Exxon Mobil’s scientists were remarkably accurate in their predictions about global heating, even as the company made public statements that contradicted its own scientists’ conclusions, a new study said.
The study in the journal Science on Thursday looked at research that Exxon funded that didn’t just confirm what climate scientists were saying, but used more than a dozen different computer models that forecast the coming heating with precision equal to or better than government and academic scientists.
This was during the same time that the oil giant publicly doubted that heating was real and dismissed climate models’ accuracy.
Scientists, governments, activists and news sites, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, several years ago reported that “Exxon knew” about the science of climate crisis since about 1977, all while publicly casting doubt.
What the new study does is detail how accurate Exxon-funded research was.
From 63 percent to 83 percent of those projections fit strict standards for accuracy and generally predicted correctly that the globe would warm about 0.2 degrees Celsius a decade.
Study lead author Geoffrey Supran, who started the work at Harvard and now is an environmental science professor at the University of Miami, said this is different than what was previously found in documents about the oil company.
“We’ve dug into not just to the language, the rhetoric in these documents, but also the data. And I’d say in that sense, our analysis really seals the deal on ‘Exxon knew’,” Supran said.
It “gives us airtight evidence that Exxon Mobil accurately predicted global warming years before, then turned around and attacked the science underlying it.”
The paper quoted then-Exxon CEO Lee Raymond in 1999 as saying future climate “projections are based on completely unproven climate models, or more often, sheer speculation,” while his successor in 2013 called models “not competent.”
Exxon, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has been the target of numerous lawsuits that claim the company knew about the damage its oil and gas would cause to the climate, but misled the public by sowing doubt about climate crisis.
In the latest such lawsuit, New Jersey accused five oil and gas companies, including Exxon, of deceiving the public for decades while knowing about the harmful toll fossil fuels take on the climate.
Oil giants, including Exxon and Shell, were accused in congressional hearings in 2021 of spreading misinformation about climate, but executives from the companies denied the accusations.
‘Hype and spin’
There’s a difference between the “hype and spin” that companies do to get you to buy a product or politicians do to get your vote and an “outright lie … misrepresenting factual information, and that’s what Exxon did,” said study co-author Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard science history professor.
Critics say Exxon’s past actions on the climate crisis undermine its claims that it’s committed to reducing emissions.
After tracking Exxon’s and hundreds of other companies’ corporate lobbying on climate crisis policies, InfluenceMap, a firm that analyses data on how companies are impacting the climate crisis, concluded that Exxon is lobbying overall in opposition to the goals of the Paris Agreement and that it’s currently among the most negative and influential corporations holding back climate policy.
“All the research we have suggests that effort to thwart climate action continues to this day, prioritising the oil and gas industry value chain from the “potentially existential” threat of climate change, rather than the other way around,” said Faye Holder, programme manager for InfluenceMap.
“The messages of denial and delay may look different, but the intention is the same.”