ExxonMobil’s own global warming projections betray the company’s lies


Exxon accurately predicted global warming, because the oil company’s scientists knew the truth before executives began casting doubt on climate science to protect profits because they would rather make money than prevent planetary disaster.

For decades, some members of the fossil fuel industry tried to convince the public that a causative link between fossil fuel use and climate warming could not be made because the models used to project warming were too uncertain, while in reality, those same corporate executives have known for decades that their products cause dangerous global warming.

Geoffrey Supran, a research associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University, and his colleagues show that one of those fossil fuel companies, ExxonMobil, had its own internal models that projected warming trajectories consistent with those forecast by the independent academic and government models.

Working with Stefan Rahmstorf, a German oceanographer and climatologist, and Naomi Oreskes, a professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University, Supran discovered that what the Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists understood about climate models actually contradicted what the company’s public relations team and lobbyists tried to lead the public to believe.

“A new peer-reviewed academic study of Exxon’s decades of climate deceit is huge for climate litigation throughout the US and world,” said environmental lawyer Steven Donziger. “Evidence of industry wrongdoing is indisputable.”

Climate projections by the fossil fuel industry have never previously been assessed.

“On the basis of company records, we quantitatively evaluated all available global warming projections documented by—and in many cases modeled by—Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists between 1977 and 2003,” wrote Supran and his associates. “We find that most of their projections accurately forecast warming that is consistent with subsequent observations. Their projections were also consistent with, and at least as skillful as, those of independent academic and government models.”

ExxonMobil had information to show they were causing catastrophic harm to our atmosphere but it covered up those facts to prevent government action that would stop the destructive behavior and potentially threaten profits.

In other words, the company put making money ahead of saving lives while it had information as good as or better than anything to which environmentalists, academics or regulatory agencies had access.

“Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp also correctly rejected the prospect of a coming ice age, accurately predicted when human-caused global warming would first be detected, and reasonably estimated the ‘carbon budget’ for holding warming below 2°C,” said the researchers. “On each of these points, however, the company’s public statements about climate science contradicted its own scientific data.”

In 2015, investigative journalists uncovered internal company documents showing that Exxon scientists have been warning their executives about “potentially catastrophic” anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming since at least 1977.

Researchers and journalists have subsequently unearthed additional documents showing that the US oil and gas industry writ large—by way of its trade association, the American Petroleum Institute—has been aware of potential human-caused global warming since at least the 1950s; the coal industry since at least the 1960s; electric utilities, Total oil company, and General Motors and Ford motor companies since at least the 1970s; and Shell oil company since at least the 1980s.

“In 2017, we used content analysis to demonstrate that Exxon’s internal documents, as well as peer-reviewed studies authored or coauthored by Exxon and ExxonMobil Corp scientists, overwhelmingly acknowledged that global warming is real and human-caused,” said Supran. “

“By contrast, we found that the majority of Mobil and ExxonMobil Corp’s public communications promoted doubt on the matter. Cities, counties, and states have accordingly filed dozens of lawsuits variously accusing ExxonMobil Corp and other companies of deceit and responsibility for climate damages,” said Supran.

Those lies compound the problems now facing the companies, as law enforcement and consumers seek justice for the recklessness of covering up such a great danger.

“The attorney general of Massachusetts, for instance, alleges that ExxonMobil has had a ‘long-standing internal scientific knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change’ and waged ‘public deception campaigns’ that misrepresented that knowledge,” said Supran. “Civil society campaigns seeking to hold fossil fuel interests accountable for allegedly misleading shareholders, customers, and the public about climate science have emerged under monikers such as #ExxonKnew, #ShellKnew, and #TotalKnew.”

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