The WSJ on Exxon and the global warming “debate”

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The May issue of Mother Jones featured a terrific piece of reporting by Chris Mooney on ExxonMobil’s strategy on global warming, which has been to deny its reality while funding think tanks that cast doubt on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and largely human-influenced. In the same issue we had a piece by Ross Gelbspan scorching the US media for being M.I.A. on global warming.

The Wall Street Journal today has a front-page article titled “Exxon Chief Makes
A Cold Calculation On Global Warming.” (Subscribers only, I’m afraid.) It opens thusly:

At Exxon Mobil Corp.’s laboratories here, there isn’t a solar panel or windmill in sight. About the closest Exxon’s scientists get to “renewable” energy is perfecting an oil that Exxon could sell to companies operating wind turbines.

Oil giants such as BP PLC and Royal Dutch/Shell Group are trumpeting a better-safe-than-sorry approach to global warming. They accept a growing scientific consensus that fossil fuels are a main contributor to the problem and endorse the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which caps emissions from developed nations that have ratified it. BP and Shell also have begun to invest in alternatives to fossil fuels.

Not Exxon. Openly and unapologetically, the world’s No. 1 oil company disputes the notion that fossil fuels are the main cause of global warming. Along with the Bush administration, Exxon opposes the Kyoto accord and the very idea of capping global-warming emissions. Congress is debating an energy bill that may be amended to include a cap, but the administration and Exxon say the costs would be huge and the benefits uncertain. Exxon also contributes money to think tanks and other groups that agree with its stance. …

And continues:

Exxon’s approach to global warming typifies the bottom-line focus of its entire business. It is slogging away to improve the energy efficiency of its refineries — primarily to cut costs, although this is also shaving global-warming emissions. But it says the business case for making more sweeping changes is still weak. It’s a conservative, hard-nosed approach that has helped make Exxon the most profitable oil company in the world, with 2004 net income of $25 billion. …

Here’s where it gets really good:

Mr. Raymond disagrees [that Exxon should be investing significantly in renewable energy]. Spending shareholders’ money to diversify into businesses that aren’t yet profitable — and that aim to solve a problem his scientists believe may not be significant — strikes the Exxon chief as a sloppy way to run a company. “If I were to ask you if you want to buy an insurance policy, you’ve got to ask yourself a couple questions. No. 1, what are you trying to insure against? And No. 2, what are you willing to pay on the premium? And I haven’t heard a very good answer to either one of those,” he says. (emph. added)

His scientists? Oh yeah, his scientists. Them.

The Journal piece takes a very even-handed approach to the “debate” over global warming (and I don’t intend that as a compliment). I’d simply suggest reading it, then reading Mooney’s piece (and checking out, and drawing your own conclusions.

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