Researchers claim that one of the world’s largest oil companies accurately predicted how climate change would cause global temperatures to rise as long ago as the 1970s.
ExxonMobil’s private research has predicted how burning fossil fuels will warm the planet, but the company has flatly denied the link.
Academics analyzed data from the company’s internal documents.
ExxonMobil denied the allegations.
“This issue has come up several times in recent years, and in each case our answer is the same: how those who say “Exxon Knows” are wrong in their conclusions,” the company told BBC News.
Companies including ExxonMobil have made billions of dollars selling fossil fuels, which release emissions that scientists, governments and the UN say are causing global warming.
The findings show that ExxonMobil’s predictions are often more accurate than even the world’s leading NASA scientists.
Professor Naomi Oreskes said, “This really highlights the stark hypocrisy of the ExxonMobil leadership, who knew that their own scientists were doing this very high-quality modeling job and had access to this privileged information and told the rest of us that climate models are bullshit.” History of science at Harvard University told BBC News.
Co-author Geoffrey Supran, an associate professor of environmental science and policy at the University of Miami, suggests the findings are “a smoking gun.”
“Our analysis allows us to put a number on the fact that, for the first time, Exxon knows, the burning of fossil fuel products will heat the planet by about 0.2 degrees Celsius every ten years,” he said.
Researchers have never measured the scientific evidence in ExxonMobil’s documents before, he says.
In response, ExxonMobil pointed to a 2019 U.S. court ruling that concluded: “ExxonMobil executives and employees were determined to perform their duties as thoroughly and diligently as possible.”
“ExxonMobil is committed to being part of the solution to climate change and the risks it poses,” a spokesperson said. said.
Comparing ExxonMobil’s work to Nasa’s James Hansen, who raised the alarm on climate in 1988, Prof Supran said, “Excellent climate modeling would be comparable, at least in performance, to one of the most influential and respected climate scientists in modern history.” Said.
Prof Oreskes said the findings show that ExxonMobil “knowingly misled” the public and governments. “They had all this information, but they said very, very different things in public,” he explained.
Previous research has uncovered Exxon documents that show the company is trying to spread suspicion about science. An internal article put forward the “Exxon position” to “emphasize uncertainty in scientific results” about the greenhouse effect.
The research, published in Science, also suggests that ExxonMobil has reasonable estimates of how emissions should be reduced to avoid the worst effects of climate change in a world warming by 2C or more.
The scientists also correctly rejected the theory that an ice age was coming at a time when other researchers are still discussing the possibility.
Prof Oreskes and Prof Supran conducted the research in 2015 after journalists uncovered evidence that ExxonMobil knew about climate change but was accused by ExxonMobil of “cleaning up” the truth.
They plotted scientific data from more than 100 publications by Exxon and Exxon Mobil between 1977 and 2014 to calculate estimates of global temperature rise.
Prof Oreskes argues that when he publicly calls the models “speculative” or “bad science,” it shows the company is using climate science internally.
The findings add to the continuing pressure on the company for what it knows about climate change. Campaigners claim the company spread misinformation to protect its business interests in fossil fuels and is suing the company in a series of US courts.
In May, a court in Massachusetts, USA, ruled that ExxonMobil should be prosecuted on charges of lying about climate change.