Oil and Gas Companies Knew in 1970’s that Continuing to Burn Fossil Fuels Would Lead to a Warmer Planet – Kept Results Secret and Paid Others to Show Otherwise
2015, the hottest on record, was also the year ExxonMobil was caught in a more than three-decade lie. Internal documents revealed Exxon knew that fossil fuels cause global warming in the 1970s, but hid that information from the public. Now it turns out nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company was likely aware of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change at the same time as Exxon.
Listen to full story online at Democracy NOW!
On this last day of the year, 2015 will be remembered as a pivotal one for the environment—the warmest year on record. In only the last few days, we’ve seen an historic storm hurtling toward the North Pole, threatening to warm temperatures by more than 50 degrees above average there, while in South America a massive drought has fueled wildfires across Colombia, which has issued a red alert for more than 80 percent of the country, and at least 24 people have died in Missouri and surrounding states amidst the worst flooding in two decades, while rare tornadoes killed 11 people in Texas over the weekend. And that’s only in the last five days.
The year 2015 ended with the U.N. climate treaty in Paris. It will also be remembered as the year ExxonMobil, one of the corporations with major responsibility for climate change, was caught in a more than three-decade lie. Exposés by the Pulitzer Prize-winning InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed how Exxon concealed its own conclusions that fossil fuels cause global warming, alters the climate and melt the Arctic. Exxon knew about climate change as early as 1977. But instead of taking action, the oil giant lied to the public and funded bogus climate denial—paid for by the billions it made from practices it knew were harming the planet.
Now a new investigation reveals that in the oil industry, Exxon was not the only one with something to hide. InsideClimate News reports nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company was likely aware of the impact of fossil fuels on climate change as early as the late ’70s. From ’79 to ’83, the oil and gas industry trade group American Petroleum Institute ran a task force to monitor and share climate research. The group’s members included senior scientists and engineers from not only Exxon, but also Amoco, Phillips, Mobil, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco, Sohio and Standard Oil of California, as well as Gulf Oil, the predecessor to Chevron. Internal documents show that as early as 1979 the task force knew carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was rising steadily. The task force even briefly considered researching how to introduce a new energy source into the global market, given the research about fossil fuels’ impact on global warming. But in 1983, the task force was disbanded, and by the late ’90s, the American Petroleum Institute had launched a campaign to oppose the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted by many countries to cut fossil fuel emissions, but was never ratified by the United States.
The Exxon revelations prompted the opening of a criminal probe in New York over whether the oil company lied to the public and its investors. Exxon’s climate deception has also sparked calls for a federal probe similar to the one that led to a racketeering conviction of Big Tobacco for hiding the dangers of smoking. With these new revelations [about] Exxon’s oil industry peers, could more companies be targeted for investigation?
Neela Banerjee is a Washington-based reporter with InsideClimate News. In response to her article: “Exxon’s Oil Industry Peers Knew About Climate Dangers in the 1970s, Too.”, Banerjee answers questions from Amy Goodman of Democracy NOW!:
AMY GOODMAN: Neela, tell us just what you found.
NEELA BANERJEE: We found that as early as 1979, the oil industry—oil companies, through the American Petroleum Institute, wanted to explore the emerging science around rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And we saw this through documents that we found as part of our Exxon research. And through that, we also found the former API employee who was the director of the task force for those four years. He was—the task force was part of a broader air quality effort at API, and he filled out the picture for us, too, and that, you know, they wanted to follow the science, but that some were probably—were already doing their own modeling, though it was not as ambitious as what Exxon was doing at its site.
AMY GOODMAN: Neela, you spoke with James J. Nelson, the former director of the American Petroleum Institute’s task force on climate change, who left API in ’83. He described a shift that was taking place at the time: quote, “[API] took the environmental unit and put it into the political department, which was primarily lobbyists. They weren’t focused on doing research or on improving the oil industry’s impact on pollution. They were less interested in pushing the envelope of science and more interested in how to make it more advantageous politically or economically for the oil industry,” unquote. Expand on that.
NEELA BANERJEE: Right. And, you know, what Mr. Nelson said was that he didn’t have any issue with that. He thought that that was the right tack to take, because at that time, even though it was under the Reagan administration, the power of the EPA and regulators was growing, and so the industry felt that it was not being properly heard. And they were trying to introduce science, they were trying to get research done, they were trying to have their papers published in peer-reviewed journals. And, you know, his viewpoint, and that of the industry, was that they were—that they couldn’t get their voices heard, and they were worried about overregulation. So, rather than having scientists work on a task force and engage with policymakers, the best way to do this was to have lawyers and lobbyists, you know. And that’s how Mr. Nelson helped fill out the picture from the documents we had.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the late ’90s and look at the oil industry’s role in opposing the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted by many countries to cut fossil fuel emissions, but was never ratified by the United States. A draft action plan circulated by the American Petroleum Institute at the time read, quote, “Unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue, meaning that the Kyoto [Protocol] is defeated and there are no further initiatives to thwart the threat of climate change, there may be no moment when we can declare victory for our efforts,” they said. The American Petroleum Institute was part of a lobbying group called the Global Climate Coalition, which included Exxon and other companies. As you write in your article, Neela Banerjee, a 2001 briefing memo quotes a top State Department official thanking the GCC because Bush, quote, “rejected the Kyoto Protocol in part, based on input from you.” Explain what this memo said.
NEELA BANERJEE: This memo talked about how to influence the public—and, I think, policymakers and scientists, as well—about climate change. The interesting thing about the Global Climate Coalition, which was formed in 1989, so about a decade before this memo came out around 1998, is that they didn’t hew to a lot of the theories that climate deniers back, so, for example, that it’s sunspots or volcanoes or natural cycles. They just kept saying the science is uncertain, and it’s too uncertain to warrant drastic action on the kinds of energy we use, and economic—you know, economic ruptures because of that. So, they kept hammering away at the uncertainty, and then they came up with this communications plan to do the same. And, you know, the point that they were making, that this was unwarranted, that the science was uncertain, that we shouldn’t ratify Kyoto, I mean, it worked. It wasn’t just the GCC. I mean, there were policymakers who believed this, too. But, you know, we did not sign onto the Kyoto Protocol—or we didn’t ratify it, rather. And then, during the Bush administration, some of the key people involved in the Global Climate Coalition went on to administrative posts, top administrative posts, and worked to—some of them worked to censor science on climate change.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip from 1996, when then-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond spoke about global warming. He was also chair of the American Petroleum Institute from ’96 to ’97.
NEELA BANERJEE: Yes.
LEE RAYMOND: Proponents of the global warming theory say that higher levels of greenhouse gases are causing world temperatures to rise and that burning fossil fuels is the reason. But scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect the global climate. … Many scientists agree there’s ample time to better understand climate systems and consider policy options, so there’s simply no reason to take drastic action now.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Lee Raymond, chair of the American Petroleum Institute, that excerpt from a PBS Frontline documentary. Talk about the significance, Neela, of what he’s saying and what he actually knew.
NEELA BANERJEE: Right. So, Mr. Raymond encapsulates the talking points and the strategy of the fossil fuel industry then, and that is that the science is too uncertain to warrant drastic steps to cut emissions from fossil fuels. Now, this is at a time when the science was growing more certain, and this is, you know, nearly 20 years after Exxon’s top management was told by its scientists that CO2 levels were rising, that they could drive climate change, and that the main—you know, that the main driver of higher CO2 levels was the use of fossil fuels. So, Mr. Raymond was not part of that group in 1977 that heard that, but later on, you know, scientists at Exxon continued to tell top management about CO2 and the link to fossil fuels through the ’80s, and from what we saw in the documents and the people we spoke to, Mr. Raymond was briefed on that. Now, whether he chose to believe that, why he chose to believe it or not, you know, I can’t—I can’t tell you. But we’re pretty certain he was at least exposed to the science and told about these connections by Exxon scientists.
AMY GOODMAN: Neela, can you talk about the impact of your first huge exposé about what Exxon knew, when it knew it and what it covered up, how Exxon has responded, right up to challenging the president of Columbia University, because Columbia journalism students were involved in the investigation?
NEELA BANERJEE: Well, Exxon has said, very broadly, that the reporting is inaccurate, that we’re cherry-picking, and that they’ve never stopped doing climate research. And the issue—their talking points basically don’t address the main thrust of our stories and the stories done by Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that were published in the Los Angeles Times. None of us said that Exxon stopped doing climate research—they did not. And Exxon, yes, continued to do climate research. What Exxon has not really responded to is why, despite the research that it did through the ’70s and ’80s, and really continued doing, though on a much less ambitious scale, through the ’90s, that they took a policy position that cast enormous doubt on climate science. The closest they’ve come to responding to that is to say, “Well, you know, our policy positions and what our scientists do are different things,” which—you know, which is interesting. It makes you wonder, you know, how much science informs other decisions that they take. So that’s been the Exxon position.
They also went after the reporters at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. They wrote to Columbia University and, you know, reminded Columbia about how much money they give Columbia, and said that what the Columbia journalism school project did was entirely irresponsible. Columbia responded and said—and basically, you know, they have a lot of emails and so on to show that Exxon’s assertions could not be backed up.
With us, as I’ve said, they’ve said very general things, but they can’t point—they’ve never challenged the authenticity of the documents that we’ve shared. And we digitized more than two dozen documents, so that people can see that we’re not cherry-picking. They can read the documents themselves. Exxon actually downloaded them and then uploaded them onto their website, so you can see our documents on Exxon’s website and ours. And they’ve never pointed out how we might be misinterpreting the documents in any specific way. So, it’s been a general response.
And as you’ve mentioned, you know, there’s been a response by lawmakers to launch investigations, and there’s been a subpoena that’s been issued for documents by the New York state attorney general. We don’t think that Exxon has delivered the documents yet. And, you know, we surmise that Exxon will probably fight this for as long as they can, because that’s been their strategy in other conflicts with prosecutors.
Why Have Our Commercial and Public Media (TV, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines, Online Sources) and Officials in Federal and State Government in the United States Not Sounded the ALARM Yet on Continued Global Warming and Climate Change?
The following is a summary of a 2008 international conference entitled: “ENVIRONMENT: FROM GLOBAL WARNINGS TO MEDIA ALERT” that was held October 10 and 11, 2008, in Venice, Italy. The purpose of the conference was to challenge the international media to improve public understanding of the impact of climate change. Journalists and news executives from 29 countries representing six continents attended the conference which was held by the international World Political Forum (WPF).
Unfortunately, now almost five years after this conference was held, commercial and corporation funded TV and radio media in these United States continue to purposefully ignore said challenge by not sounding the alarm on the global warming world catastrophe in the making, as do many U.S. publicly elected government officials in federal and state government, leaving the at large public in the U.S. as confused as ever over whether human activities such as fossil fuel burning: in power plants that produce electricity; in home and business heating (natural gas; oil; propane; electric baseboard); in motor vehicle travel and product shipping, via trucks, ships, pipelines (fueling lift stations), in airplanes and in trains; and in cement making and paving the landscape (fuel burning in earth moving equipment). Another significant contributor to the growing global warming crisis is continued deforestation, worldwide, and especially the deforestation of the tropics, where previously large reductions in of carbon dioxide (CO2) were being taken out of the air by the vegetation there – through the process of photosynthesis. Less green vegetation on Earth means increasing buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere and oceans, adding to warmer global temperatures. Methane gas (unburned natural gas) that is released from oil wells, livestock, and rotting biological matter (permafrost thawing) compound the problem that is resulting in what the scientific community has called “a potentially very dangerous situation for all humanity and life on Earth and lasting far into the future. Reason is that many positive (lead to more warming) feedbacks . One such warming feedback is the loss of Earth’s albedo, where a reduction in the area of snow-covered land, ice caps, glaciers or sea ice has a compounding effect on the initial warming. As the loss of “white” snow and ice cover (the albedo) continues, the amount of solar energy absorbed by the ocean increases, leading to more warming, which reduces the albedo on the planet even more, which causes more warming, and so on. A small amount of snow melt exposes darker ground which absorbs more radiation, leading to more snowmelt.
The effect is most vividly demonstrated by the decline in Arctic sea ice in recent decades.
As humans are continuing to do things that add more heat-trapping greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the Earth’s atmosphere, the result is that climates all around Earth have been measurably and significantly changing, mostly to the detriment of humans and animal life.
The global warming that has already taken place has caused Earth’s ocean levels to rise – due to thermal expansion from increasing water temperatures and from melting glaciers on Greenland, Antarctica, and Earth’s numerous mountain ranges.
Ocean water acidification has already taken place (a 33% increase) which has already lead to significant environmental, economic, and social cost. These effects of expected to continue unabated which is expected to worsen in time, with projected increases in monetary losses, damage, and loss of human and animal life due to worse and worse “natural” disasters.
As examples of recent catastrophes suspected to have been made worse as a likely direct consequence of rising average global temperatures (global warming): in 2015 heat waves in India and Pakistan killed 1,400 and 2,500 people; in 2013, the thirtieth named storm of the 2013 Pacific typhoon season, Typhoon Haiyan — known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines – with an estimated one-minute sustained winds of 315 km/h (196 mph; 170 kn), making the typhoon the strongest tropical cyclone ever observed based on one-minute sustained wind speed and the deadliest typhoon hitting the Philippines in recorded modern history, killing 6,300 people in that country alone (dozens of fatalities from the storm were also reported in Taiwan, China and Vietnam) and according to United Nation’s officials, about 11 million people were adversely impacted by the storm with many left homeless and an economic cost in the billions of dollars; in 2012, Hurricane Sandy, which remains the largest Atlantic hurricane on record (as measured by diameter, with winds spanning 1,100 miles (1,800 km)) is estimated to have caused monetary damages of over $68 billion and killed at least 233 people along its path on the eastern U S. seaboard including New Jersey and New York; and in 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the fifth hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, was not only the costliest “natural” disaster in the history of the United States. Total property damage from Hurricane Katrina was estimated at $108 billion; the hurricane and subsequent flooding took 1,833 human lives and an undetermined number of domesticated and wild animal lives.
Yet today, incredibly – almost six years later – there remain deniers of human-caused global warming and climate change, including our State of Wisconsin’s own U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, as well as announced U.S. presidential candidate and our current governor, Scott Walker, who continue to spread the false message that Earth’s climates have not been shown to have changed as a result of human activities, to the delight of corporations that are financially benefiting from continued and more fossil fuel burning, which releases carbon dioxide gas, the most abundant of the greenhouse gases, which compounds from year to year in the atmosphere and Earth’s oceans, leading to monumental negative consequences for humanity and other life forms on Earth.
WPF’s President Mikhail Gorbachev, the eighth and last leader of the Soviet Union and General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991 when the party was dissolved, chaired the conference at which participants reached a consensus that the problem of climate change is “URGENT”.
“Time is running out,” Mr. Gorbachev said in his closing remarks. “The most efficient way to tackle the urgent environmental problems facing our planet is transparency, in which the media have a vital role to play. This means global glasnost.”
Climate experts and media delegates approved a declaration calling for higher standards of reporting on strategic options to avert irreversible damage to the Earth’s eco-systems.
Stressing the importance of well-informed public opinion, the declaration set out the following main recommendations:
– The media have the central role in ensuring that politicians, corporations, non-governmental organisations and scientists keep the general public informed about the latest facts and policy options regarding climate change. Civil society formation and action are essential components in deliberation on this issue.
– Journalists have a responsibility to improve their knowledge and skills in order to be able effectively to question government policy-makers, to distinguish facts from opinion or advocacy, and to evaluate scientific arguments from an independent viewpoint.
– Journalists and civil society should redouble their efforts to combat restrictive measures by governments on journalists reporting on their deficiencies in fighting environmental degradation or in informing the public about the dangers of climate change.
– Journalists should avail themselves of existing international databanks of validated statistics and scientific research on climate change.
– Scientists need to acquire improved communications skills to explain their findings in accessible terms and to build relationships of trust with the media.
– Media proprietors should be prepared to invest more resources in investigative reporting to allow specialist journalists to carry out serious and objective coverage of complex issues, based on a thorough understanding of good science.
– Editors should provide more space for in-depth treatment of environmental issues, not just on-line but in print and on air, and encourage innovative approaches that will grab the attention of the audience in a responsible, independent and non-sensational manner.
– Journalism training organisations should develop ever more sophisticated exercises to improve reporters’ skills in explaining complex scientific arguments. An international network should be created to share information about the availability of training courses and the development of new training models.
The Conference concluded on a positive note, declaring: “There is, however, cause for optimism if we act now. Numerous positive solutions to the global environmental change proposed by science and made possible by innovations in technology, the potential inherent in global civil society organization and by citizens’ groups everywhere in the world; and contributions from socially responsible business leaders can make it possible for us to provide for a decent and full life for all, and for generations to come, within the limits of our planet’s resources.”
Organizing committees of both the Wisconsin Senate and Wisconsin Assembly called both houses of the Wisconsin legislature into extraordinary sessions this week to pass a “right-to-work” bill, making it illegal for employers and labor unions to charge their employees and any new employees union dues as a condition of accepting employment. The Wisconsin State Journal reported in today’s newspaper edition that the full Senate could vote on this highly charged legislation (Senate Bill 44) as early as Wednesday and the Wisconsin Assembly could vote on this legislation (AB 61) as soon as Monday.
Governor Scott Walker has said he would sign the bill into law.
The Senate and Assembly organizing committees ought have called their “extraordinary” sessions to address what the State of Wisconsin ought do to protect its citizens from global warming and climate change instead. Greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and climate change are far more significant to the future of Wisconsin than are unions charging union dues in the state.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.
Article that received most views: “Homeless Children in the United States” (Nov. 2014)
Is the Earth one of many habitable planets in the universe, or are human beings alone, the product of a lucky fluke? Author of “Lucky Planet: Why Earth is Exceptional–and What That Means for Life in the Universe”, David Waltham says it’s more likely the latter, thanks to our planet’s unusually stable climate and early development of life.
But whether Earth’s climate can still said to be “stable” is now, unfortunately, open to question. We humans have have relied far too extensively on fossil fuel burning – especially coal, oil (gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, propane, fuel oil) and natural gas (methane), which all emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere upon combustion, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. What Earth needs now is another kind of revolution, a peaceful revolution, but where humans use their own physical power and the energy of the Sun and the wind and rid themselves from the over-dependence on burning fossil fuels. Read about a plan to do just that right here and then sign the petition to our elected governmental officials demanding they undertake the necessary changes to make this happen before its too late! Thank you.
Rather than ignoring global warming as the very real problem that it is and that requires major governmental action now, Dane County is accepting the scientific reality of the problem and is preparing for the continuing threats that climate change will bring. According to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi: “we are taking a step back and looking at how the climate is changing and the types of events that are likely to happen”, he said in a Wisconsin State Journal(WSJ) article (April 14, 2013). “We’re going to assess our readiness”, he said. University of Wisconsin-Extension climate change expert David Lieble agreed: “Wisconsin has seen — and probably will continue to see — more heavy rain and flooding in spring and fall, and longer heat waves and dry spells in summer.” So Dane County has initiated a major study aimed at ensuring local government in Dane County will meet the new challenges posed by more extreme weather that climate change (global warming) will usher in.
“There have been more days with temperatures of 90 degrees or hotter, a steady decline in the length of time when lakes are frozen, and significantly higher rainfall totals along with more individual storms dumping more than 2 inches of rain”, Parisi said. The county could conclude that more cooling shelters are needed in certain area on sweltering summer days, or that lake levels need to be lowered to accommodate sudden, heavy rains, Lieble said.
Representatives from more than a dozen county government departments will be led by Dane County Emergency Management Director Charles Tubbs in what has been billed as “the first comprehensive effort of its kind” addressing Wisconsin’s changing climate, according to the WSJ report. The report is due by September, 2013.
- WISC Editorial Agenda 2013 – Our Climate – Dane Council (channel3000.com)
- Coming up this week on ‘UPFRONT with Mike Gousha’ (wisn.com)
- Parisi creates new Dane County Climate Change Action Council (channel3000.com)