Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels’ Role in Global Warming Decades Ago

Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions.

Inside Climate News, By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song & David Hasemyer, September 16

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon’s leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon’s Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.


Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

Multi-part series available: Exxon: The Road Not Taken.
LAT: What Exxon knew about the Earth’s melting Arctic, October 9

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  • Exxon takes aim at Columbia University journalists over climate reports

    Politico, By Elana Schor & Hadas Gold, November 30

    ExxonMobil is hurling ethics accusations against a team of Columbia University journalists whose reporting helped stoke calls for probes into whether the company deliberately misled the public about climate change.

    The oil giant went on the offensive in a Nov. 20 letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO. It comes as investigations by the Columbia journalists in the Los Angeles Times and a separate report by the nonprofit website InsideClimate News continue to stoke Democratic calls for a federal probe into whether the company concealed its internal understanding of the global warming threat posed by burning fossil fuels. Exxon, which through its foundation gave more than $200,000 to the university last year, addressed the letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger and sent a copy to university trustees.

    In the letter, Exxon Vice President for Public and Government Affairs Kenneth Cohen accuses a Columbia journalism professor and her team of potentially violating the university’s policy on research misconduct by downplaying or ignoring information provided by the company. Cohen asks Bollinger for an opportunity to discuss “the possible remedies available to us” and seems to suggest the episode may damage Exxon’s relationship with the university in the future.

  • The World’s Biggest Bribe Scandal

    In the list of the world’s great companies, Unaoil is nowhere to be seen. But for the best part of the past two decades, the family business from Monaco has systematically corrupted the global oil industry, distributing many millions of dollars worth of bribes on behalf of corporate behemoths including Samsung, Rolls-Royce, Halliburton and Australia’s own Leighton Holdings.

    Now a vast cache of leaked emails and documents has confirmed what many suspected about the oil industry, and has laid bare the activities of the world’s super-bagman as it has bought off officials and rigged contracts around the world.

    The Age, March 31

    A massive leak of confidential documents has for the first time exposed the true extent of corruption within the oil industry, implicating dozens of leading companies, bureaucrats and politicians in a sophisticated global web of bribery and graft.

    After a six-month investigation across two continents, Fairfax Media and The Huffington Post can reveal that billions of dollars of government contracts were awarded as the direct result of bribes paid on behalf of firms including British icon Rolls-Royce, US giant Halliburton, Australia’s Leighton Holdings and Korean heavyweights Samsung and Hyundai.

    The investigation centres on a Monaco company called Unaoil, run by the jet-setting Ahsani clan. Following a coded ad in a French newspaper, a series of clandestine meetings and midnight phone calls led to our reporters obtaining hundreds of thousands of the Ahsanis’ leaked emails and documents.

    The trove reveals how they rub shoulders with royalty, party in style, mock anti-corruption agencies and operate a secret network of fixers and middlemen throughout the world’s oil producing nations.

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