Exxon Predicted Global Warming in the 1970s Harvard Study Shows

Oil and gas giant Exxon Mobil, with a current market capitalization of $466 billion, predicted global warming in the 1970s. A study was published on Thursday in the journal Science by three academics from Harvard and the University of Potsdam in Germany that provided evidence of this, featuring a series of internal reports and messages within Exxon that started in the 1970s. [1]

These new details add on to previous reports from other sources about how Exxon has internally acknowledged climate change caused by human beings.

NOTE: This feature covers the events as reported in various media and does not present an opinions.

Exxon’s history of climate change action

Inside Climate News (ICN) reported a meeting at Exxon Corporation’s headquarters where James F. Black, a senior company scientist and a top technical expert in the company’s Research and Engineering division, spoke to a large group of powerful oilmen about how the carbon dioxide from fossil fuels would cause the planet to warm and eventually endanger people. [4]

According to a written version he recorded later, Black told Exxon’s Management Committee, “In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”


Exxon received this explicit information in July 1977, a good deal of time before the majority of the world even knew of the impending climate crisis. [5]

A year later, Black updated his presentation and spoke to an even larger audience that included Exxon managers and scientists. He warned that independent scientists estimated that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to average global temperatures rising by 2-3°C (4-5° F) and perhaps as much as 10°C (18° F) at the poles. Rainfall would increase in some regions while other places would become deserts.
In the written summary of his 1978 talk, Black noted how some countries might benefit from these changes, but others would have their agricultural output grievously affected and in some cases, destroyed. [6]

Of course, at the time there was still uncertainty circulating in the scientific community when it came to the details of climate change, but Black made sure to say that he estimated quick action was needed. His 1978 summary stated that “Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.” [7]

Exxon’s response came rapidly; they launched their own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and their impact on the earth within months. It created a group of experts that would go on to spend over ten years gaining in-depth knowledge of this environmental problem.

As the 1980s wound to a close, Exxon wound down its carbon dioxide research.



A viral tweet that sparked a flame

Co-author of the new study published in Science, Goeffrey Supran, was working at Harvard as a research associate during the study’s creation. Supran told CNBC that what catalyzed the research was actually a viral tweet.

Supran and Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes had previously discovered a global warming predictive chart from Exxon Mobil. A physics professor at the University of Potsdam, Stefan Rahmstorf saw this chart and overlaid actual historical data on top of it.
Rahmstorf blogged and tweeted about this, garnering a lot of buzz on Twitter (by the standards of climate science, anyway). [9]

The three academics realized that no one had formally studied Exxon’s climate projections yet, and so teamed up to write a report on them. What they discovered was shocking – Exxon’s knowledge of climate science was both unexpectedly extensive and accurate.

Speaking to CNBC, Supran said, “It was startling to plot all of the company’s projections onto one graph and find them all line up so tightly around the real-world temperature rise that has ensued since their reports.” [10]


Global warming concept.


The academics’ research found that between 63-83% of Exxon’s climate projections on future climate change and global warming were accurate. For example, Exxon predicted that climate change would cause the earth’s average temperature to rise by 0.20° ± 0.04 degrees Celsius per decade, the same number as both the academic and governmental predictions that came out from 1970-2007. [11]



[1] [2] [9] [10] [11]

CNBC – Exxon Predicted Global Warming with Remarkable Accuracy Years Ago, Study Shows


[3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

Inside Climate News – Exxon’s Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuel’s Role in Global Warming Decades Ago

NOTE: This feature covers the events as reported in various media and does not present an opinions.

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