Exxon Mobil’s scientists were remarkably accurate in their predictions about global warming, even as the company made public statements that contradicted its own scientists’ conclusions, a new study finds.
The study in the journal Science looked at research that Exxon funded that didn’t just confirm what climate scientists were saying, but used more than a dozen different computer models that forecast the coming warming with precision equal to or better than government and academic scientists.
This was during the same time that the oil giant publicly doubted that warming was real and dismissed climate models’ accuracy. Exxon stated that its knowledge of climate change has improved over time and critics misunderstand its older research.
Scientists, governments, activists and news sites, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, several years ago reported that “Exxon knew” about the science of climate change since about 1977 all while publicly casting doubt.
What the new study does is detail how accurate Exxon-funded research was.
From 63% to 83% of those projections fit strict standards for accuracy and generally predicted correctly that the globe would warm about . 36 degrees (. 2 degrees Celsius) a decade.
The Exxon-funded science was “actually astonishing” in its precision and accuracy, said study co-author Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard science history professor. But, she added, so was the “hypocrisy because so much of the Exxon Mobil disinformation for so many years … was the claim that climate models weren’t reliable.”
Study lead author Geoffrey Supran, who started the work at Harvard and now is an environmental science professor at the University of Miami, said this is different than what was previously found in documents about the oil company.
“We’ve dug into not just to the language, the rhetoric in these documents, but also the data. And I’d say in that sense, our analysis really seals the deal on ‘Exxon Knew,'” Supran said. It “gives us airtight evidence that Exxon Mobil accurately predicted global warming years before, then turned around and attacked the science underlying it.”
The paper quoted then-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond in 1999 as saying future climate “projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or more often, sheer speculation,” while his successor in 2013 called models “not competent.”
Exxon: Internal policy debates
Exxon’s understanding of climate science developed along with the broader scientific community. Its four decades of research in climate science resulted in more than 150 papers, including 50 peer-reviewed publications, said company spokesman Todd Spitler.
“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,” Spitler said in an emailed statement. “Some have sought to misrepresent facts and Exxon Mobil’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.”
Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has been the target of numerous lawsuits that claim the company knew about the damage its oil and gas would cause to the climate, but misled the public by sowing doubt about climate change. In the latest such lawsuit, New Jersey accused five oil and gas companies including Exxon of deceiving the public for decades while knowing about the harmful toll fossil fuels take on the climate. Similar lawsuits have been filed in New York and California alleging that Exxon, along with other oil and natural gas companies, launched public relations campaigns designed to raise doubts regarding climate change. In one, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Exxon’s public relations efforts were ” reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s long denial campaign about the dangerous effects of cigarettes.”
Oil giants including Exxon and Shell were accused in congressional hearings in 2021 of spreading misinformation about climate, but executives from the companies denied the accusations.
University of Illinois atmospheric scientist professor emeritus Donald Wuebbles told The Associated Press that in the 1980s he worked with Exxon-funded scientists and wasn’t surprised by what the company knew or the models. This is what scientists and others who looked into the matter knew.
“It was clear that Exxon Mobil knew what was going on,” Wuebbles said. The problem was that they paid people to spread misinformation. That’s the big issue.”
There’s a difference between the “hype and spin” that companies do to get you to buy a product or politicians do to get your vote and an “outright lie … misrepresenting factual information and that’s what Exxon did,” Oreskes said.
Harm from fossil fuels
Several outside scientists and activists said what the study showed about Exxon actions is serious.
“The harm caused by Exxon has been huge,” said University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck. “They knew that fossil fuels, including oil and natural gas, would greatly alter the planet’s climate in ways that would be costly in terms of lives, human suffering and economic impacts. And yet, despite this understanding they choose to publicly downplay the problem of climate change and the dangers it poses to people and the planet.”
Cornell University climate scientist Natalie Mahowald asked: “How many thousands (or more) of lives have been lost or adversely impacted by Exxon Mobil’s deliberate campaign to obscure the science?”
Critics say Exxon’s past actions on climate change undermine its claims that it’s committed to reducing emissions. InfluenceMap is a company that tracks corporate lobbying by hundreds of companies on climate change policy. It found that Exxon was actively opposing the Paris Agreement goals and that Exxon currently ranks among the most influential and negative corporations stopping climate policy. All the evidence we’ve seen suggests that efforts to stop climate action continue to this day. This includes prioritizing oil and gas industries from the “potentially existsential” threat of climate disruption, said Faye Holder (programme manager at InfluenceMap).
“The messages of denial and delay may look different, but the intention is the same.”
The post Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming for decades, study says appeared first on CBS News.