Since 1977, Exxon Knew It Would Cause Climate Catastrophe, New Research Proves

Sophie Hirsh - Author

Jan. 13 2023, Published 3:15 p.m. ET

Exxon Scientists Climate Change
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Michele Vaughan and Ashlee Whitaker, both of Dallas, protest outside the ExxonMobil annual shareholders meeting at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center May 28, 2008 in Dallas, Texas.

Climate scientists, activists, and many others have long accused the fossil fuel industry of falsely telling the public that fossil fuels are safe, and denying that their scientists knew how these products would cause global warming.

Most widely, people have criticized ExxonMobil for this — there's even a campaign called #ExxonKnew, about how the oil and gas corporation Exxon knew about climate change.

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Now, a new report has found that Exxon scientists not only knew about the global warming its products would cause, but also that the company had its own models projecting this exact harm, providing more evidence that Exxon grossly misled the public. Keep reading for the details of these new findings.

Exxon Scientists Climate Change
Source: Getty Images
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Exxon scientists knew how fossil fuels would cause global warming back in 1977.

The new study, published in the journal Science in January 2023, is the first research to assess the fossil fuel industry's climate projections, according to the authors.

As explained in the study, 2015 was when investigative journalists first discovered documents implying that since the 1970s, Exxon knew about how fossil fuels could cause global warming — and that others in the oil and gas industry knew this since the 1950s.

During that time period, many people in the fossil fuel sector told the public that the models they used to project the connection between fossil fuels and global warming were not conclusive; they told the public that they had no proof fossil fuels would harm the planet.

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In fact, as the study notes, a 1988 Exxon memo revealed that the company's public relations approach was to “emphasize the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced greenhouse effect.” Seriously.

So, the authors of this new study set out to find more proof that Exxon knew — and knew it well.

Climate Change Protest
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Activists gather in John Marshall Park for the Global Climate Strike protests on Sept. 20, 2019 in Washington.

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To conduct their research, the authors went into Exxon's company records, and qualitatively analyzed the corporation's global heating projections from between 1977 and 2003.

These projections included accurately: Modeling how burning fossil fuels would cause global warming; determining when humans would first detect anthropogenic global warming; figuring out that there was no chance an ice age was imminent; and even estimating that the planet would need to keep global heating below 2 degrees Celsius.

"We find that most of their projections accurately forecast warming that is consistent with subsequent observations," the authors wrote, adding that these projections were highly advanced, as well as similar to predictions made by academics and governments.

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"Yet, whereas academic and government scientists worked to communicate what they knew to the public, ExxonMobil worked to deny it," the authors stated.

"What they understood about climate models thus contradicted what they led the public to believe," the authors also said. "On each of these points, however, the company’s public statements about climate science contradicted its own scientific data."

This research provides even more proof that #ExxonKnew exactly how calamitous its products were — and the lengths to which the corporation went to cover that up. And the reason for this, as with so many other issues, comes down to money.

By allegedly deceiving the public, Exxon was able to profit off of setting our shared home — the Earth — on fire. It's no surprise that many have filed lawsuits against Exxon, BP, Chevron, and Shell for spreading this disinformation.

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