Exxon Knew About Climate Change In 1981 But Funded Deniers for 27 Years Anyways

It’s been a tough week for deniers of climate change. Though the vast majority of scientists have accepted climate change as decided science, climate skeptics have pointed to an apparent “pause” in global warming as proof that climate change is still unproven science.

Since the early 2000s, the overall rise in global temperatures has halted — a result of cooling temperatures on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. But research published by NASA scientists on Thursday showed that the “pause” was never really a pause at all. Gizmodo explains:

“Did climate warming stop? Nope, we just weren’t looking deep enough. Earth’s extra heat, you see, has spent the last 10 years sinking into the vast depths of the equatorial Pacific and Indian Oceans.”

This gif shows how temperatures have changed at different depths between 2003 and 2012

This gif shows how temperatures have changed at different depths between 2003 and 2012. Note that temperatures at 100-200m below the surface have risen significantly more than temperatures closer to the surface

Few companies have contributed more to climate change than ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. In terms of total emissions, Exxon is second to only ChevronTexaco as the largest investor-owned emitter of greenhouse gases, producing more than 3% of all the world’s emissions.

Now, an email from a former Exxon scientist seems to show that the company knew about the connection between fossil fuels and climate change more than three decades ago. From The Guardian:

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.

According to Bernstein, who was also a lead author on two of the United Nations’ groundbreaking climate science reports, Exxon began looking into climate change as they considered whether or not to develop Natuna, the single largest gas field in Southeast Asia.

A map of the Natuna gas field in Indonesia

A map of the Natuna gas field in Indonesia

If Bernstein’s account is accurate, it would mean that Exxon was researching the effects of climate change a whole seven years before other oil companies and the public became aware of the phenomenon (global warming became a major political issue in 1988).

But despite this research, Exxon spent the next 27 years refusing to acknowledge climate change and its potential risks. In fact, the company spent over $30 million funding researchers and institutes that denied climate change, according to a report from Greenpeace.

Bernstein’s email was a reply to an inquiry from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University that asked him about business ethics.

In response to Bernstein’s email, an Exxon spokesman said that the company’s understanding of climate science was still very limited in 1981, and that the company now sees climate change as a serious global risk.

Read the full story from The Guardian.


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