Scientists working with one of the world’s largest publishers of climate research say they are growing alarmed that the company is working with the fossil fuel industry to help increase oil and gas drilling, the Guardian can reveal.
Elsevier, a Dutch company behind many renowned peer-reviewed scientific journals, including the Lancet and Global environmental changeis also a leading publisher of books aimed at developing fossil fuel production.
For more than a decade, the company has supported the energy industry’s efforts to optimize oil and gas extraction. It commissions authors, editors and members of the journal’s advisory board who are employees of the largest oil companies. Elsevier also markets some of its research portals and data services directly to the oil and gas industry to help “increase the chances of exploration success”.
Several former and current employees say that over the past year, dozens of workers have spoken out internally and at company town halls to urge Elsevier to reconsider its relationship with the fossil fuel industry..
“When I started, I heard a lot about the company’s climate commitments,” said a former Elsevier newspaper editor who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. “Finally I just realized it was all marketing, which is really heartbreaking because Elsevier has published all the research it needs to know exactly what to do if it wants to make a meaningful difference.”
What makes Elsevier’s ties to the fossil fuel industry particularly alarming to its critics is that it is one of a handful of companies that publish peer-reviewed climate research. Scientists and academics say they fear Elsevier’s conflicting business interests could undermine their work.
Julia Steinberger, a social ecologist and ecological economist at the University of Lausanne who has published studies in several Elsevier journals, said she was shocked to learn that the company has taken an active role in expanding the extraction of fossil fuels.
“Elsevier is the publisher of some of the most important environmental journals,” she said. “They cannot pretend to ignore the facts of climate change and the urgent need to move away from fossil fuels.”
She added: “Their business model seems to be to profit from publishing climate and energy science, while ignoring the most fundamental fact of climate action: the urgent need to move away from fuels. fossils”.
Elsevier and its parent company, RELX, say they are committed to supporting the fossil fuel industry in its transition to clean energy. And while Elsevier has become an industry leader with its own climate commitments, a company spokesperson said they weren’t ready to draw a line between the transition from fossil fuels and the expansion of oil and gas extraction. She expressed concern about publishers boycotting or “canceling” oil and gas companies.
“We recognize that we are imperfect and that we need to do more, but that shouldn’t undo all the amazing work we’ve done over the past 15 years,” said Márcia Balisciano, founding global head of corporate responsibility. at RELX, at the Guardian. .
Of the more than 2,000 scholarly journals published by Elsevier, only seven are specific to fossil fuel extraction (14 if you count specialist publications and affiliates). These journals include Upstream Oil and Gas Technology, whose editor works for Shell, and Unconventional Resources, which is edited by a Chevron researcher. It also operates a book publishing subsidiary, Gulf Publishing, which includes titles such as The Shale Oil and Gas Handbook and Oil Exploration Optimization Strategies.
Elsevier also provides consulting services to corporate clients. For 12 years, she has been marketing a tool called Geofacets to fossil fuel companies. Geofacets combines thousands of maps and studies to facilitate the search and access to oil and gas reserves, in addition to locations for wind farms or carbon storage facilities.
The company says the tool reduces search time by 50% and helps identify “riskier and more remote areas that were previously inaccessible”.
However, top climatologists, including those published in Elsevier’s own journals, say the exact opposite must happen to avert climate catastrophe. Limiting warming to 1.5°C or less requires a global decrease in fossil fuel production with over 80% of all proven reserves left in the ground.
“We won’t comment on the practices of individual companies, but any action that actively supports the expansion of fossil fuel development is indeed inconsistent” with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, said Sherri Aldis, the department’s acting deputy director. UN global communications. .
RELX is an incredibly profitable company, with annual revenues exceeding $9.8 billion, approximately one-third of which comes from Elsevier. Balisciano points out that fossil fuel content accounts for less than 1% of Elsevier’s publishing revenue, and less than half of Geofacets’ revenue, which itself accounts for only about 2% of Elsevier’s revenue.
RELX and Elsevier say much of their work supports and enables an energy transition through publications focused on clean energy. “We don’t want to draw a binary and we don’t think you can just flip a switch, but we’ve reduced our involvement in fossil fuel-related activities while increasing the amount of research we publish on climate and climate. clean energy,” said Esra Erkal, executive vice president of communications at Elsevier.
Elsevier isn’t alone in nurturing relationships with climate researchers and fossil fuel executives. Several other publishers of peer-reviewed climate research have signed the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Publishers Covenant while partnering with the oil and gas industry in various ways.
UK-based publisher Taylor & Francis, for example, signed the UN Pledge and published its own net zero pledges while touting its publishing partnership with “industry leader” ExxonMobil, the oil company most linked to climate obstructionism in the public consciousness. . Another leading climate publisher, Wiley, has also signed the sustainability pact while publishing several books and journals aimed at helping the industry find and drill more oil and gas.
“It’s problematic,” said Dr Kimberly Nicholas, associate professor of sustainability science at Lund University in Sweden, noting that while corporate greenwashing is rampant across many sectors, publishers of sustainability research peer-reviewed climate have a unique responsibility.
“If the same publisher that publishes the articles that definitively show that we can no longer burn fossil fuels and meet this carbon budget is also helping the fossil fuel industry do just that, what does it do to the whole principle of validity around climate research? That is what is deeply concerning in these disputes,” she said.
Ben Franta, a researcher at Stanford University who has also published studies in Elsevier journals, notes that the publisher’s relationship with oil companies shows how this industry is intertwined with so many other aspects of society. .
“All of this is happening without the knowledge of the general public, and it helps to entrench the industry,” he said. “To effect a rapid replacement of fossil fuels, I believe these entanglements will need to be exposed and reformed.”
Elsevier, for his part, emphasizes the role of editorial independence. “We wouldn’t tell journal publishers what they can and can’t publish,” Balisciano said. However, such conflicts often put researchers in a difficult position to navigate.
James Dyke, deputy director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, was surprised that Elsevier was trying to contradict climate researchers in this way.
“It’s hard to believe that a company that publishes research on the dangers of the climate and ecological crises is the same company that is actively working with oil and gas companies to extract more fossil fuels, which is leading us to disaster” , did he declare.