The Exxon company, as well as other corporations in the fossil fuel industry, had known for decades with great precision the evidence of climate change and how it was caused by man. However, they refrained from releasing that information to the public, according to new revelations from a report in Science. This new information shows that Exxon knew these climate impacts in detail, as its climate models correctly predicted the warming.
Exxon is known to have known since the late 1970s that its fossil fuel products could cause global warming with “dramatic environmental effects before the year 2050.” And likewise, additional documents later showed that the largest trade association in the US oil and gas industry had known of this circumstance since at least the 1950s. And so did the industry. from coal (since at least the 1960s), electric utilities, the Total oil company as well as motor companies GM and Ford since at least the 1970s, according to Science.
Academics and journalists have analyzed the texts contained in these documents, and have provided explanations of the knowledge that these corporate interests had about climate science and its implications.
This research shows, for example, that in 2017 internal Exxon documents, as well as peer-reviewed studies published by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists, overwhelmingly recognized that climate change is real and human-caused. However, “most of the public communications from Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp promoted doubts in this regard.”
accurate climate projections
Many of the documents released to the fossil fuel industry include explicit projections of the amount of warming that is expected to occur over time in response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
What exactly did the oil and gas companies know, and how accurate did they turn out to be? The report addresses these questions by reporting and analyzing all known global warming projections documented and in many cases modeled by scientists at Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp between 1977 and 2003.
“Our results show that in private and academic circles since the late 1970s and early 1980s, ExxonMobil predicted global warming correctly and adroitly,” say the lead authors (G. Supran, S. Rahmstorf, and N. Oreskes).
Using established statistical techniques, they have concluded that between 63 and 83% of climate projections reported by ExxonMobil scientists were accurate in predicting subsequent global warming.
ExxonMobil’s projected average warming was 0.20°C per decade, which is within the degree of uncertainty expressed by independent academic and government projections published between 1970 and 2007.
The range of uncertainty of the ExxonMobil climate models were also similar to those of the independent models.
And ruled out an ice age
Furthermore, the authors note that ExxonMobil scientists correctly ruled out the possibility of a coming ice age in favor of a “super-interglacial” epoch induced by carbon dioxide emissions. They also accurately predicted that human-caused global warming would first be detectable in the year 2000 (±5); and reasonably estimated the amount of CO2 that would lead to dangerous warming.
Currently, dozens of cities, counties and states are suing oil and gas companies for their longstanding “inside scientific knowledge” of the causes and consequences of climate change and campaigns of public deception.
The European Parliament and the US Congress have held hearings on the matter, and US President Joe Biden has vowed to hold fossil fuel companies accountable.
In parallel, a social movement called #ExxonKnew has emerged.
The time of repair
“Our findings demonstrate that ExxonMobil not only knew something about global warming decades ago, but knew as much as academic and government scientists. But while those scientists worked to communicate what they knew, ExxonMobil worked to deny it”, say the authors of the work.
All this led to the company “overemphasizing” the idea of “uncertainties, denigrating climate models, mythologizing global cooling, feigning ignorance about the discernibility of human-caused warming, and keeping quiet about the possibility that fossil fuels become stranded assets” in a world that cannot support so much excess carbon.