Scientist testimonials

The following scientist testimonials from 2022 concern Elsevier's stated unwillingness to refrain from facilitating the expansion of oil and gas. Leaders prohibited employees from sharing an internal report that contained these insights with other Elsevier colleagues. In 2024, Elsevier continues to serve fossil fuel expansion.

"I’m just lost for words in terms of just how blatant the greenwashing is...They're lying to employees. They're lying to shareholders."

—Dr. Lewis Collins, Editor-in-Chief of One Earth, in a Cell Press call on March 14, 2023.

"A corporate greenwashing initiative."

—Dr. Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the Lancet, on Elsevier's Internal Climate Board, from which he resigned. Quoted with his permission in an employee report on greenwashing and deceptive management practices at the company.

The following is a statement that was first shared by an Elsevier employee with the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund; it was subsequently sent to RELX Employee Relations on May 3, 2023. No response addressing these concerns was issued:

Retaliatory Management Practices and Suppression of Employee Reports Regarding Climate Denial at Elsevier, 2021-2023 

In 2021, employees at our company and from some of our premier environmental and health publications made Senior Leadership and members of the Board of Directors aware of the fact that the company was misleading stakeholders about certain aspects of the business—as well as the dire implications of business activity facilitating new fossil fuel exploration and development. The company was observed to be neglecting environmental and human rights commitments and promoting statements, pledges, and goals while simultaneously driving actions that the science indicated were needed to have stopped for those statements to be accurate and goals to be realistically met. It is my understanding that leadership responded by neglecting its ethics reporting procedures, by removing or altering marketing materials associated with some of the business activity in question that is still taking place, refusing over the course of 2 years to provide evidence to support all the company’s claims or refute our observations of word-deed misalignment, and criticizing the group for a failure to adhere to the company’s “narrative.” In my experience, the company acted to isolate me—the point person for the employee group; it placed me in meetings with leaders who didn’t care to address the issues being raised, repeatedly attempted to reframe the complaint as one regarding the pace of change, continued to make false and misleading claims about our business, our policies, and the climate science, misrepresented these conversations in order to help justify a 'Final Written Warning', suggested I may be better off working elsewhere, and engaged in what the company defines as prohibited forms of retaliation and harassment (isolating and disparaging an employee, ignoring concerns, failing to address reported code violations, and generating a hostile and intimidating work environment).  

In April 2021, I filed an ethics complaint based on word-deed misalignment regarding false and misleading claims being made by our company, some originating from policies for which the CEOs are responsible for assuring adherence. It was based on Elsevier and RELX statements and pledges that indicate the company is minimizing our climate impacts in line with the scale of action deemed necessary by science, with aims to achieve an energy transition that holds warming to 1.5°C—goals that require a steep reduction in greenhouse gas emissions this decade and no new fossil fuel projects. Despite these and other pledges, the company appears to be continuing to assist the fossil fuel industry in the global exploration and development of new hydrocarbon resources through some of Elsevier’s products and services. 

Reporting procedures, meant to involve the reporter being contacted by an investigator deemed to have “independence, subject matter expertise [and] lack of conflict of interest,” were not observed by me. No one claiming to be such an investigator or with these qualifications has ever contacted me, given “an estimated timeframe to complete the investigation,” reached out so that I would be “notified that the investigation is complete,” (RELX Reporting Concerns Policy), nor assured me that I will “not be retaliated against or victimised because [I] reported a genuine concern to the Company.” (RELX Ethical Leader Toolkit). 

Two marketing-oriented calls with RELX Corporate Responsibility representatives and Anne Kitson (SVP & MD Premium Brands, Elsevier) produced the impression, as reported to my manager, that they were unaware of aspects of the business and the climate science covered in my complaint, and generated no information to refute the observations of word-deed misalignment. They instead drew focus to and generated restrictions on activity that had previously been permitted and does not appear to be forbidden to other employees: the use of company IP on internal documents and the internal sharing of paywalled climate research. 

I then organized a group of 60 employees who demonstrated interest in being involved in contributing to a report on word-deed misalignment, arranging 3 meetings to discuss observed issues, sharing with everyone a draft of a report in August, requesting and incorporating feed back, and then sharing a final version with the group in September to ensure all were on board with being associated with its observations. We submitted the report (Responsible Growth Report, or RGR) in September 2021, highlighting “substantial barriers in place that refute the company’s claim that we’re properly adhering to [our] policies” and concluding that our company is practicing “climate denial.” This report was backed by editors from over 20 premium brand journals including the Lancet, the Lancet Planetary Health, and One Earth. My manager told me that she would “reinforce the point that this [report] comes from a group and also see how [Anne Kitson] would like to approach it.” Despite the report indicating that “ignoring employee concerns is a prohibited form of retaliation,” she did not follow up with me and the group received no response to the questions or requests submitted in the report.  

I made genuine attempts to understand the company’s position that there is no business activity that renders any statements or policies to be false or misleading: In asking RELX’s Global Environment Manager—who had declared that the company is policy-compliant—what it is that our policies prohibit, he offered no reply. In requesting information to refute observations of word-deed misalignment, neither RELX’s Chief Ethics Officer nor the Chief Compliance Officer would offer any. In seeking clarification about how the company concluded it is abiding by the environmental policies we set, the RELX Director of Corporate Responsibility discontinued communication. In being referred to Elsevier’s Global Head Sustainability, I communicated that “it’s not our intention to minimize work being done across the business. We think the company already does a lot to highlight that work. However, we do think current progress—such as pledges and travel reductions—should be viewed in the context that the company is comfortable continuing business activity that aims to make the 1.5 degree target impossible to hit…Do you think those at the RELX level are misinterpreting the science or our policies?” No reply was given. On December 2, 2021, I reported to our Chief Ethics Officer that there had yet to be communications “that addressed the substance of the reports,” but I received no follow-up. In a May 2022 email to Elsevier’s EVP & Chief Human Resources Officer, I noted inconsistencies and confusion about how the company is choosing to define terms in our policies; I shared that it would be constructive to “understand how the company is choosing to qualify and define various words, communications, and actions, and I’d be curious to know about the proper ways to do this.” I received no reply.  

After the group (Responsible Growth Report Committee, or RGRC) submitted a Spring 2022 report raising concerns of deceptive management practices, Anne Kitson reached out to many members of the RGRC to falsely claim that “many different leadership team members have already engaged with Kip on the points he is raising, including some in considerable detail”—a patently untrue claim that disturbingly called into question my honesty and integrity—and encouraged members to disengage from our group. This action had serious consequences on my psychological well-being, as discussed infra

On May 9, 2022, I contacted Elsevier’s Global Head Sustainability, flagging “non-transparent dialogue focused on deflection. These types of stakeholder management tools make it hard to build the trust at Elsevier which I think you rightly regard as important for accelerating climate action.” I asked to be provided with the research that Elsevier’s CEO is using to justify the company’s sustainability claims. The reply did not address any of these things, so I again asked that she “please share the research being referenced by the company that has led the CEOs to conclude that the business units are in fact adhering to these policies.” She responded over three months later without providing any research. I requested again that this information please be provided, but none has ever been. 

During this time, the company acted to isolate me from the RGRC in a series of calls in which I observed new ethics code violations: 

o   In a May 9, 2022, call with Laura Hassink, the Managing Director of STMJ, and Anne Kitson, I reminded them that the topic being raised by employees is extensive word-deed misalignment, something Anne explicitly stated she did not want to discuss. They made false and misleading claims about the science (new fossil fuel projects are required for energy needs), the fossil fuel industry (it’s not inhibiting a transition), and our policies (our policy is to transition), implying ignorance of information that had previously been provided. When I asked in the call what research indicates to the company that continuing to help the fossil fuel industry expand its production is compatible with net zero goals, Anne said it’s in our journals; my followup email requested that Anne please share the research she was referring to but this did not result in any materials being sent.

As I related to the RGRC, they criticized our reports for being “independent of [the company’s] narrative.” I was told we should have a “glass-half-full outlook. I noted I’ve been happy to work with anyone and the reports were provided to Sustain to help that group’s efforts, but there’s been continuous deflection and disengagement when addressing parts of the company where there seem to be revenue considerations. I emphasized it’s counterproductive to have these misleading statements/policies on the books, and that there isn’t any sense that the company wants to collaborate on addressing this…I followed up by sending them last year’s reports and indicated my surprise that there’s a lack of awareness of these pledges given that they’re fairly essential to any reading of these reports, as well as to any debates that are being claimed to have taken place within leadership.” 

Having been told there was an appetite in the company to sit down with us for honest discussions, Anne and Laura said that they’d circle back in a month or two, but they never did. 

o   After the company forbid the RGRC from completing our next report presenting the insights of climate scientists about Elsevier’s word-deed misalignment, Compliance placed new communications restrictions on RGRC members that included a prohibition on using company emails to communicate with external stakeholders about any of these issues and a requirement to obtain consent of employees prior to sending them any materials that reveal our findings. The suppression of our report was followed by a September 19, 2022, call—just me with my manager and Anne Kitson. I explained to Anne for the fourth time that the issue being raised is word-deed misalignment, something she wouldn’t fully commit to understanding, and continued attempts to reframe the issue as being one about our pace of progress. She said the report was blocked due to a “narrative” that suggests we are not aligned with some of our statements, but shared nothing to credibly refute our findings. She instead made what appear to be more false and misleading claims about our policies (our statements simply say that we're concerned about environmental issues), business (we have only seven journals that discuss fossil fuels) and the science (additional fossil fuel projects are required to prevent poverty). As I reported to the RGRC: “I corrected that sentiment, again—that it’s not correct to say the science is saying we need to stop using fossil fuels immediately; it’s saying we need to stop new fossil fuel extraction projects.”

o   I requested of Anne Kitson that the RGRC please be provided with the research being used to substantiate the company’s claims prior to my engaging in any further calls. However, the Managing Director of STMJ, Elsevier’s Global Head Sustainability, and Elsevier’s CCO scheduled a call with me without providing such evidence. I told them repeatedly of this request. I was then asked by the CCO to meet only with him; despite no research being provided to me, it was a request that I felt uncomfortable declining. In a call on October 7, 2022, Elsevier’s CCO falsely claimed we have stopped “as of today” generating products and services that are misaligned with what science says is needed to meet our warming and net zero goals and falsely claimed we’re no longer supporting new fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Yet, later in the call, he said he did not know if we publish papers that advise the fossil fuel industry regarding where to find new resources. The CCO, who is also the co-chair of an external climate board that the company claims are guiding our efforts, dismissed the need to address greenwashing because doing so won’t change our impact on the climate; I noted that this behavior should be addressed because these communications violate our ethics code. 
When another call was scheduled by the Managing Director of STMJ and Elsevier’s CCO without providing any requested research, I emailed both of them to say that “it’s unclear why I am being singled out for such discussions and when the company will choose to address the word-deed misalignment and management practices being highlighted by many other stakeholders as inhibiting our climate actions.” I continued:
As you know, we have long been calling attention to company policies that state we have been acting in a way that is ‘in line with the scale of action deemed necessary by science’ in support of global efforts to achieve net zero emissions before 2050 and limit warming to be well below 2 degrees Celsius. With scientists having concluded many years ago that most known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic heating, the company offering products and services that directly facilitate fossil fuel expansion means we’re neglecting these and other policies…However, the determination of Ethics, Compliance, CR, and others in leadership regarding concerns brought by employees at dozens of our journals—including editors at premium brand journals such as the Lancet, theLancet Planetary Health, and One Earth—continues to be that company CEOs have concluded accurately that facilitating fossil fuel expansion does not violate our pledges. Other claims from leadership have been that we only have an environmental policy “to transition,” that we don’t promote fossil fuel extraction, and that employee concerns are misleading for being outside the company’s ‘narrative’—none of which are valid or productive.

I’ve copied the CEOs in case they wish to elaborate on how they reached their conclusions, share which publics were consulted prior to engaging in these activities, and explain how facilitating expansion has been determined to be within the bounds of a “precautionary approach” to environmental challenges, constitutes an “acceptable level of risk,” and is in line with various other sustainability commitments and objectives.
I went on to suggest actions the company could consider, such as due diligence processes to better ensure we “don’t violate our environmental, ethical, humanitarian, and other policies.” None of the CEOs shared thoughts or information to justify existing claims. 

I reported to my manager on October 14, 2022, that I was “being singled out for these [calls] when plenty of other colleagues are concerned about the company’s behavior.” I continued: “The inaccurate claims I’m hearing strain any credibility that there is any purpose to these [meetings] except to try to get me to get behind the company’s “narrative” (a word Anne keeps using) and simply accept these greenwashing practices, something that is counter to the company’s stated ethics and my own...In my first meeting with Anne this year, she claimed we’re meeting our pledges as we just have a policy “to transition,” forcing me to simply resend the exact same materials to them after the meeting. For the next, as you saw, she pivoted to say she doesn’t feel we promote fossil fuel extraction—which no one else in the company is claiming—forcing me to run down a list of things of which she was already aware. I’ve now repeated to her on 4 separate occasions that, while I personally find parts of the business to be unethical, our approach has been to show how the company is misrepresenting itself, and the company—according to our messaging—is committed to addressing this.” Regarding the CCO meeting I reported that he “claims that we’re in compliance with our policies because anything we’re doing that isn’t compliant is being done to fulfill contractual obligations—and that the company ought to do what it has committed to doing (in terms of those business activities, of course). That any company could say it’s aligned with the science so long as any fossil fuel development is contractually required is, of course, absurd.”  

That month, some of these new observations of false and misleading statements made by leadership; the failure to address observations of word-deed misalignment made by “experts at our company and the larger scientific community”; and retaliation, harassment, and psychological safety concerns were brought to the attention of the RELX Chief Ethics Officer; the new concerns were determined to not warrant any engagement. Following this, in my yearly review, I reported to my manager that statements being made are not “reflective of the reality of our business, policies, or science” and that the ethics code “explicitly forbids making false statements about the company.” I also communicated that “employees at different levels have expressed apprehension about making that same decision [to speak up] due to concerns about retaliation.” On discussing this, the focus was placed on my manager’s displeasure that the yearly review centered too much on these topics. 

On December 19, 2022, I made an inquiry to RELX’s Chief Compliance Officer: “With the company admitting (internally to some) that it has no intention to honor our latest pledge [Race to Zero]—to end our facilitation of fossil fuel expansion by June 15—we’re continuing to deceive customers, investors, current employees, and have been prohibited from disclosing this activity to prospective employees. While it’s the company’s right to do this, stakeholders like me are wondering why and how false claims are determined to be exempt from our ethical commitments around how we achieve our business goals.” With no response offered, I asked my manager on January 5, 2023, to please ask Compliance to answer two questions that may clarify for the RGRC how and why the company allows certain communications and pledges to be exempt from the ethics code’s restrictions: 
o   The company’s publicly claiming through our Race to Zero membership that by mid-June it will refrain from facilitating fossil fuel expansion, while internally leadership has conceded it will not do this. Why is this deception considered compatible with the ethics code and the Do the Right Thing principles? 

o   Due to the company’s continued facilitation of fossil fuel expansion, there are zero known credible climate scientists who agree with leadership’s claim it is responding to the crisis “at the scale deemed necessary by science.” Leadership has conceded we’re continuing to maintain fossil fuel-expanding commercial activities—despite the objections of the research communities we serve—but simultaneously claiming the business’ climate commitment is “science led”. Why is this deception considered compatible with the ethics code and the Do the Right Thing principles?  
Despite later asking HR to also assist, no answers have been provided. 

On January 20, 2023, following a request that the company withdraw from the Race to Zero pledge rather than deceive stakeholders, I was issued a Final Written Warning by the VP HR Health Markets & North America, justified in part by the claim that leadership has “attempted to productively engage” with me. In asking to understand what communications “mischaracterized” the company’s efforts, as the Warning states, no examples were offered. In a March 6, 2023 meeting with my manager about this, she said the wording of the Warning—something threatening me with termination—is intentionally vague so it can mean different things to different people and that I shouldn’t expect further clarity. She indicated that the use of different tactics to avoid addressing the topic of word-deed misalignment is not relevant, and said the corporate reality is that not everyone I engage with is going to be“authentic.” She said that it may be true that the company is lying, but that’s a separate issue from the Warning Letter, and that if I’m at a company where I don’t think they’re doing the right thing, then it’s a question of whether it’s a place I want to work. I reported to her, as I had on previous occasions, how upsetting to me the company’s tactics have been. 

On March 13, 2023, I reached out to the VP HR Health Markets & North America in response to the Warning and the request that I revisit conversations I’ve had to understand the company’s positions. I expressed concerns about the continuation of conflicting and inaccurate claims about the business and science being made by leaders in these conversations, and offered many examples. A week later, I sent her an email providing additional false and misleading claims, and reported the failure of the company to respond to suspected code violations and psychological safety concerns over the past few years. I received no reply. I followed up a month later about the status of the inquiry due to an announcement that she was leaving the company, indicating that employees are still seeing deceptive communications, and have received no reply.  

Throughout the past few years, I have repeatedly communicated concerns about psychological safety in our work environment, not just for myself but for others, to which there has not been any engagement from the company: Holding retaliation concerns due to the company’s failure to follow its reporting procedures, the RGRC asked in our Fall 2021 report that Cell Press’ Senior Management Team clarify their understanding of our non-retaliation policy. No response was offered. The concern about the use of retaliation and intimidation was shared in the Spring 2022 report and this received no engagement. In a subsequent call with leadership, I pointed out that the company has repeatedly declined to speak to our policy that it forbids retaliation against employees for raising concerns and that this has people feeling unsafe and targeted. They opted to not address this. 

A testimonial that included an editor’s request that the company “stop attacking Kip” was being considered for our Fall 2022 report until we were required not to finish or distribute it. Concerns about psychological safety of employees were then brought to the attention of our Chief Ethics Officer in Fall 2022 through a colleague in Compliance, but she also declined to engage. I have had multiple editors at health and environmental journals tell me they would speak up more but for fear of professional repercussions and, although I have made it a practice to never ask anyone for a reason, I have also had fear of retaliation be cited as the reason for leaving the RGRC. I have repeatedly spoken to my manager, who has told me she can’t “protect” me indefinitely, about the harmful effects that the apparent lying and gaslighting have had on me—especially considering that these tactics are being used to maintain products and services that the climate science associates with deep climate traumas and massive losses of life. 

In taking advantage of various mental health services, including one provided by the company, the only viable solution that has been reached to alleviate the mental and physical toll this experience has generated—one suggested by the company—is to reconsider working for Elsevier. My departure from a company to which I have dedicated the past 9+ years of my life should not be the solution to this matter. 

The above testimonial has resulted from my having taken extensive time to follow the company’s ethics code guidelines to “speak out for what is right,” to ask questions “if you are not sure how the Code applies,” and to report “any violations or suspected violations that you believe may have occurred.” 

As of the date of this document, it is apparent to me that leaders at Elsevier and RELX continue to falsely claim that the IEA and IPCC’s “appropriate scenarios” for a just transition allow for new oil and gas exploration and development—activity that removes realistic pathways to global net zero and the possibility of staying under 1.5°C warming. Leaders point to a scientific “debate” around fossil fuels, but leave out the fact that the debate around new projects has ended. Elsevier remains willing to launch titles that cover fossil fuel exploration and publish extensive technical and geographic guidance for development of new fossil fuel projects across the globe—and in substantially more journals than the few energy titles the company claims have been ‘transitioned.’ Elsevier’s Global Head Sustainability has indicated that papers informing expansion are justified by Elsevier’s commitment to “freedom of expression” and “editorial independence,” and the Managing Director of STMJ has indicated that if we do not publish these types of papers, they will go somewhere else. But this does not address the fact that these products also render an array of company sustainability and human rights pledges—including a stated commitment to a rapid global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions—to be either deeply misleading or objectively false. As a concerned employee recently noted for Sustain in March, “My understanding is Elsevier pledged to end support for fossil fuel exploration and expansion in 2021. So I don't understand how we are still launching new titles dedicated to ‘Fossil Fuels - Reserves and Exploration.’” 

At RELX’s 2023 AGM in April, RELX’s CFO appears to have misled our investors by indicating that the company has already ‘repurposed’ products and services that are still, in fact, informing new fossil fuel projects. Despite being informed by me in 2021 that our public pledges and goals can only be met “by ceasing investments in new fields” and “stopping production of new reserves,” the CFO neglected to disclose that the broad fossil fuel expansion we still serve—across many more than the 6 journals he focused on—is incompatible with a safe transition. 

As both an employee and a shareholder, I find the company’s prolonged and apparent knowing deceptions of workers and investors to be worthy of much wider scrutiny from all stakeholders, especially those suffering “adverse climate change-related human rights impacts…linked to [our] operations, products or services” with whom the company has pledged to engage with in “meaningful consultation.” Since observations of climate denial were raised by employees in 2021, we’ve neglected our commitment to “discontinuing activities with potentially adverse climate change-related human rights impacts,” as the list of “potentially affected stakeholders” we’ve neglected to consult with has continued to grow.  

Kip Lyall
Cell Press / Cambridge, MA
Wednesday May 3, 2023

Several Statements and Pledges that Elsevier and RELX uphold:
RELX Global Environment Policy; RELX Climate Change Statement; UN Race to Zero; We Are Still In Declaration; The Media Climate Pact; The Climate Pledge; UN Sustainable Development Goals; Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data; UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights*; UN Global Compact* 

*These collectively establish that we should obtain approval from potentially impacted stakeholders and ascertain acceptability to the public before any products deemed to have potential climate-related human rights impacts are placed on the market. We’ve pledged to discontinue “activities with potentially adverse climate change-related human rights impacts,” to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through [our] activities and relationships,” and pledge that lack of scientific certainty is no reason to postpone measures where there are “threats of serious or irreversible damage.”

Elsevier provides a platform for extensive scientific reporting on climate and biodiversity that guides the IPCC and the decisions of all governments around the world, which requires responsibility, ethics, and consistency to be maintained. These are blurred by also providing a platform for research on methods to continue extracting...putting the prized legitimacy of Elsevier at extreme risk. To provide early-stage researchers, like me, a future where research is possible, instead of all efforts going instead to simply survive, Elsevier cannot provide a platform for fossil fuel extraction to continue.  

Pete Knapp
Research Scientist, Imperial College London

Elsevier journals have done so much to alert the world to the severity of the planetary crisis, so to find out that the company continues to facilitate fossil fuel expansion - even in 2022! - is deeply troubling. But beyond any ethical dimension, I find it odd because it undermines the whole scientific enterprise. Elsevier journals trade on the authority of the science they publish but ignoring the warnings of that science serves to diminish and delegitimize it. It is as if Elsevier is publicly rubbishing the findings of its own journals as unimportant. 

Dr. Charlie Gardner
Associate Senior LecturerDurrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology

The science is clear. Based on scenarios created by the IPCC or IEA, upon which the Race to Zero campaign is based, there can be no new oil and gas fields or coal projects for the world  to reach even the goal of global net zero by mid-century,  which is not ambitious enough. Yet Elsevier/RELX continues to support the goals of the fossil fuel industry, which are antithetical to a livable planet. For Elsevier to claim that it’s being guided by science, therefore, undermines the hard work of the actual scientists as we struggle to communicate the dire nature of the climate emergency and compel action. If Elsevier's pledge is real, then it will have to go well beyond simply rebranding Elsevier’s “R&D solutions for oil and gas” as “R&D solutions for a sustainable world,” and sever all ties with the fossil fuel industry.   

Dr. Peter Kalmus  
NASA climate scientist  
Winner of the NASA Early Career Achievement Medal
and three Jet Propulsion Laboratory Voyager Awards  

Elsevier is the publisher of some of the most important journals in the environmental space. They cannot claim ignorance of the facts of climate change and the urgent necessity to move away from fossil fuels…Their business model seems to be to profit from publishing climate and energy science, while disregarding the most basic fact of climate action: the urgent need to move away from fossil fuelsOn policies: Elsevier is not acting consistently with the science which is published in its own journals. On publications: There is a clear difference between publications which aim to study the industry, and publications with the aim of supporting the industry. The kind of ethical guidance which Elsevier should adopt is routine in medical domains, for example. On not focusing on impacts of products and services: This is disingenuous because Elsevier is directly marketing to the industry. It is thus selecting them as customers and hoping they use the products Elsevier is promoting to them. The medical principle of “first do no harm” comes to mind: “First don’t create and promote products to a destructive industry.” 

Dr. Julia Steinberger 
Social ecologist and ecological economist Université de Lausanne
Co-author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report, contributing to the report's discussion of climate change mitigation pathways

If the same publisher putting out the papers that show definitively we can’t burn any more fossil fuels and stay within this carbon budget is also helping the fossil fuel industry do just that, what does that do to the whole premise of validity around the climate research? That is what’s deeply concerning about these conflicts. 

Dr. Kimberly Nicholas 
Senior Lecturer in Sustainability Science Lund University
Speaker at Elsevier’s 2021 SUSTAIN Festival, where she informed employees: “We have to stop the carbon and climate pollution at its source… turning off the tap is really, really critical. The International Energy Agency, IPCC, and every other alphabet soup of analysts is saying that, nope there’s no more room for fossil fuel expansion.”

I agree that publishing hydrocarbon exploration studies exacerbates the danger of a fossil fuel focused future and all that comes with that. However, I would not call out any scientific work for being contradictory. Contradictions can lead to debate and new discoveries. Expanding knowledge of geology is not in itself dangerous. It is exciting and delicious if you like that sort of thing (as I do). It is the application that forms the problem, as well as the funding of the research. Good applications may be that such geological studies can also find places to bury CO2 underground. Such twists are already going on. Meanwhile we all know the planetary and human injustice and damage caused by extraction. So what are possible conclusions in terms of publishers' ethics? I would encourage publishers: to clearly mark out articles that could be used to promote climate damage and pollution; to state next to them which IPCC recommendations they contravene if used for extraction—akin to cigarette warnings; to not publish any that directly undermine widely accepted climate goals. Putting limits and blocks on oil company access to science that may aid future extraction would be a realistic first policy to help towards meeting climate goals. Alternative revenue streams for publishers, and limits on climatically dirty revenue streams for all publishers, could help enormously. 

Sophie Paul
Geoscientist and strategy adviser 

Elsevier/RELX’s business activities are in direct conflict with the most conservative estimates of what it would take to avert the worst impacts of climate change. The stance of curtailing paper use and employee travel while benefiting from a business model that supports new fossil fuel developments amounts to greenwashing: it is entirely hypocritical and disrespects the community of climate scientists, particularly those who publish in, or donate their peer-review time for, Elsevier publications.  

Scientific knowledge is never neutral. Despite the claims of nuclear physicists that they were not responsible for how the military uses their research, we now know that not all information should be widely shared, not when the risks of its application are so dire. Carbon-emitting technologies have reached a degree of destructiveness that makes them commensurate to atomic technology, and one should apply the same principle: Elsevier cannot feign ignorance of the uses to which the research it publishes (and more consequentially, promotes) is being put. It has the moral duty to track the contributions of its leading business associates to fossil fuel emissions, else abstain from doing business with them. 

Dr. Julien Emile-Geay
Associate Professor, Department of Earth Sciences University of Southern California 

It’s hard to believe that a company that publishes research about the dangers of the climate and ecological crises is the very same company that actively works with oil and gas companies to extract more fossil fuels, which drags us towards disaster. 

James Dyke
Assistant Director of the Global Systems Institute University of Exeter

This all happens without the broader public knowing, and it operates to entrench the industry. To effect a rapid replacement of fossil fuels, I believe these entanglements will need to be exposed and reformed. 

Ben Franta 
Researcher at Stanford University

Providing insights and knowledge on new fossil fuel extraction undermines their claim to be behaving consistently with a 1.5 degree pathway.
The science is pretty clear that to meet such a target we must rapidly decarbonise and no new fossil fuel extraction can take place (indeed many existing claimed resources would be stranded). See and more recently: It seems perverse to publish material that improves extraction while admitting the need to rapidly cease extraction: it’s akin to gun companies taking no liability for what is done with the guns. Legally it might be fine, but morally it seems they should at least put a ‘health warning’ on all such publications along the lines of, “Elsevier recognises the need to rapidly cease all new exploration and reduce production of fossil fuels in order to keep global temperature changes well below 2 degrees, in line with international commitments.” I feel like this is the least they could do. It reduces their liability and allows them to show willingness, while also making the case very clearly to any climate-denying fossil fuel bodies. 

Dr. Duncan Watson-Parris
Atmospheric Physicist, University of Oxford

Elsevier and its parent company RELX are not, in fact, aligned with global efforts to achieve net zero emissions before 2050.  Their aid of the fossil fuel industry in discovering and recovering  oil and gas reserves is explicitly opposed to these goals.     

Dr. Ethan E. Butler  
Research Scientist, University of Minnesota

The recent IPCC Working Group II Assessment Report (2022) concludes: “Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all (very high confidence)” Each one of us has a duty to effect urgent transformational change for the benefit of people and the planet. Major corporations like Elsevier have an especially important responsibility given their impact and their role in the curation and dissemi-nation of the science that underpins our understanding of intersecting global crises from climate change to biodiversity loss and practices that drive inequity and injustice. 

Dr. Bruce C. Glavovic
School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University, New ZealandCoordinating Lead Author of the sea-level rise chapter in the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (2019) and a Cross-Chapter Paper Lead and Lead Author in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment.

Halting continued temperature increase requires net-zero emissions of carbon dioxide as a first step and then negative emissions. This means that the use of fossil fuels needs to be phased out. This also means that exploration of new fossil fuel resources needs to stop. Any company and business model that builds on exploring more fossil fuels cannot claim to be sustainable and in line with international commitments on climate change. The reports that Elsevier works with the fossil fuel industry to help increase oil and gas drilling is therefore very disturbing. Many of us publish in Elsevier journals, help in reviewing papers, and serve on editorial boards. We would like to work with publishers that support a sustainable future and commitments on climate change

Dr. Göran Finnveden
Professor, KTH Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm, Sweden
Editorial board member: The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, The International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Journal of Cleaner Production, and SustainabilityMember of the Board of the Stockholm Environment Institute (2020-present)Member of the Swedish Government’s Scientific Council on Sustainable Development (2015-2018) Member of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Minister of Environment (2012-2014) 

As a major publisher of climate science, Elsevier knows that we have ‘a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.’ Investing in fossil fuels, and helping to close that window, should be unthinkable for Elsevier. Supporting fossil fuel expansion is simply not compatible with responding to the climate crisis on the scale deemed necessary by the science

Prof. John Marsham
Professor of Atmospheric Science
University of Leeds 

It appears Elsevier is failing to account for their responsibility in measuring the impact of their business activity. Elsevier’s communications in the context of the climate emergency is a good example of greenwashing for they have demonstrated complicity with the destructive extractivist system over time (see Guardian’s article). 

Dr. Elia Valentini
Senior Lecturer, University of Essex 

We are witnessing the sixth mass extinction, with unprecedented biodiversity loss and rapid climate change. Elsevier play a prominent position in the distribution of scientific knowledge to the world, yet continue to facilitate new fossil fuel extraction. As ecosystems collapse, sea-levels rise, and wet-bulb temperatures reach new highs, will future generations look back and agree that Elsevier was acting "in line with the scale deemed necessary by science"? 

James Fallon
PhD candidate, University of Reading 

It's not surprising that Elsevier/RELX publishes books and journals and data that support increased (or more effective) exploration for and discovery of new oil and gas. Having a fully integrated top to bottom climate policy would be the surprise. I agree with you and your colleagues to keep up the pressure on the company to align itself more fully with its climate commitment. 

Dr. Richard Heede
Climate Accountability Institute
Co-author of “White Knights, or Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Prospects for Big Oil to align emissions with a 1.5°C pathway,” published in Energy Research & Social Science, Elsevier (2021) 

Academic publishers who run journals that publish climate research while supporting the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. Do they read what they publish?   

Dr. Katherine Hayhoe  
Atmospheric Scientist, Texas Tech University  
Winner of the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize, the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award, and the National Center for Science Education’s Friend of the  Planet award Named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. 

The science should now be clear: avoiding catastrophic climate change requires ending the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuel resources. How can Elsevier claim to be responding to climate change, whilst at the same time promoting work which actively undermines this cause? By doing this, they are also undermining the thousands of researchers who dedicate their lives to addressing the climate crisis, and who rely on publishers such as Elsevier to publish the science which can help us to do this. This is a blatant violation of trust. More than that – it risks undermining the crucial and fragile public trust in science itself. 

Dr. Emily Cox 
Research Associate, Universities of Oxford and Cardiff 

No person or business is acting in a way “consistent with a 1.5-degree pathway” because such a pathway is not logistical-ly possible—our government and business have already failed. Our only options now involve reaching 1.5°C of warming and then drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in addition to reaching net-zero emissions, eventually reducing the warming level. To be consistent with any climate pledges, Elsevier would need to divest financially from fossil fuel and other extractive industries. All companies need to define their values. If Elsevier values climate mitigation, then it needs to stop supporting the fossil fuel industry by providing logistical and technical support. Some would argue that science is and should be policy neutral, but it is naively ignorant of history to consider that the funding and institutional support of science is not motivated by our values as a society (e.g., development of atomic weap-ons, space flight, artificial intelligence). I imagine that Elsevier would not want to provide a publishing platform to eugenicists, weapons manufacturers, or producers of illegal narcotics. Why then provide that platform to the industry that is currently jeopardizing the habitability of our planet? I think RELX should promote open data use in general, but can withhold support to the fossil fuel industry when it does not affect other legitimate researchers. 

Dr. Rose Z. Abramoff
Associate Scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

I was very surprised and disappointed by the details in the Guardian article. It didn’t surprise me there were journals on fossil fuels but to see the level of integration with the industry was disturbing. To my knowledge, the broader energy journals and renewable energy journals don’t have renewable energy industry representatives on editorial boards but academics. I was even more disturbed by the business offerings for fossil fuel exploration and extraction. That is a clear decision to profit from an industry that has a well documented history of willingly misleading the public and capturing regulators to extend their profitability. It is an industry that has already contributed to the suffering of many millions of people across the planet. It is an industry that has repeatedly stood in the way of technical progress towards a cleaner, better world. This is the industry Elsevier decided to work with while talking about the importance of sustainability. Had I known these details before speaking at the festival I would have certainly zeroed in on this. Time and time again I find that companies are not making the decisions that would have a real, consequential impact on environmental sustainability. Instead the focus is on inconsequential nice-to-haves, greenwashing their hands of any real impact or responsibility. This was all unknown to me when I did the sustainability festival event feel tricked. 

Paul Behrens 
Associate Professor of Energy and Environmental Change, Leiden University

This is troubling.

Dr. Jonathan Foley
Executive Director of Project Drawdown 


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