Greenwashing Hypocrite Of The Year: CEO Of Anti-Science ExxonMobil Bemoans State Of Science Education

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil. (AP Photo/CP, Jeff McIntosh)
Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil. (AP Photo/CP, Jeff McIntosh)

Chutzpah has been defined as “that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.”

What else can one call the brazen hypocrisy of Rex Tillerson, Chair and CEO of Exxon Mobil — which has spent millions of dollars promoting scientific illiteracy — complaining that there are too few scientifically literate job applicants! But that’s just what he does in his Wall Street Journal op-ed, “How to Stop the Drop in American Education”:

American employers do not have enough applicants with adequate skills, especially in science, technology, engineering and math. The “STEM-related” positions that U.S. industry needs to fill are not just for biochemists, biophysicists and engineers. More and more jobs are applying cutting-edge technologies and now demand deeper knowledge of math and science in positions that most people don’t think of as STEM-related, including machinists, electricians, auto techs, medical technicians, plumbers and pipefitters.

Yes the head of the second-biggest fossil-fuel funder of anti-science disinformation — whose goal is to kill the public’s trust in scientists and the scientific method — is worried that young people don’t want to study science or pursue science as a career.

It gets worse:

In fact, after more than 30 years working in the energy industry, and now as I work with business leaders from every sector of the American economy, I can attest that your high-school math teacher was right: Algebra matters.

These days the energy industry tests for math and science aptitude when hiring for entry-level positions. Our industry is seeking to fill positions that range from mechanics and lab support to blend and process technicians. But many applicants fail these basic tests, losing out on opportunities for good pay and good benefits.

Algebra matters to Exxon — except when used in support of climate science. ExxonMobil has spent millions of dollars over three decades funding a major disinformation campaign designed to smear scientists (and engineers and scientific organizations and science journals) and cast doubt on the validity of the scientific method. And they have the chutzpah to complain that our kids lack science aptitude and don’t want to study science.

A 2011 study found that “9 out of 10 top climate change deniers [were] linked with Exxon Mobil.” A 2009 analysis detailed the anti-science groups funded by Exxon who promoted the Climategate attacks on scientists.

Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil’s two-decade anti-scientific campaign several years ago. Mooney notes that one anti-science disinformer, Paul Driessen, a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow ($252,000 from ExxonMobil) and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise ($40,000 in 2003), said in 2005 that he’s “heartened that ExxonMobil and a couple of other groups have stood up and said, ‘this is not science.’ “ That’s the kind of science education Exxon Mobil believes in.

A Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report from several years ago looked at ExxonMobil’s tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing anti-scientific global warming disinformation (see “Today We Have a Planet That’s Smoking!”). Like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil’s goal is to undercut real science and replace it with their phony science.

The oil giant said it would stop, but that was just more disinformation. Everyone should read this excellent Bloomberg commentary, “Exxon Works Up New Recipe for Frying the Planet.”

ExxonMobil’s funding of virulently anti-science fanatics, carried to its ‘logical’ extreme by the extremists who are a key target of its disinformation campaign, leads to McCarthyism or worse:

So now ExxonMobil is shocked, shocked, that not enough of our nation’s young people pursue science education or careers in science.

Worse, ExxonMobil greenwashes itself as a company that cares about science literacy through its partnership with golfer Phil Mickelson to help teachers become better at teaching kids science and math.

And the point of this op-ed is more greenwashing: Tillerson — who is also billed as “the chairman of the Business Roundtable’s Education & Workforce Committee” (!) — offers recommendations for how to improve science education, specifically endorsing the Common Core State Standards.

A major benefit of the Common Core State Standards is that they encourage students to analyze and apply critical reasoning skills to the texts they are reading and the math problems they are solving. These are the capabilities that students need as they prepare for high-skill jobs.

I am not an education policy expert. The main thing I know about the Core Standards is that they are opposed by the Tea Party and anti-science American Legislative Exchange Council.

Here’s what’s truly head-exploding: ALEC “has received $1,619,700 from ExxonMobil since 1998.”

Yes, Tillerson supports the Core Standards through the Business Roundtable, but his company funds a group that opposes them — a group that develops “model bills” to mandate the teaching of climate science denial in public school systems!

Now you can see why Tillerson has no competition for Greenwashing Hypocrite Of The Year. I apologize for not warning you to put on a head vise.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that ALEC also pushes model legislation to require the teaching of creationism in public schools. In a statement signed by many dozens of scientists, the National Center for Science Education said this of creationism:

Students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level. These students will need remedial instruction in the nature of science.

No wonder Tillerson and his fellow CEOs have trouble finding science-literate job applicants. His company backs a group whose efforts will help make students fail college science and require them to get remedial instruction.

Finally, Tillerson ends with this piece of jaw-dropping hypocrisy:

To abandon the standards is to endanger America’s ability to create the technologies that change the world for the better.

The Common Core State Standards are the path to renewed competitiveness….

Exxon Mobil’s entire disinformation campaign is aimed at endangering America’s ability to create the clean energy technologies that will replace fossil fuels and thus avoid ruining the world.

With this op-ed, Tillerson has become front runner for Greenwashing Hypocrite Of The Decade.

Let me end with the words of former GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman on the consequences of promoting climate science denial:

We raise up our young people we tell them to get a good education and tell them to move forward and solve the great challenges of today, find a cure for cancer, make the world a better place. We then get the results are willing to jettison it and to shun it? I just think that’s the wrong direction.

If America is doing an inadequate job training scientifically literate students — and it is — Exxon Mobil is part of the problem, not the solution.