I Was an Exxon-Funded Climate Scientist

This article was originally published by The Conversation on August 24, 2017.

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Exxon funded climate scientists while the bulk of its public-facing advertorials argued the science and cause of climate change was uncertain. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Katharine Hayhoe, Texas Tech University

ExxonMobil’s deliberate attempts to sow doubt on the reality and urgency of climate change and their donations to front groups to disseminate false information about climate change have been public knowledge for a long time, now.

Investigative reports in 2015 revealed that Exxon had its own scientists doing its own climate modeling as far back as the 1970s: science and modeling that was not only accurate, but that was being used to plan for the company’s future.

A peer-reviewed study published August 23 confirmed that what Exxon was saying internally about climate change was quantitatively very different from their public statements. Specifically, researchers Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes found that at least 80 percent of the internal documents and peer-reviewed publications they studied from between 1977 and 2014 were consistent with the state of the science – acknowledging that climate change is real and caused by humans, and identifying “reasonable uncertainties” that any climate scientist would agree with at the time. Yet over 80 percent of Exxon’s editorial-style paid advertisements over the same period specifically focused on uncertainty and doubt, the study found.

The stark contrast between internally discussing cutting-edge climate research while externally conducting a climate disinformation campaign is enough to blow many minds. What was going on at Exxon?

I have a unique perspective – because I was there.

From 1995 to 1997, Exxon provided partial financial support for my master’s thesis, which focused on methane chemistry and emissions. I spent several weeks in 1996 as an intern at their Annandale research lab in New Jersey and years working on the collaborative research that resulted in three of the published studies referenced in Supran and Oreskes’ new analysis.

Climate research at Exxon

A scientist is a scientist no matter where we work, and my Exxon colleagues were no exception. Thoughtful, cautious and in full agreement with the scientific consensus on climate – these are characteristics any scientist would be proud to own.

Did Exxon have an agenda for our research? Of course – it’s not a charity. Their research and development was targeted, and in my case, it was targeted at something that would raise no red flags in climate policy circles: quantifying the benefits of methane reduction.

Methane is a waste product released by coal mining and natural gas leaks; wastewater treatment plants; farting and belching cows, sheep, goats and anything else that chews its cud; decaying organic trash in garbage dumps; giant termite mounds in Africa; and even, in vanishingly small amounts, our own lactose-intolerant family members.

On a mass basis, methane absorbs about 35 times more of the Earth’s heat than carbon dioxide. Methane has a much shorter lifetime than carbon dioxide gas, and we produce a lot less of it, so there’s no escaping the fact that carbon has to go. But if our concern is how fast the Earth is warming, we can get a big bang for our buck by cutting methane emissions as soon as possible, while continuing to wean ourselves off carbon-based fuels long-term.

For the gas and oil industry, reducing methane emissions means saving energy. So it’s no surprise that, during my research, I didn’t experience any heavy-handed guidance or interference with my results. No one asked to review my code or suggested ways to “adjust” my findings. The only requirement was that a journal article with an Exxon co-author pass an internal review before it could be submitted for peer review, a policy similar to that of many federal agencies.

Did I know what else they were up to at the time? I couldn’t even imagine it.

Fresh out of Canada, I was unaware that there were people who didn’t accept climate science – so unaware, in fact, that it was nearly half a year before I realized I’d married one – let alone that Exxon was funding a disinformation campaign at the very same time it was supporting my research on the most expedient ways to reduce the impact of humans on climate.

Yet Exxon’s choices have contributed directly to the situation we are in today, a situation that in many ways seems unreal: one where many elected representatives oppose climate action, while China leads the U.S. in wind energy, solar power, economic investment in clean energy and even the existence of a national cap and trade policy similar to the ill-fated Waxman-Markey bill of 2009.

Personal decisions

This latest study underscores why many are calling on Exxon to be held responsible for knowingly misleading the public on such a critical issue. For scientists and academics, though, it may fuel another, different, yet similarly moral debate.

Are we willing to accept financial support that is offered as a sop to the public conscience?

The concept of tendering literal payment for sin is nothing new. From the indulgences of the Middle Ages to the criticisms some have leveled at carbon offsets today, we humans have always sought to stave off the consequences of our actions and ease our conscience with good deeds, particularly of the financial kind. Today, many industry groups follow this familiar path: supporting science denial with the left hand, while giving to cutting-edge research and science with the right.

As an academic, how should one consider the sources of funding? Gabe Chmielewski for Mays Communications, CC BY-NC-ND

The Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University conducts fundamental research on efficient and clean energy technologies – with Exxon as a founding sponsor. Philanthropist and political donor David Koch gave an unprecedented US$35 million to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in 2015, after which three dozen scientists called on the museum to cut ties with him for funding lobbying groups that “misrepresent” climate science. Shell underwrote the London Science Museum’s “Atmosphere” program and then used its leverage to muddy the waters on what scientists know about climate.

It may be easy to point a finger at others, but when it happens to us, the choice might not seem so clear. Which is most important – the benefit of the research and education, or the rejection of tainted funds?

The appropriate response to morally tainted offerings is an ancient question. In the book of Corinthians, the apostle Paul responds to a query on what to do with food that has been sacrificed to idols – eat or reject?

His response illustrates the complexity of this issue. Food is food, he says – and by the same token, we might say money is money today. Both food and money, though, can imply alliance or acceptance. And if it affects others, a more discerning response may be needed.

What are we as academics to do? In this open and transparent new publishing world of ours, declaration of financial supporters is both important and necessary. Some would argue that a funder, however loose and distant the ties, casts a shadow over the resulting research. Others would respond that the funds can be used for good. Which carries the greatest weight?

After two decades in the trenches of climate science, I’m no longer the ingenue I was. I’m all too aware, now, of those who dismiss climate science as a “liberal hoax.” Every day, they attack me on Facebook, vilify me on Twitter and even send the occasional hand-typed letter - which begs appreciation of the artistry, if not the contents. So now, if Exxon came calling, what would I do?

There’s no one right answer to this question. Speaking for myself, I might ask them to give those funds to politicians who endorse sensible climate policy – and cut their funding to those who don’t. Or I admire one colleague’s practical response: to use a Koch-funded honorarium to purchase a lifetime membership in the Sierra Club.

The ConversationDespite the fact that there’s no easy answer, it’s a question that’s being posed to more and more of us every day, and we cannot straddle the fence any longer. As academics and scientists, we have some tough choices to make; and only by recognizing the broader implications of these choices are we able to make these decisions with our eyes wide open, rather than half shut.

Katharine Hayhoe, Professor and Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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What the Early Church Thought about God's Gender

Originally published by The Conversation on August 1, 2018.

What the early church thought about God's gender

 
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        All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.         Carolyn Fitzpatrick      
 
David Wheeler-Reed, Albertus Magnus College

The Episcopal Church has decided to revise its 1979 prayer book, so that God is no longer referred to by masculine pronouns. 

The prayer book, first published in 1549 and now in its fourth edition, is the symbol of unity for the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian communion founded in 1867. While there is no clear timeline for the changes, religious leaders at the denomination’s recent triennial conference in Austin have agreed to a demand to replace the  masculine terms for God such as “He” and “King” and “Father.”

Indeed, early Christian writings and texts, all refer to God in feminine terms.

God of the Hebrew Bible

                       
              Hebrew Bible.               Stock Catalog, CC BY            
         

As a scholar of Christian origins and gender theory, I’ve studied the early references to God.

In Genesis, for example, women and men are created in the “Imago Dei,” image of God, which suggests that God transcends socially constructed notions of gender. Furthermore, Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible written in the seventh century B.C., states that God gave birth to Israel.

In the oracles of the eighth century prophet Isaiah, God is described as a woman in labor and a mother comforting her children.

And the Book of Proverbs maintains that the feminine figure of Holy Wisdom, Sophia, assisted God during the creation of the world.

Indeed, The Church Fathers and Mothers understood Sophia to be the “Logos,” or Word of God. Additionally, Jewish rabbis equated the Torah, the law of God, with Sophia, which means that feminine wisdom was with God from the very beginning of time.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable things ever said about God in the Hebrew Bible occurs in Exodus 3 when Moses first encounters the deity and asks for its name. In verse 14, God responds, “I am who I am,” which is simply a mixture of “to be” verbs in Hebrew without any specific reference to gender. If anything, the book of Exodus is clear that God is simply “being,” which echoes later Christian doctrine that God is spirit.

In fact, the personal name of God, Yahweh, which is revealed to Moses in Exodus 3, is a remarkable combination of both female and male grammatical endings. The first part of God’s name in Hebrew, “Yah,” is feminine, and the last part, “weh,” is masculine. In light of Exodus 3, the feminist theologian Mary Daly asks, “Why must ‘God’ be a noun? Why not a verb – the most active and dynamic of all.”

God in the New Testament

                       
              New Testament.               kolosser417, CC BY            
         

In the New Testament, Jesus also presents himself in feminine language. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus stands over Jerusalem and weeps, saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Furthermore, the author of Matthew equates Jesus with the feminine Sophia (wisdom), when he writes, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” In Matthew’s mind, it seems that Jesus is the feminine Wisdom of Proverbs, who was with God from the beginning of creation. In my opinion, I think it is very likely that Matthew is suggesting that there is a spark of the feminine in Jesus’ nature.

Additionally, in his letter to the Galatians, written around 54 or 55 A.D., Paul says that he will continue “in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”

Clearly, feminine imagery was acceptable among the first followers of Jesus.

The church fathers

This trend continues with the writings of the Church fathers. In his book “Salvation to the Rich Man,” Clement, the bishop of Alexandria who lived around 150-215 A.D., states, “In his ineffable essence he is father; in his compassion to us he became mother. The father by loving becomes feminine.” It’s important to remember that Alexandria was one of the most important Christian cities in the second and third centuries along with Rome and Jerusalem. It was also the hub for Christian intellectual activity.

Additionally, in another book, “Christ the Educator,” he writes, “The Word [Christ] is everything to his little ones, both father and mother.” Augustine, the fourth-century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, uses the image of God as mother to demonstrate that God nurses and cares for the faithful. He writes, “He who has promised us heavenly food has nourished us on milk, having recourse to a mother’s tenderness.”

And, Gregory, the bishop of Nyssa, one of the early Greek church fathers who lived from 335-395 A.D., speaks of God’s unknowable essence – God’s transcendence – in feminine terms. He says,

“The divine power, though exalted far above our nature and inaccessible to all approach, like a tender mother who joins in the inarticulate utterances of her babe, gives to our human nature what it is capable of receiving.”

What is God’s gender?

                       
              Do images limit our religious experience?               Saint-Petersburg Theological Academy, CC BY-ND            
         

Modern followers of Jesus live in a world where images risk becoming socially, politically or morally inadequate. When this happens, as the feminist theologian Judith Plaskow notes, “Instead of pointing to and evoking the reality of God, [our images] block the possibility of religious experience.” In other words, limiting God to masculine pronouns and imagery limits the countless religious experiences of billions of Christians throughout the world.

The ConversationIt is probably best, then, for modern day Christians to heed the words and warning of bishop Augustine, who once said, “si comprehendis non est Deus.” If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.

David Wheeler-Reed, Visiting Assistant Professor, Albertus Magnus College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Climate, Justice, and Faith Communities

Climate, Justice, and Faith Communities

People care for one another, other animals, and the planet. As a person of faith, I believe that life should be valued, that there is a human responsibility to protect, preserve, and act responsibly regarding the environment, and that there is a moral imperative to communicate the reality of what evidence there is to others -- so informed action can be taken. As an interdisciplinary climate scientist and ethicist, I see evidence daily of the reality of human caused climate change.

The term for information that is intentionally planted to deceive people is misinform...

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