What Exxon Knew, Texaco Knew, Too
December 23, 2015
And so did Chevron, Amoco, Phillips, Shell, Sunoco and Sohio. Newest installment in the incredible and tragic saga of what the oil industry knew about climate change, and when they knew it – the most underreported story of 2015.
A snip here, but go to the link for the whole piece. And if you haven’t yet, check the video above, and go to Inside Climate News to follow up on the whole story.
An InsideClimate News investigative series has shown that Exxon launched its own cutting-edge CO2 sampling program in 1978 in order to understand a phenomenon it suspected could harm its business. About a decade later, Exxon spearheaded campaigns to cast doubt on climate science and stall regulation of greenhouse gases. The previously unpublished papers about the climate task force indicate that API, (American Petroleum Institute) the industry’s most powerful lobbying group, followed a similar arc to Exxon’s in confronting the threat of climate change.
Just as Exxon began tracking climate science in the late 1970s, when only small groups of scientists in academia and the government were engaged in the research, other oil companies did the same, the documents show. Like Exxon, the companies also expressed a willingness to understand the links between their product, greater CO2 concentrations and the climate, the papers reveal. Some corporations ran their own research units as well, although they were smaller and less ambitious than Exxon’s and focused on climate modeling, said James J. Nelson, the former director of the task force.
“It was a fact-finding task force,” Nelson said in an interview. “We wanted to look at emerging science, the implications of it and where improvements could be made, if possible, to reduce emissions.”
The group was initially called the CO2 and Climate Task Force, but changed its name to the Climate and Energy Task Force in 1980, Nelson said.
A background paper on CO2 informed API members in 1979 that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was rising steadily, and it predicted when the first clear effects of climate change might be felt, according to a memo by an Exxon task force representative.
In addition, API task force members appeared open to the idea that the oil industry might have to shoulder some responsibility for reducing CO2 emissions by changing refining processes and developing fuels that emitted less carbon dioxide.
Bruce S. Bailey of Texaco offered “for consideration” the idea that “an overall goal of the Task Force should be to help develop ground rules for energy release of fuels and the cleanup of fuels as they relate to CO2 creation,” according to the minutes of a meeting on Feb. 29, 1980.
The minutes also show that the task force discussed a “potential area” for research and development that called for it to “‘Investigate the Market Penetration Requirements of Introducing a New Energy Source into World Wide Use.’ This would include the technical implications of energy source changeover, research timing and requirements.”
Yet by the 1990s, it was clear that API had opted for a markedly different approach to the threat of climate change. It joined Exxon, other fossil fuel companies and major manufacturers in the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a lobbying group whose objective was to derail international efforts to curb heat-trapping emissions. In 1998, a year after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted by countries to cut fossil fuel emissions, API crafted a campaign to convince the American public and lawmakers that climate science was too tenuous for the United States to ratify the treaty.
“Unless ‘climate change’ becomes a non-issue, meaning that the Kyoto proposal is defeated and there are no further initiatives to thwart the threat of climate change, there may be no moment when we can declare victory for our efforts,” according to the draft Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan circulated by API.
API and GCC were victorious when George W. Bush pulled the U.S. out of the Kyoto agreement. A June 2001 briefing memorandum records a top State Department official thanking the GCC because Bush “rejected the Kyoto Protocol in part, based on input from you.”
API did not respond to several requests for comment on this story.
At Shaw’s urging, the task force invited Professor John A. Laurmann of Stanford University to brief members about climate science at the February 1980 meeting in New York. Shaw and Laurmann had participated in the same panel at the AAAS climate conference in April 1979.
Like many scientists at the time, Laurmann openly discussed the uncertainties in the evolving climate research, such as the limited long-term sampling data and the difficulty of determining regional effects of climate change, according to a copy of his presentation attached to the meeting minutes.
Still, Laurmann told his audience several times that the evidence showed that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is likely “caused by anthropogenic release of CO2, mainly from fossil fuel burning.”
In his conclusions section, Laurmann estimated that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would double in 2038, which he said would likely lead to a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise in global average temperatures with “major economic consequences.” He then told the task force that models showed a 5 degrees Celsius rise by 2067, with “globally catastrophic effects.”