ExxonMobil made accurate predictions about global warming 40 years ago
Oil company scientists made extremely accurate predictions about global warming in the 1980s.
Back in the 1980s, oil giant ExxonMobil had highly accurate predictions from its own scientists about global warming, and that turned out to be exactly what happened decades later, according to a new study released Thursday.
Despite this, the company has been openly skeptical of the state of scientific knowledge on this topic for years, as this study published in the prestigious journal Science highlights. Geoffrey Supran, co-author of the study, said that ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, “modeled and predicted global warming with extraordinary accuracy, but spent decades denying the same climate science.”
For several years now, ExxonMobil has been accused of bickering about climate change caused by large amounts of greenhouse gases released by humans into the atmosphere, particularly the burning of coal or oil for energy production. Even in the United States, several lawsuits have been initiated against the company, some of which are still ongoing. Hearings were held in the European Parliament and the US Congress.
But this is the first time that the predictions made by the team’s scientists have been systematically analyzed and compared with the predictions of other researchers at the time, as well as with actual observed warming since then. The starting point is documents — public records and scientific publications — unearthed by reporters from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times in 2015 that show the company has long known climate change is real and caused by human activity.
A first-of-its-kind 2017 study by researchers published Thursday expanded on that journalistic investigation by analyzing precisely the language the company used, first in those documents and then publicly. “But while in the past we were paying attention to the language and rhetoric in these documents, we suddenly realized that (…) there are all these charts and tables that no one knows about. “, – explained Geoffrey Supran.
“This issue has come up several times over the past few years,” a company spokesperson said. “Each time, our answer is the same: those who remind us that ‘Exxon knows’ are wrong in their conclusions.” ExxonMobil has never denied the authenticity of the documents in question. In total, the researchers analyzed 32 internal documents produced by ExxonMobil scientists between 1977 and 2002 and 72 scientific publications co-authored between 1982 and 2014.
These documents contain 16 temperature forecasts. “Ten of them were consistent with subsequent observations,” the study notes. Two of the other six predicted greater warming. On average, they predicted a warming of about 0.2°C per decade, which is indeed in line with the current pace. And the predictions made by other researchers at that time were more or less similar.
ExxonMobil “knew nothing about climate change decades ago,” says Geoffrey Supran, now a professor at the University of Miami but who conducted the work at Harvard. “They knew as much as independent and government scientists, and probably enough to take action and alert the public.” Yet group leaders have done just the opposite, the study insists, quoting former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond as saying in 2000: “We don’t have enough scientific understanding of climate change to make reasonable predictions.”
In 2013, then-CEO Rex Tillerson said there were “uncertainties” around the “primary drivers of climate change.” Some of the company’s researchers have testified before the US Congress. One of them, Martin Hoffert, was questioned by Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2019 and emphasized how accurate his predictions were, then simply replied, “We were great scientists.”
On Thursday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that it was the hottest year in the last eight years. During a press conference on this year’s temperature reports (which did not mention the study), NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt said that “exposing and shaming” individual companies “doesn’t do much” to find adequate solutions without fossil fuels. . “It’s not like we can say, ‘ExxonMobil, stop producing fossil fuels,’ and we’ve solved the problem,” he said. “All these products are used by people.”