Exxon hid the truth for 50 years

Exxon oil giant "predicted global warming accurately and skillfully" and ridiculed scientific findings for decades to protect its business.

Source: Jutarnji.hr
Foto: shutterstock, mmmx
Foto: shutterstock, mmmx

Numerous internal documents and scientific research have already shown that "Exxon" was very well aware of the dangers caused by global warming as early as the early 1970s, with solid evidence that the oil industry knew about the risk even earlier – as documents from the 1950s show.

After that, to prevent any attempt to reduce the use of fossil fuels, they successfully mobilized anti-science forces.

Still, a new study clearly shows that Exxon scientists created very accurate and precise projections from the 1970s onwards, predicting an upward curve in global temperature and carbon dioxide emissions, close to what actually happened once the world began to heat up at an incredible speed.

"Exxon" scientists predicted that the global temperature increase will be about 0.2 degrees Celsius due to the greenhouse gases emission from burning oil, coal, and other fossil fuels. The new analysis, published by the Science Journal, found that Exxon's scientists were highly skilled and that their estimates were "fully consistent with independent academic and government models."

Geoffrey Supran, whose previous research into historical industry documents helped shed light on exactly what Exxon and other oil companies knew, says it was amazing to see how Exxon's projections aligned so closely with what actually happened years later.

"This really sums up what Exxon knew, years before many of us were born," said Supran, Head of the Research Analysis Department at Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research.

"Now we have evidence showing that they correctly predicted global warming years before they started attacking the science. These charts prove that 'Exxon' knew and deliberately misled."

The research analyzed more than 100 internal documents and peer-reviewed scientific papers, which were created sometime between 1977 and 2014 either by Exxon scientists and managers or by shared authorship with independent scientific organizations.

The analysis showed that Exxon deliberately rejected the idea that the world was heading for an inevitable ice age, which was discussed in the 1970s, and instead predicted that the planet was threatened by a "super-interglacial" (a period between two ice ages) caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide. Exxon scientists also determined that human-induced global warming would be detected sometime around the year 2000, and projected a "carbon budget" to keep warming at 2 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era.

Knowing this, Exxon has embarked on a long-running campaign to ridicule or discredit what scientists have confirmed. In 2013, Rex Tillerson, the company's CEO at that time, said that climate models were not "competent" and that there were "uncertainties" about the impact of burning fossil fuels on the global climate. "Their research was conducted in silence and only when it became necessary for strategic reasons to deal with an existential threat to their business they stood up and rebelled against science," said Supran.

"They could support their scientists, not deny their knowledge. It would be much harder to deny that the big oil player supported science instead of attacking it." Climate scientists say the new study highlights an important chapter in the effort to tackle the climate crisis.

"It's a very unfortunate circumstance that the company not only didn't pay attention to the inherent risks of the data obtained but decided to support unscientific ideas instead of just delaying action - probably in an effort to make even more money," says Nathalie Mahowald, a climate expert with Cornell University.

Mahowald said the delays in launching the Exxon-backed actions had "strong implications" because earlier investments in solar and wind energy could have prevented current and some future climate disasters.

"If we include the impact of air pollution and climate change, their actions have probably negatively affected thousands, if not millions of people," she added.

Drew Schindel, a climate scientist at Duke University, called the new study a "detailed and powerful analysis" and said Exxon's inaccurate public comments about the climate crisis were "particularly brazen" given that its scientists worked alongside independent researchers to estimate the impact of global warming. But Schindel also said it was difficult to conclude that Exxon's scientists were any better than outside scientists.

The new paper sheds light on Exxon's misinformation, said Robert Brule, an environmental policy expert at Brown University who completed research on climate misinformation spread by the fossil fuel industry.

"I'm sure the current effort to hold Exxon accountable will take this study into account," Brule said, referring to the various lawsuits aimed at making oil companies pay for the climate damage they've caused.

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