ExxonMobil Scientists Got It Right – 45 Years Ago!

ExxonMobil plant near Chicago. Image credit: Richard Hurd via Flickr

A new report released last week in the journal Science reminded us that ExxonMobil scientists knew about the damage fossil fuels were doing to our planet and atmosphere at least as far back as 1977. From that moment on, the corporation began a well-funded campaign of outright denial that lasted until only recently. But since we’ve known that for years, that’s old news.

The reason this new report is so interesting is because of the specific predictions their scientists made about the rate and effects of fossil fuel use on the planet. Turns out they were almost precisely aligned with trends we’ve seen in recent years! (See charts below.) This report shows both the usefulness and the accuracy of science when practiced by objective scholars.

But openly acknowledging the predictions of their own scientists would have meant a hit to the companies’ bottom line, or even the end of their business completely. So, for 45 years they buried their own scientists’ research (which they “owned” because they had financed it) and denied reality – knowing all along the damage they were causing. All to allow them to continue to profit enormously from their dirty commodity. Even the best scientists and the most accurate science means nothing if it’s conducted in pursuit of profit.

This all could have been very different. Imagine a world where those scientists could have told the truth – openly – from 1977 on, and warned the world of what was coming. Imagine a world where no business was wealthy and powerful enough to deny reality, confuse tens of millions, and get away with it. Imagine a world where the working population had access to all scientific information and could then use that knowledge to make our own decisions about what fuels to produce, what sort of transportation to use, how we provide these necessities, and how workers are treated while producing and distributing them, free of the influence of the profit motives of the corporations.

But that will never happen under capitalism, where money and profit drive everything, and our views are ignored. To make the world we want, we’ll have to organize ourselves to smash this planet-destroying system and turn it into a page in our history books.

Historically observed temperature change (red) and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration (blue) over time, compared against global warming projections reported by ExxonMobil scientists1:

(A) “Proprietary” 1982 Exxon-modeled projections.
(B) Summary of projections in seven internal company memos and five peer-reviewed publications between 1977 and 2003 (gray lines).
(C) A 1977 internally reported graph of the global warming “effect of CO2 on an interglacial scale.”

(A) and (B) display averaged historical temperature observations, whereas the historical temperature record in (C) is a smoothed Earth system model simulation of the last 150,000 years.1

1Supran, G., Rahmstorf, S., & Oreskes, N. (2023). Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections. Science379(6628). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abk0063