Report: Exxon Ignored Its Own Internal Climate Change Warnings

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Source: YouTube/Frontline

Source: YouTube/Frontline

Oil giant Exxon Mobile has for decades been one of the biggest opponents to the idea that human activity has contributed to climate change, but newly discovered internal documents show the company knew of the dangers as far back as 1977.

A Frontline investigation, along with the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization InsideClimate News, found documents from the late 70’s that show Exxon’s own research scientists warned company executives that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were increasing and that the burning of fossil fuels was to blame.

The investigation found that Exxon spent more than a decade studying the impact of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere to try to understand if the oceans could absorb the increase.

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“In 1978, the Exxon researchers warned that a doubling of CO2 levels in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius and would have a major impact on the company’s core business,” wrote Frontline.

In the internal documents, one scientist wrote, “Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Just several years later, the warnings would become more urgent.

From the company’s environmental affairs office, a 1982 document said that to prevent global warming, there would have to be a sharp reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Without reversing course, it could result in “some potentially catastrophic events” that “might not be reversible.”

The document was labeled “not to distributed externally.”

But as has been the case, Exxon did not heed those warnings and their “energy strategy” has in fact pushed in the exact opposite direction. For decades the company has funded climate change denial and joined the chorus of “the scientific evidence remains inconclusive,” despite an overwhelming majority (95%) of scientists agreeing that climate change is largely being fueled by human activity.

Edward Garvey, one of Exxon’s researchers in the video above, explains the company’s negligence best:

“There was no questioning that… that the atmospheric carbon dioxide was increasing, that atmospheric carbon dioxide was gonna change the climate in some fashion. The question was how fast, how much, and what kind of impacts would it have … overall to the planet.”

The company knew of the “potentially catastrophic events” of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere almost 40 years ago, but choose to ignore it – and promote the opposite – because of the impacts on its bottom line.

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