Leaks Reveal That ExxonMobil Predicted the Climate Crisis
Scientists at the oil company began making amazingly accurate predictions of how much global warming would result from using fossil fuels in the 1970s. An anti-climate propaganda scenario was put into place.
When we talk about climate change, we're talking about changes in average temperatures and weather patterns that occur over decades or longer. These changes might have a natural origin, like the sun's cyclical changes. Nonetheless, human actions, especially the combustion of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas, have been the primary cause of climate change since the 1800s.
Whenever fossil fuels are used, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. These gases work like a blanket, enclosing the planet and trapping the heat from the sun.
Carbon dioxide and methane are only two examples of the greenhouse gases humans emit, both of which contribute to global warming. They result from using fossil fuels for transportation or coal for heating. Carbon dioxide is released when land and forests are cleared. Dangerous levels of methane are released into the atmosphere from rubbish dumps. Emissions come mostly from the following sources: energy, industry, transportation, buildings, agriculture, and land use.
As an early illustration of the extensive study the oil giant performed into the science of climate change, Exxon scientists outfitted one of the company's supertankers with cutting-edge technology to detect carbon dioxide in the water and the air in the late 1970s.
Exxon's experts were astonishingly accurate in their forecasts of how much burning fossil fuels will warm the world, according to new research published Thursday in the journal Science. In many cases, their forecasts were even more precise than those of unbiased academic and government models.
No evaluation of the fossil fuel industry's climate forecasts has occurred. Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists' recorded and, in many instances, modeled predictions of future global warming between 1977 and 2003 were analyzed in this research. Most of their predictions were in line with later warming data. Also, their forecasts jived with those of separate academic and government models and were at least as accurate. In addition to their correct rejection of an impending ice age, accurate prediction of when human-caused global warming would be first detected, and reasonable estimate of the "carbon budget" for keeping warming below 2°C, Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp also deserve credit for their reasonable estimate of the "carbon budget" for keeping warming below 2°C. However, the company's scientific evidence directly contradicted its public comments on climate science topics.
According to a recent analysis of internal records kept hidden by the corporation for over five decades, ExxonMobil (previously known as Exxon and one of the world's largest oil and gas companies) had the figures on climate change as early as 1977.
In 2015, reporters for the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian found a disturbing revelation during an investigation. Scientists at Exxon and ExxonMobil authored thousands of confidential papers detailing how their goods contributed to the global climate catastrophe, which might have "dramatic environmental repercussions by the year 2050."
Experts have spent hours poring through and analyzing the findings of these studies since they were released, mostly to highlight the absurdity of ExxonMobil's decades-long push to reject the science of climate change.
The precise statistics and graphs forecast by scientists who are funded by the industry haven't been subjected to the same amount of examination, despite the fact that they seem to correlate well with current levels of fossil fuel emissions and global warming.
For the first time, scientists from Harvard University have compared the results of ExxonMobil's internal climate models to those found in the scientific literature and to the climatic reality of the present day.
Finally, the authors discovered that between 63% and 93% of the company's secret estimates made between 1977 and 2003 were accurate.
Our results show that ExxonMobil understood as much as academic and government experts did about global warming three decades ago.
Scholars, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and others had claimed that ExxonMobil correctly anticipated the threat of human-caused global warming before and concurrently orchestrated lobbying and propaganda campaigns to delay climate action. These findings "corroborate and add quantitative precision to these assertions," they write. The analysis is based on 32 internal documents produced by scientists at Exxon and ExxonMobil between 1977 and 2002 (the company Exxon merged with Mobil Oil Corp in 1999 to become ExxonMobil).
Exxon and ExxonMobil researchers used this information to examine and contrast 72 separate, peer-reviewed scientific studies published between 1982 and 2013.
ExxonMobil estimated a warming rate of 0.20 °C every decade, on average. That's in line with the estimate put forward by private experts and official agencies.
Still, the oil behemoth openly questioned climate science for years and warned against a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, the principal cause of global warming. Exxon also conducted a public relations campaign, which included advertisements in The New York Times, that focused on the ambiguities in the scientific findings on global warming.
Predictions of the effects of global warming "are based on wholly untested climate models, or, more frequently, on simple guesswork," ExxonMobil Corp's then-CEO Lee Raymond remarked at the company's annual meeting in 1999. In a corporate brochure the following year, he said, "We do not presently have sufficient scientific knowledge of climate change to make realistic projections and/or justify extreme steps."
Without mentioning the new research by name, Exxon stated in a statement, "those who speak about how 'Exxon Knew' are mistaken in their findings." This phrase is a catchphrase of environmental activists who accuse Exxon of deceiving the public about climate science.
Researchers from Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research conducted the new research. It builds on previous reporting, which demonstrated that Exxon scientists had been warning their executives about "potentially catastrophic" climate change caused by humans for decades.
The combustion of fossil fuels like oil, gas, and coal is boosting the temperature of the planet as well as the level of its oceans. This is having severe effects all around the globe, including an increase in the severity of storms, a worsening drought, and more lethal wildfires.
Even though their own scientists warned them of the hazards of climate change, other fossil fuel firms, power utilities, and automobile manufacturers have come under scrutiny for playing down the threat posed by climate change. Hundreds of lawsuits have been brought against Exxon and other firms in the last several years, accusing them of public deceit and seeking billions of dollars in climate damages.
A House committee quizzed oil executives, including the current chief executive of Exxon, Darren Woods, about whether or not their corporations had deceived the general public about the climate the year before. According to Mr. Woods, the opinions were "completely congruent" with the generally accepted theory in the scientific community at the time.
In the new research, Harvard's Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes, together with Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute, conducted a quantitative examination of global warming estimates made or documented by Exxon scientists between the years 1977 and 2003.
According to the authors, these records, which include internal memos and peer-reviewed papers published by academic researchers from outside the company, make up the largest public collection of global warming projections recorded by a single company.
According to the research findings, Exxon's estimates of global warming followed future temperature rises of around 0.2 degrees Celsius each decade. This was the average rate of global warming.
The study's findings showed that the company's experts had, in fact, ruled out the idea that the planet's warming might be attributed to human activity.
The study found that Exxon's scientists accurately predicted when human-caused global warming would first be detected, estimated how much carbon dioxide could be added to the atmosphere before warming reached a dangerous threshold, and correctly rejected the possibility of an impending ice age, even though the company continued to refer to it in its public communications. Some of the Exxon studies forecasted an increase in global temperatures that was even more dramatic than the one already occurring.
The new research was deemed to have an "extremely solid" analysis by William D. Collins, head of the Climate & Ecosystem Sciences Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who was not involved in the study.
"This is the first article that I've seen that is a clear and quantitative comparison of ExxonMobil's projections against the state of the science in the public domain," said Dr. Collins, lead author of a chapter on climate projections in a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of experts convened by the United Nations.
According to the findings, Exxon's forecasts "were quite consistent over time." They were already familiar with everything. "They've known it for decades."
When asked about Exxon's supertanker project, Edward Garvey, who was recruited in 1979 to assist top scientists, stated he was "not shocked that the science was spot on."
The ambitious and unusual study endeavor conducted by Dr. Garvey and his colleagues included installing a specialized monitoring system aboard the 500,000-ton Esso Atlantic supertanker to track carbon dioxide readings in surface water and the air while the ship sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.
Simultaneously, Exxon hired eminent university experts to lead its study on climate modeling. According to Dr. Garvey, the abundance of data the scientists gathered indicated considerable increases in carbon dioxide levels in the water around the Equator and was subsequently crucial to understanding the ocean's role in controlling warming. However, Exxon scrapped the supertanker project in 1982 when oil prices collapsed due to an oversupply.
Exxon Researched Climate Change in 1977 | FRONTLINE (7 years ago)