ExxonMobil Accuses Rockefeller Family of Conspiracy on Climate Science

ExxonMobil, which has been accused of paying scientists to deny the threat of climate change, has accused the family philanthropies of its de facto founder of masterminding a conspiracy aimed at harming its business interests, the New York Times reports.

Founded by the descendants of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund earlier this year announced that they are in the process of divesting their investment portfolios of fossil fuel companies. RBF is a member of Divest-Invest Philanthropy, a campaign to get foundations to divest their portfolios of the top two hundred fossil fuel companies and invest at least 5 percent of their assets in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and clean technology over a five-year period. In its divestment announcement, RFF criticized ExxonMobil for its "morally reprehensible conduct."

RBF and RFF also have helped finance investigative reporting by Inside Climate News and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism about the oil giant's research into climate change, the findings of which the company incorporated into its exploration plans while outwardly denying any threat from a global warming or a changing climate. Last year, New York State attorney general Eric Schneiderman — later joined by a number of other state attorneys general — began investigating whether the company had committed fraud by failing to disclose the business risks of climate change to its shareholders despite evidence it was aware of those risks.

In public statements and court filings, ExxonMobil has argued that it is the target of a well-funded and politically motivated conspiracy to harm its core business. The company, which claims it has recognized the threat of climate change for more than a decade, also claims it stopped funding organizations that promote climate change denial in the 2000s. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and one of the company's staunchest supporters, has subpoenaed all private correspondence "relating to any potential climate change investigation" between RBF, RFF, and six grantees, including Greenpeace and 350.org.

In a two-part essay published in the New York Review of Books, RFF president David Kaiser, a fifth-generation Rockefeller, argues that "[f]or over a quarter-century the company tried to deceive policy makers and the public about the realities of climate change, protecting its profits at the cost of immense damage to life on this planet." While noting the "historical irony" of Rockefeller philanthropies calling out a company that is the largest direct descendant of Standard Oil, Kaiser argues that "members of the Rockefeller family have been trying to get ExxonMobil to change its behavior for over a decade."

"The Rockefeller Family Fund has exercised its freedom of speech in expressing our repugnance at ExxonMobil's behavior," Kaiser told the Times. "We have exercised our freedom of association by talking with like-minded public interest advocates about how best to educate the public about the realities of climate change. And we have exercised our right to petition the government for redress of grievances by informing elected officials about our concerns that in the course of its climate science campaign, Exxon may have violated the law. All of those rights are explicitly guaranteed to us by the First Amendment."

John Schwartz. "Exxon Mobil Accuses the Rockefellers of a Climate Conspiracy." New York Times 11/21/2016. David Kaiser, Lee Wasserman. "The Rockefeller Family Fund vs. Exxon." New York Review of Books 11/20/2016.