Oil giant Exxon made accurate climate predictions in 1970s, study finds

13 Jan 2023

Image: © JHVEPhoto/Stock.adobe.com

The study claims that Exxon knew as much about the climate crisis as academic and government scientists, despite discrediting similar predictions for decades.

Exxon scientists predicted global heating caused by human activity “correctly and skilfully” in the late 1970s, according to a new report.

In 2015, an investigation from Inside Climate News discovered that Exxon scientists had warned executives about the dangers of human-induced global heating. However, the new study claims the oil giant didn’t just know “something” about the approaching climate crisis, but had as much information as academic and government scientists at the time.

Despite this, the company spent the following decades discrediting similar predictions from other scientists and funded the campaigns of US senators who denied human-caused global heating.

For example, in 2001 Exxon said on its website that “there is no clear consensus about long-term climate trends and what causes them”.

The new study analysed various internal documents and peer-reviewed studies published by Exxon scientists. The researchers said they conducted the study to discover “what exactly did oil and gas companies know, and how accurate did their knowledge prove to be”.

The study said Exxon scientists were “accurate” in predicting global heating overall. While some of their projections were slightly too high or too low, between 63pc to 83pc were “statistically consistent” with observed temperatures in later years.

The researchers said the findings show that Exxon “accurately foresaw the threat of human-caused global warming, both prior and parallel to orchestrating lobbying and propaganda campaigns to delay climate action”.

Exxon’s scientists had also correctly dismissed the possibility of a coming ice age, in favour of a “carbon dioxide induced ‘super-interglacial’”. The company’s research also predicted that the climate crisis would become more clearly detectable at the start of the 21st century.

The oil giant faces lawsuits over accusations that it lied about the climate crisis and covered up the impact fossil fuels have on global heating. Last May, a high court in the US ruled that the company must face a trial over these accusations, The Guardian reported.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic