Companies Have Been Aware of Climate Change for Decades

New Report Shows Companies Have Been Aware of Climate Change for Decades

The newly published Climate Deception Dossiers released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) draws on evidence from 85 documents, revealing that ExxonMobil and five other top companies -- BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, coal giant Peabody Energy and Royal Dutch Shell -- were fully aware of the reality of climate change but continued to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote contrarian arguments they knew to be wrong. The documents show that these six companies have known for at least two decades that their products are harmful and have intentionally deceived the public about the climate change threat. 

Exxon Recognized Carbon Emissions Problem 34 Years Ago

Internal documents and public statements stretching back decades show that ExxonMobil's corporate forerunners Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999, acknowledged the threat posed by global warming as far back as the early 1980s.

UCS senior writer Elliott Negin reported on discovering one eye-opening document just last week, unfortunately too late to include in the new report. It's an email a former Exxon and Mobil employee sent last October in reply to a request for comment by an Ohio University ethics professor about how corporations often fail to account for "externalities" such as pollution. The email stated that Exxon was factoring climate change into its resource development decisions more than 30 years ago.

"In the 1980s Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue."

Companies Disregard Their Own Scientists

In 1989, 50 U.S. corporations and trade groups created the Global Climate Coalition (GCC). Its founding members included API, British Petroleum (now BP), Chevron, Exxon, Shell, Texaco and Mobil.

Until it disbanded in 2002, GCC conducted a multimillion-dollar lobbying and public relations campaign against the recognition of global warming. One of its fact sheets for legislators and journalists, for example, claimed "the role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood" and emphasized that "scientists differ" on the issue.

An internal 1995 GCC primer included in the UCS report, however, shows that the coalition's own scientific and technical experts were telling its members that greenhouse gases were indeed causing global warming.

"The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established," the 17-page document stated, "and cannot be denied." 

The Effects

Scientists have been warning about the looming threat for decades, but governments have only begun to take climate change seriously. Meanwhile, carbon emissions have dramatically risen, over half have been released since 1988, after major companies knew about the link between emissions and climate change. Unfortunately, as the effects of climate change become more apparent, keeping heads in the sand is no longer a viable option.