ExxonMobil predicted climate change during 1970s with inhouse high-end research

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By Gael Camba
ExxonMobil led high-end research forecasting climate change to only undermine similar findings to protect its core industry.
ExxonMobil led high-end research forecasting climate change to only undermine similar findings to protect its core industry.   -   Copyright  Gene J. Puskar/AP

Scientists working for oil giant ExxonMobil in the 1970s predicted global warming with great accuracy. That's according to a new study in the journal Science based on the company's internal documents.

Exxon scientists forecast that the Earth would heat by about 0.2°C per decade due to the emission of greenhouse gases produced by oil and coal, matching current studies and findings.

Not only was the company aware of climate change, but it forecast the phenomenon with equal or better precision than government and academic scientists, the study found.

Climate change denial

Despite this knowledge, Exxon publicly contradicted its own scientists for decades, saying that 'uncertainties' remained over the impact of burning fossil fuels.

The company has been the target of numerous lawsuits that claim it was aware of the damage its oil and gas production caused but also that it misled the public into doubting the reality of climate change.

Excerpt from the study: G. Supran, S. Rahmstorf and N. Oreskes / "Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections"
ExxonMobil projections showing human-induced climate changeExcerpt from the study: G. Supran, S. Rahmstorf and N. Oreskes / "Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections"

The projections made by Exxon scientists fit strict standards for accuracy, from 63% to 83% while the climate forecast presented by NASA scientist Dr James Hansen to US Congress in 1988, had a 38% to 66% precision.

The oil company even predicted in the early '80s, that human-induced global heating would be detected around 2000. Exxon scientists were right, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessed in 1995 that human-induced climate change was detected.

'Exxon knew'

Inside Climate News media, the Los Angeles Times and many activists, journalists and scientists reported that "Exxon knew" about climate change since about 1977 while deceiving the public.

"This issue has come up several times in recent years and, in each case, our answer is the same: those who talk about how ‘Exxon Knew’ are wrong in their conclusions", said Todd Spitler, Exxon spokesman.

“Some have sought to misrepresent facts and ExxonMobil’s position on climate science, and its support for effective policy solutions, by recasting well intended, internal policy debates as an attempted company disinformation campaign", added Spitler.

ExxonMobil pledged in January 2022 to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. A decision that follows the arrival of the hedge fund, Engine N°1, at Exxon's board of directors.