As part of the Climate Desk partnership, this article was originally published by the Guardian and is being reprinted here.
In order to save its primary business, the oil company Exxon spent decades publicly discrediting such science despite making accurate and skillful predictions about global warming in private.
Exxon knew about the risks of global warming as early as the 1970s, according to a vast collection of internal records and research papers, and other oil sector bodies knew about the issue as early as the 1950s. They actively and effectively mobilized against the research to thwart any attempts to cut back on the usage of fossil fuels.
However, a recent study has shown that Exxon’s scientists were startlingly accurate in their predictions from the 1970s onwards, projecting an upward curve of global temperatures and carbon dioxide emissions that closely matched what actually transpired as the world heated up at a rate not seen in millions of years.
Exxon experts estimated that the burning of coal, oil, and other fossil fuels would release gases that would heat the world by around 0.2C per decade. The latest analysis, which was published in Science, reveals that Exxon’s science was quite competent and that its estimates were at least as accurate as those made by independent academic and governmental models.
It was astounding to see Exxon’s estimates match up so perfectly with what ultimately occurred, according to Geoffrey Supran, whose prior studies of historical industry archives helped shed light on what Exxon and other oil businesses knew.
According to Supran, who oversaw the analysis carried out by academics from Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, this really captures what Exxon knew, years before most of us were even born.
The smoking gun presently in front of us is that they correctly forecast global warming years before they began criticizing science. These graphs demonstrate how Exxon’s knowledge and deceit were mutually supportive.
Between 1977 and 2014, the study examined more than 100 internal papers and peer-reviewed scientific articles that were either created internally by Exxon scientists and managers or co-authored by Exxon scientists in other publications.
According to the analysis, Exxon correctly predicted that the Earth would experience a super-interglacial caused by carbon dioxide rather than the potential ice age that was suggested in the 1970s. Scientists from the company discovered that global warming was caused by humans and will be noticed around the year 2000. They also forecasted the carbon budget needed to keep the warming below 2C over pre-industrial levels.
With this information in hand, Exxon launched a protracted campaign to downplay or refute what its own scientists had confirmed. Rex Tillerson, the oil company’s chief executive at the time, stated that there are uncertainties regarding the effects of burning fossil fuels and that the climate models are insufficient.
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They effectively kept quiet while working on this, speaking out against the research only when it became strategically important to address the existential threat to their company, according to Supran.
Instead of rejecting their science, they could have supported it. If the head of big oil had been supporting the science rather than criticizing it, it would have been far more difficult to refute it.
According to climate scientists, the new study highlighted a crucial phase of the fight against the global problem. It is extremely regrettable that the company not only disregarded the risks implied by this information but also decided to support unfounded theories in order to postpone taking action, probably in an effort to increase profits, according to Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University.
Mahowald claimed that the Exxon-aided action delays had significant ramifications because earlier investments in solar and wind energy could have prevented both present and future climate catastrophes. She went on to say that their activities probably had a negative impact on thousands to millions of people if we take into account the effects of air pollution and climate change.
Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University, said the new study was a detailed, robust analysis and that Exxon s misleading public comments about the climate crisis were especially brazen given their scientist’s involvement in working with outside researchers in assessing global heating. However, Shindell said it was difficult to say if Exxon’s experts were any more adept at this than those from other institutions.
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According to Robert Brulle, an environmental policy expert at Brown University who has studied the climate denial propagated by the fossil fuel industry, the new effort served to further amplify Exxon’s misinformation.
I m sure that the ongoing efforts to hold Exxon accountable will take note of this study, Brulle said, a reference to the various lawsuits aimed at getting oil companies to pay for climate damages.