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Has Exxon Really Reformed?

I've seen plenty of news reports lately about how ExxonMobil is trying to burnish its public image by becoming more green-friendly. See this story in today's Financial Times, for example. The company has even promised to stop bankrolling the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has waged a long disinformation campaign by attacking the science on global warming. This certainly sounds like good news, right?

That's what I thought, too. But today, right as the world's leading climate scientists are preparing to release the latest IPCC report--which will state that global warming has indeed begun and is "very likely" man-made--we get this story in the Guardian:

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.

Of course, if there were any scientists out there who had legitimate complaints about the report, they could have worked with the IPCC and registered their objections during the drafting process. But that's not what AEI's going for. This is a smear campaign, intended to sow doubt about the IPCC report in the public mind. Nothing more.

So let's see: Exxon has donated $1.6 million to AEI over the years, and there's no indication that it plans to stop anytime soon. And that's not all. Two weeks ago, ExxposeExxon--a coalition of environmental groups, including the NRDC and the Sierra Club--asked Exxon whether it had cut off funds for all of the 43 organizations on its payroll that have attacked climate-change science. Exxon never replied. There's a strong suspicion that the company hasn't really decided to quit spreading confusion about global warming. Instead, it just stopped funding CEI and a few other unnamed groups in order to garner some positive press, and that's it. I believe "greenwashing" is the appropriate term here.

--Bradford Plumer