Yet where Exxon Mobil and its allies see a tangled conspiracy, members of the Rockefeller family see an effort to use the vast wealth generated by fossil fuels to combat the damage done by fossil fuels.
Now the family has taken the unusual step of going public to state its case in a rare interview and in a two-part essay in The New York Review of Books that lays out in detail Exxon Mobil’s research and funding of climate denial. David Kaiser, an author of the essay and a fifth-generation Rockefeller, said dryly, “The family generally doesn’t do public things in this way.”
He said he was aware that the “obvious historical irony of the fact that we are Rockefellers doing this would attract additional attention to the story — and we want attention to the story, because we think it will make clear to the public that the so-called debate over climate science has been a fake one, artificially manufactured, and a basically dishonest one from the beginning.”
State attorneys general, beginning last year with Eric T. Schneiderman of New York, began conducting fraud investigations that focus on whether the company’s decades-long research into climate change, and the likelihood that energy companies will not be able to exploit all of their fossil fuel reserves, makes recent valuation of those reserves questionable. The federal Securities and Exchange Commission has launched its own investigation of the company’s accounting of reserves.
Exxon Mobil says it has recognized the threat of climate change and the need to fight it for more than a decade; the company says it stopped funding the organizations that promote climate denial in the mid-2000s. It has also argued that its early research has been mischaracterized.
The company is attacking the role of the Rockefeller family in encouraging, and in some cases bankrolling, the investigations and campaigns against it. Both journalism organizations that investigated the company were financed, at least in part, by Rockefeller philanthropies, though the organizations say that their donors have no control over what they write.
The Rockefeller funds have also provided support to groups like Greenpeace and 350.org that have investigated and criticized the company.
A conference in January to discuss activism and education efforts surrounding Exxon Mobil’s climate work was held at the offices shared by two Rockefeller family funds. One potential subject of discussionsuggested by a participant was “to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm.”
Alan Jeffers, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said in an interview, “At every turn, as we saw the company coming under attack, there was a link back to either the Rockefeller Brothers Fund or the Rockefeller Family Fund.”
The two philanthropies have announced that they are divesting themselves of fossil fuels. When the family fund made its announcement in March, it denounced Exxon Mobil’s “morally reprehensible conduct” on climate change.
Mr. Jeffers responded, “It’s not surprising that they’re divesting from the company since they’re already funding a conspiracy against us.”
The company and its allies have turned up the heat on its founding family and other opponents.
Industry-backed policy groups like Energy in Depth generate stories that attack the family and its philanthropy. Their charges are echoed in conservative news outlets like The Wall Street Journal’s opinion pageand The Daily Caller. Breitbart News has called the collaboration among environmental groups to urge the investigation of Exxon a “RICO conspiracy,” using the acronym for the federal racketeering law, and the industry-oriented site Natural Gas Now published an article declaring, “It’s time to RICO the Rockefellers.”
The company’s allies offer journalists what political operatives refer to as opposition research, including court records and favorable articles (as do activist groups opposing Exxon Mobil).
Exxon Mobil has also pulled the Rockefeller philanthropies into its legal battles against the attorneys general investigating it, sending the groups a subpoena demanding documents and communications related to their activism.