Action and climate change: what is known and what is not known

With Pulitzer Prize ambitions, Climate news inside (ICN) In 2015, Exxon published an investigative series on “shifting to the forefront of climate rejection” from “Advanced Climate Research”, raising doubts about the scientific consensus that its own scientists have confirmed. Entered nine articles by four early authors ICNIts eight-month effort that included interviews and in-depth archival research.

The story features Exxon (and later, Exxon Mobil) employees – some, newly hired scientists – who have given their views on climate science and carbon dioxide (CO), some terrible opinions.2) And global warming.

ICNIts series (published together) Action: The Road was not taken) Left important questions unanswered:

  1. Exxon’s research company has solved two climate questions?
  2. Will more research be done, and more research will be cost-justified?
  3. Exxon is “production,” “magnification” or mere Report Uncertainty in climate science?
  4. Was Exxon’s suspicions justified at the time? Are they still today?
  5. What were the company’s options at that time?

Research goals

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, Exxon decorated his supertanker Esso Atlantic With a lab, sensors and scientists to measure CO2 Density at different depths and locations between the Gulf of Mexico and the Persian Gulf. ICNThe second article in the series briefly documents Exxon’s efforts and lists the two questions the company is ready to answer:

  1. How much is CO?2 Fossil fuels in the air come from deforestation?
  2. How fast can the ocean absorb atmospheric CO?2?

ICN Reports that the data collected by Floating Labs eventually helped answer the first question. A survey published in 1990, “partly based on tanker data,” found that “land-based ecosystems … absorb more atmospheric CO2 Than the oceans. “A 2009 study, using Exxon data, found that” the oceans absorb about 20 percent of the CO.2 Emissions from fossil fuels and other human activity each year. “(Current research accounts for about 30 percent.)

Was further research justified?

ICN He blames Exxon for continuing his studies of oceanography but does not suggest what the new goals should have been. Nor does it consider the question of whether the benefit may be worth the cost. Clearly, neither the company nor the federal government believed they would. As ICN “Exxon’s enthusiasm for the project began in the early ’80s when federal funding dwindled,” the report said.

In its seventh article The road was not taken Series, ICN An internal 1981 Exxon document quoting the study recommended:

An expanded R&D program does not seem to offer significantly enhanced benefits. This will require skills that are in limited supply and will require additional funding from Exxon as government funding seems unlikely.

In addition, the document states:

There is no near-term threat to legislation to control CO2. One of the reasons is It has not yet been proven that the increase in atmospheric CO2 A serious problem that requires immediate action. (Emphasize forward)

Suspicion generated?

When ICN And while others, such as Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Orescase, have claimed that Exxon knew about the potential dangers of climate change, the second quote above highlights that Exxon itself was hardly a “scientific solution” to the question of the seriousness of global warming. True, different employees have said and written different things, and some internal reports have sounded alarm bells. However, a second deep dive into the company’s archives is needed to determine if the cover letter and other documents contained published alarms.

However, the company’s position was moderate, clear and reasonable. Which in the context of time ICNIts authors ignore, support this interpretation. After all, the biggest climate concern was global cooling, and Exxon was debating a big issue, peak oil. “Thinking that the oil industry is slowly dying out,” Joseph Pratt and William Hale wrote in the company’s history, “Exxon and most of the big oil companies … have left oil in search of long-term growth opportunities.”[1]

In the face of fossil fuels and global warming, in reality, environmentalists believed and hoped that natural degradation would lead to economic exhaustion and help reduce CO.2 Emissions But then came the hydraulic fracturing (fracting) revolution that put peak oil and peak gas concerns in bed for the foreseeable future.

Despite the demands ICN, Exxon’s research agenda was consistent with time. In our next post, we will consider the doubts that arose from this same study in Exxon and how reasonable those doubts were.


Co-authored by Robert Bradley Jr. and Richard Fulmer Primer Energy: The main resource (2004) and other writings on free-market energy and climate policy.


[1] Joseph Pratt and William Hale, Exxon: Transforming Energy, 1973-2005 (Austin, TX: Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, 2013), p. 167

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