Saturday, March 19, 2016

Update on AGU-ExxonMobil Ties

The president of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Margaret Leinen, sent out this update concerning the drive to have AGU sever ties with ExxonMobil. My email to her is included below.

UPDATE: Exxon, AGU, and Corporate Support

I would like to update you on some of the feedback and information we have received since my last post, including a discussion that took place at last week’s Council meeting. I also want to tell you about the plan for the upcoming Board meeting, where this issue will be discussed.

In addition to comments on the post itself, over the past three weeks we have received more than 100 emails, letters and phone calls, and countless tweets and comments on Facebook. And the letter referenced in the post, which calls for AGU to sever our relationship with Exxon, has since received additional signatures, growing from 71 AGU members and 33 non-members, to 136 members and 81 non-members (as of 15 March).

This feedback, from AGU members and others in our community and beyond, expressed a wide variety of views, ranging from requests to completely sever the relationship immediately to suggestions for how the relationship could be expanded and made more productive to the view that severing the relationship would violate our scientific integrity. While the social media posts and public comments have tended to be one-sided, the emails received directly from members have been more nuanced and diverse in views expressed. A major theme that emerged is a strong desire among our members to see this issue is treated thoughtfully and with integrity, and to ensure that our discussions be representative of all sides of AGU’s community.

Because we know how important this is, we encouraged you to send us your comments and any information you might have about current activities that contradict ExxonMobil’s public statements about their position and actions. We also shared as much information with you as possible about our previous actions and our plans for moving forward. Please be assured that we remain committed to being just as transparent about any decisions that are made, as well as the basis for those decisions and the deliberation that occurred.

In the spirit of that commitment to transparency, I want to tell you about how the Council engaged on this issue during their meeting last week. While I won’t go into great detail about their discussion here, I will say that the Council’s discussions and concerns mirrored, pro and con, many of those we heard from the membership.  The feedback gathered during those thoughtful discussions will be consolidated, with the major themes and suggestions highlighted, and shared with the Board for their April meeting.

In addition to the Council feedback, all of the information, documentation and other correspondence we have received to date, as well as any new information that is provided prior to the meeting, will be shared with the Board to help inform their discussion. The Board used a similar process when they considered an earlier letter on this matter from a representative of the Union of Concerned Scientists last year. The originators of the current letter have requested that they be allowed to provide the Board with a new report, and we will include that report with material we provide to the Board.

When the Board meets, it is possible that a decision will be made about whether or not AGU should maintain its relationship with Exxon. However, it’s equally possible that the Board may instead ask for further research, or other steps, in an effort to better inform a later decision. While we recognize that there is a strong desire to see this matter addressed quickly, we also recognize that a matter of this significance deserves thorough and deliberative consideration. We owe our members nothing less.

In the meantime, we continue to welcome and encourage you to send us your feedback and any information you might have on this issue:


I would like to express my opinion on the subject of severing ties with ExxonMobil.

To me, the only question to be addressed is if it is the right thing to sever ties, or not. All other issues are side notes and should not be considered in the larger view. We know ExxonMobil has funded lobbyists to undermine the science of climate change with the goal of blocking legislation that would damage their commercial interests. The company claims to have stopped doing this, but they continue to provide funds to dark money sources, such as Donors Trust, which then provides funds to those same lobbyists.

So, the board must ask itself, 'How does the AGU feel about being associated with an organization that behaves this way?' Is it the right thing to continue the ties? Or, should AGU distance themselves from these actions? Is the AGU prepared to take a stand on this issue? Or, would it prefer to turn a blind eye and continue to accept the funds provided by ExxonMobil?

To me, the answer is simple. You can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep. So, what company does the AGU keep?

Please sever all ties with ExxonMobil.

Dr. Christopher Keating

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