Study Confirms ExxonMobil Knew About Climate Change Decades Ago, And Deliberately Misled Public

A paradoxical company, to be sure. PictureGuy/Shutterstock

Nowadays, ExxonMobil – one of the foremost energy giants in the world – is attempting, slowly, to move on from its oil-guzzling past. It was part of a list of companies that wanted the President to remain in the Paris agreement, and it’s part of a coalition of groups that wish to cut its carbon emissions regardless of the outcome of that fateful day in the White House Rose Garden.

However, despite that, its recent past is deeply distressing. Multiple investigations have revealed that its own researchers knew about climate change and the effects of burning fossil fuels since the early 1970s, but the company chose to withhold that information. Now, a new study reveals the extent of the lies that followed on from this revelation, from 1977 to 2014.

Writing in Environmental Research Letters, the pair of researchers from Harvard University explain how they analyzed “187 climate change communications from ExxonMobil, including peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed publications, internal company documents, and paid, editorial-style advertisements (‘advertorials’) in The New York Times” over that time period.

They were looking for consistency in their messaging, and whether or not the tone was directly or indirectly referencing climate change as real or not, or anthropogenic or not.

Their overall conclusion is as stark as it is unsurprising: Private correspondence acknowledges the scientific consensus, whereas openly available statements court climate denial.

“We find that as documents become more publicly accessible, they increasingly communicate doubt,” highlighting those advertisements as being particularly egregious in that regard.

“83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents acknowledge that climate change is real and human-caused, yet only 12 percent of advertorials do so, with 81 percent instead expressing doubt,” the team add.

Paradoxically, the team also conclude – as many others have – that ExxonMobil did a lot of excellent climate change research, and that their data is incredibly valuable to the field of climate science. However, their public declarations clearly show that the higher-ups at the company were suppressing this research.

“Given this discrepancy, we conclude that ExxonMobil misled the public,” the team conclude.

ExxonMobil's dissonance between private science and public behavior. Supran and Oreskes, 2017/Environmental Research Letters

The reasons why are essentially quite simple: A fossil fuel company didn’t want the facts to mean they had to lose out on extraction, and lose out on money as a result. As ever, most climate denial in the halls of power are driven by nothing other than money.

Plenty of those in the know still think that Exxon is continuing to obfuscate the truth, and that their public declarations of support for climate change mitigation aren’t being carried out in private at all. If their past is anything to go by, then the future may be something to worry about too.

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