Hands off to InsideClimate News! I mean after eight months of investigation, InsideClimate News presents this multi-part history of Exxon’s engagement. All with the emerging science of climate change. The story spans four decades, and is based on primary sources including internal company files dating back to the late 1970s. It includes interviews with former company employees, and other evidence. Consequently much of which is being published here for the first time.
It also describes how Exxon conducted cutting-edge climate research decades ago and then. That’s without revealing all that it had learned. How it worked at the forefront of climate denial, thereby manufacturing doubt about the scientific consensus. You know all more over that its own scientists had confirmed.
This series was named a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. It has also earned national recognition from many other quarters. That’s including the National Press Foundation, the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and the White House Correspondents’ Association. Click here to see a full listing of honors.
As InsideClimate News reporting
So Steve Knisely was an intern at Exxon Research and Engineering in the summer of 1979. All when a vice president asked him to analyze how global warming might affect fuel use.
Knisely projected that unless fossil fuel use was constrained. So there would be “noticeable temperature changes” and 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air by 2010. That’s up from about 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution. The summer intern’s predictions turned out to be very close to the mark.
In addition, Knisely even concluded that the fossil fuel industry might need to leave 80 percent of its recoverable reserves in the ground. That’s to avoid doubling CO2concentrations; a notion now known as the carbon budget. In 2013, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change formally endorsed the idea.
The report, which circulated within the company through the early 1980s. It also reflected Exxon’s growing need to understand more. I mean especially when the climate implications of increased CO2 emissions would begin to spur policy changes.
So Exxon (now ExxonMobil) shelved an ambitious but costly program that sampled carbon dioxide in the oceans. It’s the centerpiece of its climate research in the 1970s. Since it created its own computerized climate models. So the models aimed to simulate how the planet’s climate system would react to rising CO2levels. Thereby relying on a combination of mathematics, physics, and atmospheric science.
Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming’s risks.
Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They also repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless. Especially for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable. Because Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research. However its reputation for objectivity began to erode. Especially as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
This eight-month InsideClimate News investigation details Exxon’s early research into global warming. Clearly it’s based on hundreds of pages of internal documents and interviews. All consequently with former employees and scientists. The company also declined to provide comment or answer questions for this article.
So now Oil giant ExxonMobil is already fighting a climate-related investor fraud case in New York. On top of that, it has been hit with a second lawsuit. The Massachusetts Attorney General is accusing the company of defrauding investors. As well as threatening the world economy.
This newest legal blow landed Thursday in Suffolk County Superior Court in Boston. In a complaint alleging Exxon repeatedly violated the state’s consumer and investor protection law. As well as other related regulations.
The lawsuit accuses Exxon of a broad sweep of misconduct. One that includes using deceptive advertising to mislead consumers in the state. Especially about the central role its fossil fuel products play in causing climate change. It even intentionally mislead Massachusetts investors about material climate-driven risks to its business.
Beyond the fraud allegations, Attorney General Maura Healey also upbraids Exxon in the lawsuit for an on-going “green washing” marketing campaign that she says falsely touts the company as a leader in clean energy research and climate action.
Then In a new climate risk report that had been requested by its investors, ExxonMobil writes that keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius might mean cutting the use of oil by 20 percent between now and the year 2040.
But then the oil giant also makes clear that it doesn’t expect anything of the kind to happen.
Instead, Exxon’s climate risk report and its annual Energy Outlook for 2018 maintain the company’s long-standing view that both the use of its products and the resulting emissions of carbon dioxide will continue to rise until reaching a peak in 2040. It doesn’t address what happens after that date.
The climate report—”2018 Energy and Carbon Summary: Positioning for a Lower-Carbon Energy Future”—ostensibly describes the risks to the oil giant’s business plan in a world where governments impose restrictions on the use of fossil fuels in line with the targets of the Paris climate agreement, signed in 2015.
“We believe society will continue moving towards a lower carbon energy system,” Exxon avows, saying that “the beginnings of a shift” can already be observed.
But even under “daunting” scenarios that would make it possible to meet the Paris targets. Thereby implying a clean energy revolution in the next few decades.
Even then and Exxon insists it would be able to produce all the oil in its existing fields and to keep investing in new reserves. All the while also benefiting from growing use of natural gas. It says it would also seek to profit from novel approaches. That’s like capturing carbon dioxide for storage, or producing biofuels from algae. And it would try to make its own plants more efficient. Thereby lowering its internal carbon footprint.
But nothing suggests the end of fossil fuels, Exxon argues.
Even if every car in the world’s fleet were electric by the year 2040, which the company doesn’t expect, Exxon says liquid fuel demand in 2040 would be as high as it was in 2013, largely due to commercial transporation. (Exxon reckons that for every 100 million additional electric vehicles on the road, demand for fuel would drop by 1.2 million barrels a day.)
Neither the energy efficiency of the global economy, nor the carbon intensity of the energy produced to drive that growth, is likely to improve fast enough to stop emissions from rising steadily until 2040, the company says.
At that point, emissions would be 10 percent higher than they are today.
At that rate, the world would soon bust its carbon budget, the amount of additional emissions scientists say can go into the atmosphere without driving temperatures beyond the 2 degree threshold by the end of the century. Keeping emissions below that mark, and even trying to stay within 1.5 degrees of warming, is the goal of the Paris agreement, which Exxon has said it supports.
Patrick Doherty, co-director for corporate governance for New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, a leader of the shareholder call for climate risk reporting, said that the report was lacking and that his office would discuss Exxon’s response with company officials.
“The company offers too many generalizations and too few specifics on how it plans to participate in a low carbon economy,” Doherty said. “The reports rely on optimistic assumptions of undiminished growth in demand for fossil fuels in certain economic sectors, and lack a discussion of the company’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Then Inside Climate News updated their reporting on Nov. 8, 2019, with Exxon trial’s closing arguments in New York.
The wave of legal challenges that is washing over the oil and gas industry, demanding accountability for climate change, started as a ripple after revelations that ExxonMobil had long recognized the threat fossil fuels pose to the world.
Over the past few years: Two states launched fraud investigations into Exxon over climate change, and one has followed with a lawsuit that went to trial in October 2019. Nine cities and counties, from New York to San Francisco, have sued major fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate change damages. And determined children have filed lawsuits against the federal government and various state governments, claiming the governments have an obligation to safeguard the environment.
The litigation, reinforced by science, has the potential to reshape the way the world thinks about energy production and the consequences of global warming. It advocates a shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy and draws attention to the vulnerability of coastal communities and infrastructure to extreme weather and sea level rise.
From a trove of internal Exxon documents, a narrative emerged in 2015 that put a spotlight on the conduct of the fossil fuel industry. An investigative series of stories by InsideClimate News, and later the Los Angeles Times, disclosed that the oil company understood the science of global warming, predicted its catastrophic consequences, and then spent millions to promote misinformation.
Sources: Inside Climate News