm the various ways they could bring about an investigation into ExxonMobil through racketeering laws, which led to the publication of a report called, “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control.”

Peter Frumhoff of UCS was one of the activists who briefed the AGs in New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s climate coalition, along with fellow activist lawyer Matt Pawa, ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore.  The only reason we know that is because of several batches of FOIA’d emails, which not only showed that activists were secretly meeting with the AGs launching investigations, but that both parties were actively trying to hide their meetings through Common Interests Agreements and stonewalling the press. In fact Lem Srolovic of the New York Attorney General’s Office told Matt Pawa not to tell a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had briefed the AGs ahead of their press conference: “My ask is if you speak to the reporter,” Srolovic said, “to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event.”

Only after those emails came to light, and he couldn’t hide his involvement anymore, did Frumhoff admit he was there: “I was invited to brief the attorneys general that gathered on March 29 on my work, and that is what I did,” Frumhoff said.

But UCS’s spearheading of #ExxonKnew is just the beginning of the off-the-wall stuff they’ve pushed over the years. Keep in mind that this is the same group who said in 1998 that “the North Korean missile program may not be as advanced as is typically believed” and that “North Korea may be willing to negotiate substantial limits to its missile program.”

USC predicted that if the Senate failed to ratify the Kyoto treaty (and they did) the U.S. would suffer 50-80 million more cases of malaria every year (we didn’t).

They’re vehemently against GMOs because of “science” or something, and they’re pro-population control because, as they said way back in 1992, “we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits” and “Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global systems will be damaged beyond repair.”

And just in case anyone’s worried about our ability to protect the nation, UCS “vigorously opposes America’s development of a missile defense system.” So there’s that.

No one took the first #ExxonKnew seriously – and we’re willing to bet no one’s going to take UCS’s pathetic attempt to revive their dead campaign seriously, either.

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