As we reported last week, InsideClimate News has an investigative series going about Exxon (a direct descendant of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, called ExxonMobil since 1999) quietly studying fossil fuels and global warming. Reporters at ICN’s Pulitzer Prize-winning website searched the record and interviewed retired Exxon employees and officials involved with the early program.
They found that in 1978, Exxon’s own scientists were telling the company that oil and gas prospecting and use contribute to global warming, and that subsequent changes would wreak havoc on the planet’s atmosphere and climate.
The reports preceded what the scientific community now sees as consensus:
- 80% of recoverable fossil fuels should be left in the ground.
- Atmospheric CO2 rise and temperature increases would be clearly apparent by 2010.
In an audio interview, Exxon spokesman Richard Keil reacts to the publicity on how the petroleum company pioneered climate change research in the 1970s and early 1980s—until it started funding political denials of the phenomenon from 1989 to 2007. “I reject that narrative,” he says.
Exxon’s denial-based spending spawned campaigns of disinformation among other petro companies, large corporations, the media, and religious that have slowed—fatally, some opine—the planet’s response to global warming. The Guardian reported yesterday that in Europe, BP is the chief obstructionist of climate action. The Influence Map study we also reported on days ago showed that nearly half of the world’s top 100 global companies have used lobbying, advertising, and influence-peddling to mislead the public and misdirect action on climate change.
Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and outspoken founder of the 350.org global grassroots climate campaign, has a few words to say about the subject in The New Yorker:
“Lee Raymond, who became the Exxon CEO in 1993—and was a senior executive throughout the decade that Exxon had studied climate science—gave a key speech to a group of Chinese leaders and oil industry executives in 1997, on the eve of treaty negotiations in Kyoto. He told them that the globe was cooling, and that government action to limit carbon emissions ‘defies common sense.’”
Rex Tillerson, Raymond’s successor, has admitted the existence of climate change. However, he told listeners in May that “mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity,” which would stand us in good stead in the case of “inclement weather” that “may or may not be induced by climate change.”
McKibben goes on:
“In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the company employed top scientists who worked side by side with university researchers and the Department of Energy, even outfitting one of the company’s tankers with special sensors and sending it on a cruise to gather CO2 readings over the ocean. By 1977, an Exxon senior scientist named James Black was, according to his own notes, able to tell the company’s management committee that there was ‘general scientific agreement’ that what was then called the greenhouse effect was most likely caused by manmade CO2; a year later, speaking to an even wider audience inside the company, he said that research indicated that if we doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere, we would increase temperatures two to three degrees Celsius.”
Ten years after Black’s statement (while Exxon scientists continued their systematic climate research), NASA scientist James Hansen told a congressional hearing that the planet was already warming. Exxon said nothing then about its own independent research, which Keil is now touting, and which totally supported Hansen’s findings. Nor did it move toward renewable technology. Instead, the hugely profitable oil and gas corporation moved to set up and/or fund extreme climate-denial campaigns.
Marvin B. Glaser, an Environmental Affairs Manager at the company, distributed an internal memo about the research on November 12, 1982.
“In a cover letter to 15 Exxon executives and managers, Glaser said the document provided guidance on the CO2 ‘Greenhouse Effect,’ which is receiving increased attention in both the scientific and popular press as an emerging environmental issue. The material has been given wide circulation to Exxon management and is intended to familiarize Exxon personnel with the subject. However, it should be restricted to Exxon personnel and not distributed externally.”
Today, Lisa Song, Neela Banerjee, David Hasemyer report in ICN that although Exxon confirmed global warming in 1982 with its in-house climate models, the company chairman later mocked climate modeling as unreliable. Apparently, from the other side of a multitalented brain, he also campaigned to stop any action to cut fossil fuel emissions.