‘Exxon knew’: Oil company accurately predicted climate crisis in 70’s

Scientists have uncovered accurate and skilful predictions of the climate crisis by oil giant ExxonMobil back in the 1970’s. 

The research puts solid evidence to allegations that the company knew about the devastating consequences of fossil fuels decades ago.  

ExxonMobil went on to undermine public opinion on the science and lobby against effective climate action, with thinktank InfluenceMap finding last year that they were one of the worst offenders for obstructing climate policies.  

Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research discovered that Exxon predicted the burning of fossil fuels would cause global temperatures to increase by 0.2 degrees each decade.  

red and white stop sign under blue sky during daytime

Authors of the report wrote: ‘We find that most of their projections accurately forecast warming consistent with subsequent observations. Their projections were also consistent with, and at least as skillful as, those of independent academic and government models.’  

Reports that Exxon knew about the damaging effects of fossil fuels first came to light in 2015, but this is the first time the company’s research has been reviewed.  

32 internal documents and 72 peer-reviewed publications authored or co-authored by Exxon scientists, dating from 1977 to 2014, were analysed in the study.  

The results reveal scientists working for the oil giant were startlingly accurate, with 63-88% of global heating predictions consistent with subsequently observed temperatures.  

In fact, they had an average ‘skill score’ of 72%, even scoring as high as 99% if some circumstances, while NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen’s predictions presented to the U.S. Congress in 1988 only scored between 38% to 66%.  

ExxonMobil also correctly opposed the idea the world was heading into a new ice age, a theory considered in the 1970’s.  

Exxon scientists also accurately predicted that human-caused global heating would be detected in the year 2000 and made reasonable estimations on the ‘carbon budget’ for keeping warming below 2°C.  

‘This is the nail-in-the-coffin of ExxonMobil’s claims that it has been falsely accused of climate malfeasance,’ said lead author and Harvard University Research Associate Geoffrey Supran. ‘Our analysis shows that ExxonMobil’s own data contradicted its public statements, which included exaggerating uncertainties, criticizing climate models, mythologizing global cooling, and feigning ignorance about when — or if — human-caused global warming would be measurable, all while staying silent on the threat of stranded fossil fuel assets.’  

In 2013, former chief executive Rex Tillerson said denied the science on the climate crisis, saying it was ‘not competent’ and could not prove the damaging effects of fossil fuels.  

Then last October the company’s current chief executive Darren Woods was accused of lying to Congress about its cover up of how fossil fuels cause global heating.  

Authors of the study say their findings prove ‘assertions by scholars, journalists, lawyers, politicians, and others that ExxonMobil accurately foresaw the threat of human-caused global warming, both prior and parallel to orchestrating lobbying and propaganda campaigns to delay climate action, and refute claims by ExxonMobil Corp and its defenders that these assertions are incorrect.’  

The results could have a huge impact on efforts to hold the company accountable – in May it was ruled that ExxonMobil must face court over accusations it had covered up the impacts of burning fossil fuels and its role in exacerbating devastating climate change.  

Photo by Justin


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