ExxonMobil climate change controversy

ExxonMobil climate change controversy concerns ExxonMobil's activities related to climate change, especially their views on climate change skepticism.

The ExxonMobil climate change controversy concerns ExxonMobil's activities related to promoting climate change denial. Since the 1970s, ExxonMobil engaged in research, lobbying, advertising, and grant making, some of which were conducted with the purpose of delaying widespread acceptance and action on global warming. From the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Exxon funded internal and university collaborations, broadly in line with the developing scientific consensus. From the 1980s to mid 2000s, the company was a leader in climate change denial, opposing regulations to curtail global warming. ExxonMobil funded organizations critical of the Kyoto Protocol, and seeking to undermine public opinion about the scientific consensus that global warming is caused by humans burning fossil fuels. Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition of businesses opposed to the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.



  • The effects of addition to the carbon cycle in nature of carbon dioxide from industrial activities have been the subject of speculation in several fields of science. Of particular interest is the fate of the enormous quantity of carbon dioxide which has been introduced into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and the manner in which the added carbon dioxide has been distributed in the carbon cycle. Although appreciable amounts of carbon dioxide have undoubtedly been added from soils by tilling of land, apparently a much greater amount has resulted from the combustion of fossil fuels.


  • On October 17, 1977, I attended a meeting in Atlanta of the study group on global environmental effects of carbon dioxide....
    Dr. [Thomas F.] Malone [Director of the Holcomb Research Institute at Butler University] then discussed the report recently completed by the National Academy of Sciences on Energy and Climate. He distributed a 40-page summary of the report to all attendees. The National Academy of Sciences report concludes that:
    1. The climatic effects of carbon dioxide release may be the primary limiting factor on energy production from fossil fuels over the next few centuries.
    2. It does not now appear that the direct generation of heat from the production and consumption of energy over the next few centuries will cause a rise of more than 0.5oC in global average air temperature.
    3. There are profound uncertainties regarding the carbon cycle, climate, and their interdependence. These uncertainties can be resolved only by a well-coordinated effort of extraordinarily interdisciplinary character.
    The National Academy therefore recommended:
    1. The possibility of modification of the world's climate by carbon dioxide release should be given serious prompt consideration by concerned national and international organizations and agencies. Two kinds of action are needed:
    a. organization of a comprehensive world-wide research program, and
    b. new institutional arrangements.
    2. A world-wide comprehensive research program should include studies on the carbon cycle, climate, future population changes and energy demands, and ways to mitigate the effective climatic change on world-food production.
    3. All the foregoing recommendations for research relate to global concerns, and therefore the cooperation of such international agencies as the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and the International Council of Scientific Unions should be sought in responding to them.
    A high degree of international government cooperation is called for because of the need for a world-wide set of measurements and network of observing stations. As to the United States, consideration should be given to the establishment at the national level of a mechanism to weave together the interests and capabilities of the scientific community and the various agencies of the federal government in dealing with climate-related problems.
  • I propose that Exxon be the initiator of a worldwide 'CO2 in the Atmosphere' R&D program along the lines of the International Geophysical Year concept. This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefiting mankind. What would be more appropriate than for the world's leading energy company and leading oil company take the lead in trying to define whether a long-term CO2 problem really exists, and if so, what counter measures would be appropriate.
  • Present climactic models predict that the present trend of fossil fuel use will lead to dramatic climatic changes within the next 75 years. However, it is not obvious whether these changes would be all bad or all good. The major conclusion from this report is that, should it be deemed necessary to maintain atmospheric CO2 levels to prevent significant climatic changes, dramatic changes in patterns of energy use would be required.


  • In addition to the effects of climate on the globe, there are some particularly dramatic questions that might cause serious global problems. For example, if the Antarctic ice sheet which is anchored on land, should melt, then this could cause a rise in the sea level on the order of 5 meters. Such a rise would cause flooding in much of the US East Coast including the state of Florida and Washington D.C.
  • Much is still unknown about the sources and sinks for atmospheric CO2, as well as about the climatic effect of increasing CO2 levels in the air, so that prognostications remain highly speculative. The models that appear most credible (to us) do predict measurable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, and sea-level by the year 2030 for the postulated fossil fuel combustion rates, but changes of a magnitude well short of catastrophic and probably below the magnitude that need trigger otherwise non-economic responses to the problem of energy supply.
  • ..."but changes of a magnitude well short of catastrophic..." I think that this statement may be too reassuring. Whereas I can agree with the statement that our best guess is that observable effects in the year 2030 are likely to be "well short of catastrophic", it is distinctly possible that the CPD scenario will later produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth's population). This is because the global ecosystem in 2030 might still be in a transient, headed for much significant effects after time lags perhaps of the order of decades. If this indeed turns out to be the case, it is very likely that we will unambiguously recognize the threat by the year 2000 because of advances in climate modeling and the beginning of real experimental confirmation of the CO2 problem.
  • Attached for your information and guidance is briefing material on the CO2 'Greenhouse' Effect which is receiving increased attention in both the scientific and popular press as an emerging environmental issue....The material has been given wide circulation to Exxon management and is intended to familiarize Exxon personnel with the subject. It may be used as a basis for discussing the issue with outsiders as may be appropriate. However, it should be restricted to Exxon personnel and not distributed externally....
    Predictions of the climatological impact of a carbon dioxide induced "greenhouse effect" draw upon various mathematical models to gauge the temperature increase. The scientific community generally discussed the impact in terms of doubling of the current carbon dioxide content in order to get beyond the noise level of the data. We estimate doubling could occur around the year 2090 based upon fossil fuel requirements projected in Exxon's long range energy outlook. The question of which predictions and which models best simulate a carbon dioxide-induced climate change is still being debated by the scientific community. Our best estimate is that doubling of the current concentration could increase average global temperature by about 1.3 to 3.1 degrees Centigrade. The increase would not be uniform over the earth's surface with the polar caps likely to see temperature increases on the order of 10 degrees Centigrade and the equator little, if any, increase....
    The state-of-the-art in climate modelling allows only gross global zoning while some of the expected results from temperature increases of the magnitude indicated are quite dramatic. For example, areas that were deserts 4,000 to 8,000 years ago in the Altithermal period (when the global average temperature was some 2 degrees Centigrade higher than present), may in due time return to deserts. Conversely, some areas which are deserts now were formerly agricultural regions. It is postulated that part of the Sahara Desert in Africa was quite - wet 2,000 to 8,000 years ago. The American Midwest, on the other band, was much drier, and it is projected that the Midwest would again become drier should there be a temperature increase of the magnitude postulated for a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
    In addition to the effects of climate on global agriculture, there are some potentially catastrophe events that must be considered. For example, if the Antarctic ice sheet which is anchored on land should melt, then this could cause e rise in sea level on the order of 5 meters. Such a rise would cause flooding on much of the U.S. East Coast, including the state of Florida and Washington, D.C....
    The greenhouse effect ls not likely to cause substantial climactic changes until the average global temperature rises at least 1 degree Centigrade above today's levels. This could occur in the second to third quarter of the next century. However, there is concern among some scientific groups that once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible and little could be done to correct the situation in the short term. Therefore, a number of environmental groups are calling for action now to prevent an undesirable future situation from developing.
    Mitigation of the "greenhouse effect" would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.
  • I would like to summarize the findings of our research in climate modeling and place our results in the context of the existing body of knowledge of the CO2 greenhouse effect.
    Although the increase of atmospheric CO2 is well documented it has not yet resulted in a measurable change in the earth's climate. The concerns surrounding the possible effects of increased CO, have been based on the predictions of models which simulate the earth's climate. These models vary widely in the level of detail in which climate processes are treated and in the approximations used to describe the complexities of these processes. Consequently the quantitative predictions derived from the various models show considerable variation. However, over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged regarding the expected climatic effects of increased atmospheric CO2. The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO, from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in average global temperature rise of (3.0 +/- 1.5) degrees Centigrade. The uncertainty in this figure is a result of the inability of even the most elaborate models to simulate climate in a totally realistic manner. The temperature rise is predicted to be distributed non-uniformly over the earth, with above-average temperature elevations in the polar regions and relatively small increases near the equator. There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth's climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere. The time required for doubling of atmospheric CO, depends on future world consumption of fossil fuels. current projections indicate that doubling will occur sometime in the latter half of the 21st century. The models predict that CO2-induced climate changes should be observable well before doubling. It is generally believed that the first unambiguous CO2-induced temperature increase will not be observable until around the year 2000....
    In summary, the results of our research are in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate....
    Furthermore our ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature. Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon's public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.
  • These CO2 projections are used in current climate models to predict important changes over the next 100 years. This set of results is taken from the National Research Council (NRC) report "Changing Climate".
    Consensus predictions call for warming 1.5-4.5 [degrees Celsius] for doubled CO2 with greater warming at the poles. Note that these numbers reflect the range produced by available models. No one knows how to evaluate the absolute uncertainty in the numbers.
    The extent and thickness of glaciers are predicted to decrease, leading to sea level rise. The NRC report chose a most likely value of 70 cm sea level rise. Other predictions suggest a broader range from 30-200 cm. The rise occurs both from a larger amount of water in the oceans, and from thermal expansion.
    Finally, climate change and higher levels of atmospheric CO2 affect agriculture and ecosystems....
    Data confirm that greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere. Fossil fuels contribute most of the CO2....
    Projections suggest significant climate change with a variety of regional impacts. Sea level rise with generally negative consequences....
    Arguments that we can’t tolerate delay and must act now can lead to irreversible and costly Draconian steps....
    To be a responsible participant and part of the solution to [potential enhanced greenhouse], Exxon's position should recognize and support 2 basic societal needs. First ... to improve understanding of the problem ... not just the science ... but the costs and economics tempered by the sociopolitical realities. That's going to take years (probably decades). But there are measures already underway that will improve our environment in various ways ... and in addition reduce the growth in greenhouse gases. That's the second need including things like energy conservation, restriction of CFC emissions, and efforts to increase the global ratio of re/de forestation. Of course, we'll need to develop other response options...implementing measures when they are cost effective in the near term and pursuing new technologies for the future.



  • ...Exxon Mobil is a worse environmental villain than other big oil companies...Exxon, headed by Mr. Raymond, chose a different course of action: it decided to fight the science....And that's just what Exxon Mobil has done: lavish grants have supported a sort of alternative intellectual universe of global warming skeptics....the fact is that whatever small chance there was of action to limit global warming became even smaller because ExxonMobil chose to protect its profits by trashing good science.
  • This message of scientific uncertainty has been reinforced by the public relations campaigns of certain corporations with a large stake in the issue. The most well known example is ExxonMobil, which in 2004 ran a highly visible advertising campaign on the op-ed page of the New York Times. Its carefully worded advertisements—written and formatted to look like newspaper columns and called op-ed pieces by ExxonMobil—suggested that climate science was far too uncertain to warrant action on it. One advertisement concluded that the uncertainties and complexities of climate and weather means that "there is an ongoing need to support scientific research to inform decisions and guide policies". Not many would argue with this commonsense conclusion. But our scientists have concluded that existing research warrants that decisions and policies be made today.


  • Then-Vice President George H. W. Bush ran for president of the United States pledging to combat the “greenhouse effect with the White House effect”. 1988 was also the year in which the world nations joined together to create the w:Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide a scientific basis for policy action. Fossil fuel corporations might have begun to take steps to limit the damages their products caused to the global environment.
    Instead, leading investor-owned fossil fuel corporations, including ExxonMobil, Shell, and British Petroleum, created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) to oppose greenhouse gas emission reduction policies. From 1989 to 2002, the GCC led an aggressive lobbying and advertising campaign aimed at achieving these goals by sowing doubt about the integrity of the IPCC and the scientific evidence that heat-trapping emissions from burning fossil fuels drive global warming. They worked successfully to prevent the United States from signing the Kyoto Protocol after it was negotiated in 1997. When the GCC disbanded, they stated that they had achieved their goals....
    Between 1988 and 2005, ExxonMobil invested over $16 million in a network of front groups that spread misleading claims about climate science. It also exploited its close relationship with the administration of President George W. Bush to pressure the administration to remove top scientists from leadership roles in the IPCC and the US National Climate Assessment and to promote federal policies driving further reliance on fossil energy
  • At a meeting in Exxon Corporation's headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world's use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
    ...toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.
  • [A]s early as 1977, Exxon (now ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies) knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously. This did not prevent the company from then spending decades helping to organize the campaigns of disinformation and denial that have slowed—perhaps fatally—the planet’s response to global warming....Exxon responded, instead, by helping to set up or fund extreme climate-denial campaigns....The company worked with veterans of the tobacco industry to try and infuse the climate debate with doubt.
  • 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 repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.
  • As early as 1977, one of Exxon’s senior scientists warned a gathering of oilmen of a “general scientific agreement” that the burning of fossil fuels was influencing the climate. A year later, he had updated his assessment, warning that “present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”...
    Exxon chose the path of disinformation, denial and delay. More damagingly, the company set a model for the rest of the industry. More than 30 years ago, Exxon scientists acknowledged in internal company memos that climate change could be catastrophic. Today, scientists who say the exact same thing are ridiculed in the business community and on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.
    We have lost precious time as a result: decades during which we could have built a smart electricity grid, fostered efficiency and renewables and generated thousands of jobs in a cleaner, greener economy. There is still time to prevent the worst disruptions of human-driven climate change, but the challenge is now much greater than it needed to be, in no small part because of the choices that Exxon Mobil made.
  • Throughout much of the 1980s, Exxon earned a public reputation as a pioneer in climate change research. It sponsored workshops, funded academic research and conducted its own high-tech experiments exploring the science behind global warming.
    But by 1990, the company, in public, took a different posture.
    While still funding select research, it poured millions into a campaign that questioned climate change....
    How did one of the world’s largest oil companies, a leader in climate research, become one of its biggest public skeptics?
    The answer, gleaned from a trove of archived company documents and the recollections of former employees, is that Exxon, now known as Exxon Mobil, feared a growing public consensus would lead to financially burdensome policies.
  • Mr./Madam President, it is time for this body to wake up, not just to climate change, but to the decades-long, purposeful corporate smokescreen of misleading public statements from the fossil fuel industry and its allies on the dangers of carbon pollution. I am here for the 116th time, seeking an open, honest and factual debate in Congress about global climate change.
    The energy industry’s top dog, ExxonMobil—number two for both revenue and profits among the Fortune 500—has been getting some bad press lately. Two independent investigative reports, from InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, revealed that Exxon’s own scientists understood as far back at the late 1970s the effects of carbon pollution on the climate and warned company executives of the potential outcomes for the planet and human society. But Exxon’s own internal report recognizing heading off global warming “would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion.” So rather than behave responsibly, reveal that truth, and lead the effort to stave off catastrophic changes to the climate, Exxon ultimately chose to fund and participate in a massive misinformation campaign to protect their business model and their bottom line....
    Despite documented warnings from their own scientists dating from the 1970s, ExxonMobil pursued a campaign of deceit, denial, and delay. They may soon have to face the consequences.
    History will not look kindly on their choice.
  • Year after year throughout the last two decades they’ve made more money than any company in the history of money. But poor people around the world are already paying for those profits, and every generation that follows us now will pay as well, because the “Exxon position” has helped take us over one tipping point after another. Their sins of emission, like so many other firms and individuals, are bad. But their sins of omission are truly inexcusable.
  • Not surprisingly, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, ExxonMobil scientists understood quite well the mechanisms of climate change and its broad implications for the oil business.
  • Earlier this year our organization, the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF), announced that it would divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies. We mean to do this gradually, but in a public statement we singled out ExxonMobil for immediate divestment because of its “morally reprehensible conduct.” For over a quarter-century the company tried to deceive policymakers and the public about the realities of climate change, protecting its profits at the cost of immense damage to life on this planet.
    ...Exxon, in particular, has been a leader of the movement to deny the facts of climate change. Often working indirectly through front groups, it sponsored many of the scientists and think tanks that have sought to obfuscate the scientific consensus about the changing climate, and it participated in those efforts through its paid advertisements and the statements of its executives.
    It seemed to us, however, that for business reasons, a company as sophisticated and successful as Exxon would have needed to know the difference between its own propaganda and scientific reality. If it turned out that Exxon and other oil companies had recognized the validity of climate science even while they were funding the climate denial movement, that would, we thought, help the public understand how artificially manufactured and disingenuous the “debate” over climate change has always been. In turn, we hoped this understanding would build support for strong policies addressing the crisis of global warming.
  • Exxon Mobil misled the public about the state of climate science and its implications. Available documents show a systematic, quantifiable discrepancy between what Exxon Mobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change in private and in academic circles, and what it presented to the general public....
    In short, Exxon Mobil contributed quietly to climate science and loudly to raising doubts about it. We found that, accounting for reasonable doubt given the state of the science at the time of each document, roughly 80 percent of the company’s academic and internal papers acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused. But 81 percent of their climate change advertorials in one way or another expressed doubt....
    Even while Exxon Mobil scientists were contributing to climate science and writing reports that explained it to their bosses, the company was paying for advertisements that told a very different tale.
  • This paper assesses whether ExxonMobil Corporation has in the past misled the general public about climate change....
    Our assessment of ExxonMobil's peer-reviewed publications and the role of its scientists supports the conclusion that the company did not 'suppress' climate science—indeed, it contributed to it.
    However, on the question of whether ExxonMobil misled non-scientific audiences about climate science, our analysis supports the conclusion that it did.
    ...in public, ExxonMobil contributed quietly to the science and loudly to raising doubts about it....
    Available documents show a discrepancy between what ExxonMobil's scientists and executives discussed about climate change privately and in academic circles and what it presented to the general public. The company's peer-reviewed, non-peer-reviewed, and internal communications consistently tracked evolving climate science: broadly acknowledging that AGW [Anthropogenic Global Warming] is real, human-caused, serious, and solvable, while identifying reasonable uncertainties that most climate scientists readily acknowledged at that time. In contrast, ExxonMobil's advertorials in the NYT [New York Times] overwhelmingly emphasized only the uncertainties, promoting a narrative inconsistent with the views of most climate scientists, including ExxonMobil's own. This is characteristic of what Freudenberg et. al. term the Scientific Certainty Argumentation Method (SCAM)—a tactic for undermining public understanding of scientific knowledge. Likewise, the company's peer-reviewed, non-peer-reviewed, and internal documents acknowledge the risks of stranded assets, whereas their advertorials do not. In light of these findings, we judge that ExxonMobil's AGW communications were misleading; we are not in a position to judge whether they violated any laws.
  • Why didn’t we act? A common boogeyman today is the fossil-fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain with comic-book bravado. An entire subfield of climate literature has chronicled the machinations of industry lobbyists, the corruption of scientists and the propaganda campaigns that even now continue to debase the political debate, long after the largest oil-and-gas companies have abandoned the dumb show of denialism. But the coordinated efforts to bewilder the public did not begin in earnest until the end of 1989. During the preceding decade, some of the largest oil companies, including Exxon and Shell, made good-faith efforts to understand the scope of the crisis and grapple with possible solutions.

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