Exxon lecture notes

On Friday I attended a presentation by Sherri K. Stuewer, Vice President of Safety, Health and Environment for Exxon, on "Addressing the Risk of Climate Change". The overall tone was one of reason; she took global warming and human contribution to global warming as given. The lies are a bit more subtle now, focusing on how the uncertainty limits what can or should be done. Some key lies:

  • While pointing to the 4th IPCC chart showing a range of estimates from 1 to 6 degrees C warming by 2100, paraphrase: 'One degree temperature change by 2100, I wouldn't mortgage my daughter's future for that. Six degrees, of course, would be different.' The lie here is the implicit assumption that dealing with carbon emission necessarily entails mortgaging our economic future. Another lie is that a 1 degree change isn't a big problem. In Q&A, somebody stood up and called bullshit on this, saying that she's presenting the data in a misleading way, as if there's a five-degree uncertainly when in fact the models cluster strongly around a 3 degree increase as the most likely; and that she's emphasizing the 1 degree possibility when a responsible presentation would point out more clearly that a catastrophic 6 degree increase is possible.
  • Several slides include data from the "MIT Joint Program", which has received about a million US dollars of funding from Exxon. One slide changes the estimate range into a "wheel of fortune" which she says is the version congressmen best understand. Another slide compares three studies' estimates of what carbon containment will cost, from Battelle, EPRI, MIT. Two seconds of googling shows an Exxon funding connection with EPRI, though not with Battelle. Battelle's estimates are at the low end; MIT's very much the highest. The lie here is presenting as implicitly valid data which Exxon's funding has tainted.
  • "A range of 1 to six degrees is a huge range. you will not get support from voters around the world with that much uncertainty." The implicit point is, you will have to wait until there is certainty before any political will can be summoned to address the problem. The truth is that making decisions with incomplete information is a routine problem for governments and polities. (The moderator called her on this one at the beginning of Q&A)
  • "As the government creates policies, I think it's very important to governments build in safety valves ... without a safety valve, you could be gambling, with this kind of uncertainty, about the damage to your economy." Several lies packed in to this one: first, that governments are ever willing to do any major action that will hurt existing political power structures (such as campaign contributors); second a repeat that GHG emissions will certainly hurt economies; lastly that "safety valves" means anything other than business as usual.
  • In response to a sequence of questions drilling into the core issue of Exxon's particular responsibility in the global warming problem, (paraphrase) "energy is too big a part of any economy for any government to subsidize it indefinitely. Any solution has to take this into account." The lie is that current production is not subsidized, in ways ranging from government funding of roads to US military intervention in the Middle East to the probably incredibly high cost of global warming which is externalized by Exxon.

A few quotes that were more reasonable:

  • "consumers will make good decisions if there are transparent cost signals. That kind of transparency on cost is critical to motivating the right decisions."
  • paraphrase "Exxon is a bit radioactive on these issues"