This Oil Company Predicted (and Concealed) Warming With Unparalleled Accuracy
CLIMATE – They knew from the beginning, they didn’t say anything. In 1977, in the American offices of the oil giant ExxonMobil, experts were already working on climate change. Moreover, their calculations were excellent and their knowledge very accurate. That’s according to a new study published in the journal Science On Wednesday, January 11, it could have serious consequences for the company, which has already been sued for decades of climate change denial.
Already in 2015, investigative journalists released internal company documents that clearly showed the oil company had known about the link between fossil fuel production and global warming since the late 1970s. Exxon knew its activities would have a detrimental effect on the environment… But to what extent?
Among these documents are a number of graphs and data that Harvard University scientists decided to study closely. Their report answers the following question: “What exactly did the oil and gas companies know and how accurate was their knowledge? ». The answer is shock.
Accurate predictions are very close to current observations
So the researchers overlaid ExxonMobil’s climate projections and the current climate trajectory. The result is amazing: the curves follow each other very closely, giving predictive analysis an accuracy almost unrivaled at the time. “We find that many of their predictions accurately predict warming in line with subsequent observations.”concludes the report.
The study found that 10 of Exxon’s 16 climate predictions were consistent with subsequently observed temperatures. Of the remaining six projections, two predict more warming than observed and four predict less.
Exxon Mobile’s forecast curves are very close to climate data recorded in recent decades. Excerpt from the study “Evaluating ExxonMobil’s Global Warming Projections”, Supran et al.
According to the study, the predictions modeled by ExxonMobil scientists were the same “skill score” an average of 72%. “This score indicates very skillful predictions” scientists say. By comparison, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen’s global warming predictions presented to the US Congress in 1988 had accuracy scores ranging from 38% to 66%.
Exxon beat independent climate experts by fifteen years
And that’s not all: the oil giant was not only aware of global warming, but also knew that it was caused by the burning of fossil fuels and even set up a study. “Carbon Budget” It could keep warming below 2°C. The group’s experts even accurately predicted the date when climate change would appear.
In the early 1980s, tanker researchers believed that human-caused global warming could first be detected as positive or negative five in the year 2000. In 1995, the IPCC declared that human influence on global temperatures had been detected, a conclusion it repeated with increasing confidence in 2000 and in all subsequent assessment reports. Exxon beat independent climate experts by fifteen years.
According to reports, the oil giant continued to deny climate change
“The oil company knew as much as university and government scientists. But even though these scientists tried to convey what they know, ExxonMobil tried to deny it. Noting the study by Supran et al. Exxon’s strategy was indeed—as stated in a 1988 internal memo— “Underline the lack of certainty in the scientific results regarding the potential increase of the greenhouse effect”.
Exaggerating uncertainties, discrediting climate models, minimizing the impact of fossil fuels, convincing people of this concept “global cooling”, keeping quiet about one’s results… a communication technique used by an oil giant at work when it has precise knowledge of the subject.
Thus, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond wrote in 2000: “NWe do not have enough scientific understanding of climate change today to make reasonable predictions and/or justify drastic action… The science of climate change is uncertain…”. A 2001 press release from ExxonMobil said of the famous graph showing anthropogenic climate change: “The margins of error are enormous, but some choose to ignore them”.
In a 2005 television interview, Lee Raymond said: “There is natural variability that has nothing to do with humans. This is due to sunspots, the wobble of the Earth. » Before adding “There are many scientists who disagree with the National Academy and the IPCC.” How surprising to find that Exxon’s findings in this new study match those of the IPCC. We are close, very close fake news pure and simple, enough to force the band to justify their performance in court.
ExxonMobil is on trial for ‘climate denial’
Since 2015, several cities, counties and American states have initiated dozens of lawsuits accusing the company in the continuation of the “#ExxonKnew” (“ExxonKnow”) movement, which condemned the denial of the oil group on social networks. They accuse him of misleading his shareholders and seriously damaging the climate.
ANGELA WEISS / AFP
Climate activists protest outside the New York State Supreme Court building on the first day of the Exxon Mobil trial on October 22, 2019 in New York City.
In 2021, a US House Committee requested documents and testimony from ExxonMobil as part of an ongoing investigation into “coordinated efforts by the fossil fuel industry” on climate change. Similar criticisms are made about the French oil company Total, which has known since 1971 that its activities have a harmful effect on the climate.
Hence this new study “Death knell for claims that ExxonMobil was falsely accused of climate violations” says Geoffrey Supran, the lead author. At the very least, it brings new quantitative elements to the company’s file that can play against the oil giant.
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