Science

Study Finds ExxonMobil Accurately Predicted Global Warming 40 Years Ago

Back in the 1980s, oil giant ExxonMobil had remarkably accurate global warming predictions made by its own scientists that turned out to be exactly what happened decades later, a researcher confirmed in a new study published Thursday.

Despite this, the company has publicly questioned the state of scientific knowledge on the subject for years, according to this study, published in the prestigious journal Science.

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, “modeled and predicted global warming with uncanny accuracy, but ended up spending decades denying that same climate science,” Jeffrey Supran, co-author of the work, told AFP.

For several years now, ExxonMobil has been accused of double-dealing about climate change caused by the huge amount of greenhouse gases emitted by humanity into the atmosphere, in particular when coal or oil is burned to generate energy.

There have even been several legal proceedings against the company in the US, some of which are still ongoing. Hearings were held in the European Parliament and the US Congress.

But this is the first time that the predictions made by the group’s scientists have been systematically analyzed and compared with those of other researchers at the time, as well as with actually observed warming thereafter.

The starting point is documents—public reports and scientific publications—discovered in 2015 by reporters from Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, showing that the company has long known that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

The first academic study, conducted in 2017 by the same researchers published Thursday, expanded on that investigative journalism by accurately analyzing the language used by the company, first in those documents and then publicly.

“But even though in the past we focused on the language and rhetoric contained in these documents, we suddenly realized that there were (…) all these graphs and tables that no one knows about. , Jeffrey Supran explained.

– “Excellent scientists” –

“This issue has come up several times in recent years,” a company spokesman told AFP. “Each time, our answer is the same: those who plead what +knew Exxon+ are wrong in their conclusions.” ExxonMobil has never denied the authenticity of the documents in question.

In total, the researchers analyzed 32 internal papers prepared by ExxonMobil scientists between 1977 and 2002 and 72 scientific publications they co-authored between 1982 and 2014.

These documents contain 16 temperature forecasts. “Ten of them are consistent with observations” made subsequently, the study notes. Of the remaining six, two predicted even greater warming.

On average, they predicted warming of about 0.2°C per decade, which is indeed the current rate. And the predictions made by other researchers at the time were more or less similar.

ExxonMobil “didn’t just have a vague idea about climate change decades ago,” said Jeffrey Supran, a University of Miami professor who led the work at Harvard. “They knew as much as independent and government scientists, and apparently enough to take action and warn the public.”

Yet the group’s leaders did just the opposite, insists the study, which quotes former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond in 2000 as saying, “We don’t have enough scientific understanding of climate change to make sound predictions.”

In 2013, then-CEO Rex Tillerson stated that there was “uncertainty” about “the key drivers of climate change”.

Some of the researchers hired by the company have testified before the US Congress. One of them, Martin Hoffert, questioned in 2019 by Democrat-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who stressed that his predictions were accurate, then simply replied: “We were excellent scientists.”

On Thursday, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that the past eight years have been the hottest on record.

During a press conference for these annual temperature reports (which did not mention the study), NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt said that “exposing and shaming” individual companies “didn’t do much” to find adequate solutions to go without fossil fuels. .

“We can’t tell +ExxonMobil to stop mining fossil fuels+ and solve the problem,” he stressed. “All these products are used by humans.”

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