BOB: Richard Keil is Exxonmobil's senior adviser for global public affairs. Dick, welcome to OTM.
KEIL: Glad to be with you, Bob.
BOB: You are furious over the Inside Climate News reporting so far, please explain.
KEIL: Well, they have accused us of knowing for certain that climate change was a real problem in the early 1980s, and then abandoning our research into that to fund climate denial. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have an uninterrupted, continuous 30 year history of researching this important topic, and in the last decade alone, we've spent more than 300 million dollars into both reducing emission and fossil fuels, and researching and exploring alternative energy sources. The reporting is simply flat out wrong.
BOB: I don't believe the piece asserted that Exxon had scientific certainty. The piece I read said that Exxon was doing some of the early research about the possibilities, and those possibilities were alarming but not that there was any scientific certainty about how it all would play out.
KEIL: Well the story also accuses us of then abandoning our research into that and getting into funding denial. And in fact we have an uninterrupted history, 30 years and running, of doing research on this, our own scientists and researchers have either authored or played significant contributing roles in more than 50 peer reviewed journals on this topic, and as we know over time, certainty and knowledge about the risks of climate change and causality became clear in the late 1990s for instance, in a way that wasn't possible in the early 1980s, which is the period of time they've chosen to write about. So the story suggests that we knew at a time when nobody did.
BOB: As early as the 70s the National Academy of Sciences was sounding the alarms about the potential for catastrophic warming and melting of ice sheets and so on.
KEIL: The key word here, though, the key word is "potential". There are a range of possibilities people were considering, we and others were completely open to the idea that human activity could cause this, but there simply wasn't any certainty.
BOB: You mention the 300 million dollars that Exxonmobil has spent over the last decade in pursuit of more science on this subject. In each of the past two years, Exxonmobil has earned 33 billion dollars in profits, on more than 100 billion dollars of revenues. So, 300 million dollars over a decade, 1/3 of a percent of corporate revenue? Apart from the relatively small sum invested in research, there's also the matter that you're kind of changing the subject. This reporting by Insideclimate News doesn't really concern itself with what Exxonmobil has done lately. It's concerning itself with a very sharp change in corporate behavior and apparently strategy 25 years ago: namely that you dismantled some significant percentage of this research program and beginning in about 1989 started pouring millions and millions of dollars in the funding of three dozen organizations some of which were transparently industry front groups, and some which were right wing economics advocacy groups that themselves spent decades in various degrees of climate denial.
KEIL: The reporting here, Bob, recalls a famous saying from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. And the fact of the matter is, we have a continuous and uninterrupted commitment to climate change research.
BOB: I can list the names of the 3 dozen organizations, some populated with fringe environmental scientists, with quotation marks around it, and some by literally the same personnel who represented big tobacco in the 70s as it lied to the public and its own shareholders about the risks of smoking. And these people were spewing what is very clearly as phrased by the Royal Academy of Sciences in Britain, disinformation. On the Media's interest in all of this is partly the story by Insideclimate News, it's also partly the issue of how proactive Exxon was over a couple of decades in funding these groups and in printing these op-ed ads in the New York Times --
KEIL: Bob we don't, we don't, we don't fund those groups - as the science has emerged and become clearer, we're more committed than ever to researching this important topic --
BOB: We don't fund them or we didn't fund them? You got out of the funding business 2009 or some such, but for 20 years before that, you poured --
KEIL: Bob, I'm gonna finish my thought here, Bob.
BOB: Please clarify this for me: Are not funding, or did not fund them?
KEIL: We are not funding.
BOB: Okay, so. Who cares? It's so simple. If you did fund these different disinformation campaigns to muddy the issues on climate science, the question is, why? Why go from a white hat operation that funds very serious research into a damage control operation that seeks to muddy the issues for the public? Why?
KEIL: Bob, I - I - I reject that narrative, and again, context matters here. There is certainty now around climate change and the causes that didn't exist in the early 1980s, it didn't exist in the late 1980s, it didn't exist in the early 1990s. Once our company was satisfied that not only was it a real and growing and immediate concern but human activity had something to do with it, we became even more committed to doing the kind of research that I've been describing to you.
BOB: You've characterized the InsideClimate News reporting as being flat wrong across a whole area of details. We just had a conversation with them in which they said that they submitted to you, personally, a long list of specific questions tied to specific facts that they culled from the documentation that was from Exxon's own archives in many cases, and peer reviewed journals. They asked for your response to these questions, they say you declined to provide it.
KEIL: They came to us at the eleventh hour with a long list of questions and on three separate occasions declined to provide documents for our review that were not from publicly available areas. At no time did they produce any of these records to us for our examination.
BOB: In the journalism world that I live in, and you are a senior media adviser so you should be well aware of this, it is not the news organization's responsibility to go to the subject or the source and say "here's what we have" it's its responsibility to ask questions and try to get answers, and they didn't get answers.
KEIL: In the journalism world that I lived in for twenty years before changing careers, if I had the goods on somebody, I would present them with the evidence and give them time to respond. We weren't afforded that opportunity and that courtesy, and my suspicion is the reason we weren't is because they knew that if we had a chance to look at these documents and put them in context, they wouldn't have a story. We are committed to science and research around climate change, we have been uninterrupted for 30 years, and their reporting doesn't change that fact.
BOB: Uninterrupted, Dick?
KEIL: I'm sorry?
BOB: Because the whole premise of their story is that it was very much interrupted: a very long detour in which Exxon went from a seeker of scientific evidence to a denier of scientific consensus.
KEIL: That is patently untrue and it does a great disservice to the scientists and researchers who have been looking into this and other important topics for us without interruption for more than 30 years now.
BOB: All right, Dick. Well thank you very much for joining us.
KEIL: You're welcome.
BOB: Richard Keil is senior media adviser for Exxonmobil.