A team convened in 1998 by the American Petroleum Institute—the country’s largest oil trade association whose member companies include BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil—outlined a road map for climate deception including a plan to cultivate purportedly independent scientists as climate misinformers. The campaign would achieve “victory,” according to the memo, when “average citizens” believed that the realities of climate science were uncertain. See the Project Goal above.
The collected documents reveal a variety of deceitful tactics, including creating front groups, secretly funding purportedly independent scientists such as Soon, and even forging letters from nonprofit groups to try to influence members of Congress. But you don’t have to rely on UCS’s interpretation. All 340 pages of the documents in seven “deception dossiers” are available online, so you can read them and reach your own conclusions.
The 340 pages include not only Soon’s contracts, but also a 1998 API disinformation road map memo as well as a 2014 Western States Petroleum Association memo on creating phony grassroots consumer groups to challenge California’s climate policies.
One eye-opening, formerly secret document reveals that scientific experts commissioned by the Global Climate Coalition (GCC)—a coalition of 50 U.S. corporations and trade groups including British Petroleum (now BP), Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Mobil, and Shell—warned that heat-trapping gases were indeed causing global warming. Regardless, the GCC continued to conduct a multimillion-dollar lobbying and public relations campaign to undermine national and international efforts to address global warming.
One of the GCC’s “backgrounders” for legislators and journalists, for example, claimed “the role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood” and emphasized that “scientists differ” on the issue. But the 17-page, internal 1995 GCC primer written by the companies’ own scientists states: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied [emphasis added].” The primer’s lead author, Leonard S. Bernstein, a staff scientist at Mobil Oil, would later participate as a lead author of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2001 and 2007.
One draft version of the primer even addressed and dismissed the major arguments made by climate change contrarians, such as the “solar variability” argument touted by Soon. “The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes,” the draft stated, “but they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change.” This section was deleted from the primer’s final version.
Three years later, the API set up what it called the Global Climate Science Communications Team to try to derail the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international agreement signed by 192 countries—but not the United States—to meet binding carbon emissions reduction targets. A leaked 1998 campaign memo from this team, cowritten by representatives of the API and API members Chevron and Exxon, laid out a road map for climate deception largely based on the tobacco industry’s strategy to stave off government regulation by deceiving the public about smoking hazards.
Echoing that strategy—encapsulated in the notorious internal tobacco industry memo claiming “Doubt is our product”—the API memo states: “Victory will be achieved when: average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science.” The API team planned to emphasize “uncertainties” in climate science at least partly by identifying, recruiting, and funding previously unaffiliated scientists. After all, the memo notes, such scientists would have more credibility with reporters and the public than those already known to be working with the fossil fuel industry.
What makes the secret API memo so revealing is how closely its instructions seem to have been carried out in the Soon case. One of the API memo’s contributors, Robert Gehri, even negotiated one of Soon’s contracts on behalf of his industry backers. All told, Soon received more than $1.2 million from fossil fuel interests over the last decade and failed to disclose that conflict of interest in most of the scientific papers that money underwrote. More than $400,000 came from a subsidiary of the Southern Company, a large utility holding company with a fleet of coal-fired power plants. ExxonMobil gave Soon $335,000. The Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation kicked in another $230,000. The API, meanwhile, contributed more than $100,000.
What did they get for their money? The papers conclude that solar activity is the main cause of global warming and that carbon emissions have had little or no impact. Despite the speciousness of Soon’s findings, members of Congress—notably Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe—routinely cite his work to argue that climate science is a hoax.