ExxonMobil Predicted Climate Change With "Shocking Accuracy" In 1980s

"We now have totally unimpeachable evidence that Exxon accurately predicted global warming years before it turned around and publicly attacked climate science and scientists,” said the lead study author.


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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Silhouette of a oil rig worker watches as a fire bursts from the platform over the sea.

ExxonMobil enjoyed record-smashing Q3 profits in October 2022. Image credit: am70/

ExxonMobil, one of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, had a clear idea of how the burning of oil would impact Earth’s environment as far back as the 1970s, according to a new study. In fact, their predictions appear to have been more accurate than NASA's scientists in the 1980s.

It was first revealed that ExxonMobil knew about climate change in 2015 through a series of articles called Exxon: The Road Not Taken by Inside Climate News, which investigated how the fossil fuel giant already had a wealth of evidence of global warming and climate change in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The calling cry of the movement to promote awareness of the revelation became “ExxonKnew.”


In this latest study, scientists at Havard University dug even deeper and carried out a systematic assessment of the fossil fuel industry's climate projections. They found that ExxonMobil's scientists were able to foresee the impact of fossil fuels on the planet's climate with “shocking skill and accuracy,” according to Geoffrey Supran, lead author and former research fellow in the History of Science at Harvard.  

The researchers assessed the precision of the predictions by assigning them a “skill score”. They found that ExxonMobil’s own projections had an average “skill score” of 72 percent with the highest scoring 99 percent. By comparison, NASA’s projections in 1988 had scores from 38 to 66 percent.

“We found that not only were their forecasts extremely skillful, but they were also often more skillful than forecasts made by independent academic and government scientists at the exact same time,” added co-author Naomi Oreskes, Henry Charles Lea Professor of the History of Science whose research focuses on climate change denial.

Despite being aware of the risk, it’s also suggested that ExxonMobil actively planted doubt about climate change using rhetoric and buzzwords you can still hear today used by climate skeptics: “uncertainty”, “just a theory”, “inconclusive evidence”, and “bias”.


“Our analysis here I think seals the deal on that matter. We now have totally unimpeachable evidence that Exxon accurately predicted global warming years before it turned around and publicly attacked climate science and scientists,” added Supran

ExxonMobil, of course, denies any wrongdoing. In a statement released in 2021, the company described the ExxonKnew movement as an “orchestrated campaign that seeks to delegitimize ExxonMobil by misrepresenting our position on climate change and related research to the public”. 

“Funders of the ‘#ExxonKnew’ campaign have placed ’pay to play’ news stories, released flawed academic reports and coordinated with public officials to launch investigations and litigation, creating the false appearance that ExxonMobil has misrepresented its company research and investor disclosures on climate change to the public,” the statement continues. 

The new study was published this week in the journal Science.


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