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So, according to the Cato Institute, the federal government pays for a total of $2.6 billion in climate-related research annually, and that sum constitutes a virtual monopoly -- no other source provides significant funding.

Well let's see, here are some annual profit figures:

Company Revenue Profit
ExxonMobil $484 Billion $121 Billion
Chevron $253 Billion $ 27 Billion
ConocoPhillips $251 Billion $ 12 Billion
Koch Bros $110 Billion $ 5 Billion*
------------ ------------
> $1 Trillion $165 Billion

A mere glance at these figures suggests that the US petroleum industry, acting entirely on its own, could pay for the entire annual research budget of climate science, and suffer only a 1.5% drop in profits.

Surely they must have thought about funding a little climate research, if only to counteract all the negative publicity derived from research performed by universities and national labs.


Aha, they did! Whaddaya know. Here is what happened.

The "Global Climate Coalition" (GCC) was a research think-tank created in 1989 by ExxonMobil, Amoco, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Shell, Texaco, the US Chamber of Commerce, Chrysler, GM, Ford, and several others. The research arm of the GCC was known as the "Science and Technology Assessment Committee". It was staffed by industry scientists. One of its activities was to fund a critical study of the scientific basis for anthropogenic global warming. The head of the effort was an Exxon chemical engineer named Leonard S. Bernstein.

After some years of work, the study produced a confidential 1995 report that was circulated only to corporate members of the GCC. Twelve years later the report was made public -- involuntarily -- in a court case. Known as The Bernstein Report, the study concluded the following. Ahem.

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.

The Global Climate Coalition lost members after that, partly due to the Bernstein Report (which they did not want to hear) and partly due to fear that the GCC would end up like a similar industry group, the Tobacco Institute. The Tobacco Institute had recently ended up on the wrong end of a lawsuit which argued that these corporations knew perfectly well that their product was harmful to health; its industrial members settled the lawsuit for a cool $251 billion. The Bernstein Report threatened to do the same sort of thing to the petroleum industry, so it was suppressed and the GCC itself was disbanded in 2001.

In defense of the GCC, the The New York Times has noted that the GCC did attempt to bring its public statements into conformity with the findings of the Bernstein Report. For example, there was a press "backgrounder", written by the GCC during the 1990s, that acknowledged publicly that greenhouse gases contribute to global warming. However, this attempt came to nothing when the GCC was terminated with extreme prejudice by its member corporations.

And there you have it: the sad story of the petroleum industry's sole attempt to do a little research in climate change.

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