New Exxon Papers: “No Doubt”
April 26, 2016
Above, an NBC News report from Earth Day, 1970, contains a dire warning about climate change.
This is the most underreported story of the last, oh, say,… 50 million years.
Throughout Exxon’s global operations, the company knew that CO2 was a harmful pollutant in the atmosphere years earlier than previously reported.
DeSmog has uncovered Exxon corporate documents from the late 1970s stating unequivocally “there is no doubt” that CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels was a growing “problem” well understood within the company.
“It is assumed that the major contributors of CO2 are the burning of fossil fuels… There is no doubt that increases in fossil fuel usage and decreases of forest cover are aggravating the potential problem of increased CO2 in the atmosphere. Technology exists to remove CO2 from stack gases but removal of only 50% of the CO2 would double the cost of power generation.” [emphasis added]
Those lines appeared in a 1980 report, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979,” produced by Imperial Oil, Exxon’s Canadian subsidiary.
A distribution list included with the report indicates that it was disseminated to managers across Exxon’s international corporate offices, including in Europe.
[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1978-1979”]
The next report in the series, “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-81,” noted in an appendix covering “Key Environmental Affairs Issues and Concerns” that: CO2 / GREENHOUSE EFFECT RECEIVING INCREASED MEDIA ATTENTION.
[click here to download the full PDF version of “Review of Environmental Protection Activities for 1980-1981”]
InsideClimate News unveiled much new information in its Exxon: The Road Not Taken series clearly demonstrating the depth of climate science knowledge among Exxon’s U.S. operations. Additional revelations about the company’s early climate research were published by the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.
A 1980 Exxon report explained the company’s plans:
“CO2 Greenhouse Effect: Exxon-supported work is already underway to help define the seriousness of this problem. Such information is needed to assess the implications for future fossil fuel use. Government funding will be sought to expand the use of Exxon tankers in determining the capacity of the ocean to store CO2.”
Now DeSmog’s research confirms that the knowledge of the carbon dioxide pollution threat was indeed global across Exxon’s worldwide operations, earlier than previously known, and considered a major challenge for the company’s future operations. The new documents revealed today were found by DeSmog researchers in an Imperial Oil (TSE:IMO) archival collection housed at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta. We first learned of the existence of the collection in one of the articles published in the Los Angeles Times in collaboration with the Columbia School of Journalism.
“Since Pollution Means Disaster…”
A document discovered by DeSmog reveals that Exxon was aware as early as the late 1960s that global emissions of CO2 from combustion was a chief pollution concern affecting global ecology.
Those details were found in a 1970 report, “Pollution Is Everybody’s Business,” authored by H.R. Holland, a Chemical Engineer responsible for environmental protection in Imperial Oil’s engineering division. [click to download PDF of “Pollution is Everybody’s Business]
“Since pollution means disaster to the affected species, the only satisfactory course of action is to prevent it – to maintain the addition of foreign matter at such levels that it can be diluted, assimilated or destroyed by natural processes – to protect man’s environment from man.”
Included in Holland’s report is a table of the “Estimated Global Emissions of Some Air Pollutants.” One of those “air pollutants” on the table is carbon dioxide with the listed sources as “oxidation of plant and animal matter” and “combustion.”The double asterisks beside CO2 in Holland’s list of pollutants refer to a citation for a 1969 scientific study, “Carbon Dioxide Affects Global Ecology,” in which the author explains the connections between the burning of fossil fuels, the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere and the potential effects this will have on future weather patterns and global temperatures.
Holland emphasized the need to control all forms of pollution through regulatory action, noting that “a problem of such size, complexity and importance cannot be dealt with on a voluntary basis.” Yet the fossil fuel industry has long argued that its voluntary programs are sufficient, and that regulations are unneeded.
Exxon Understood Climate Science, Yet Funded Decades of Climate Science Denial
Despite Exxon’s advanced scientific understanding of the role of CO2 pollution from fossil fuel burning causing atmospheric disruption, the company shelved its internal concerns and launched a sophisticated, global campaign to sow doubt and create public distrust of climate science. This included extensive lobbying and advertising activities, publishing weekly op-eds in The New York Times for years, and other tactics.
Exxon and Mobil were both founding members of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry front group created in 1989 to sow doubt — despite the GCC‘s internal understanding of the certainty.
While the GCC distributed a “backgrounder” to politicians and media in the early 1990s claiming “The role of greenhouse gases in climate change is not well understood,” a 1995 GCC internal memo drafted by Mobil Oil (which merged with Exxon in 1998) stated that: “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 and cannot be denied.”
And the most obvious evidence of Exxon’s pervasive efforts to attack science and pollution control regulations lies in the more than $30 million traced by Greenpeace researchers to several dozen think tanks and front groups working to confuse the public about the need to curb CO2 pollution.
The newly-released documents show that Imperial Oil – known for operating Esso gas stations in Canada – had extensive internal research about the environmental impacts of its oil and gas development that ran counter to many public statements made in recent decades by Exxon and its Canadian affiliate that cast doubt on whether humans were causing climate change.
An internal Imperial Oil report from 1970 called “Pollution is everybody’s business” is among the documents in the collection at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum. It was discovered by Kevin Grandia and Brendan DeMelle, two researchers from DesmogBlog – a website that investigates corporate campaigns that may be confusing the public about scientific evidence on climate change.
Authored by a chemical engineer named H.R. Holland from the company’s engineering division in Sarnia, Ontario, the report listed carbon dioxide in a chart of pollutants, warning that companies could not be expected to address pollution on a volunteer basis.
“A problem of such size, complexity and importance cannot be dealt with on a voluntary basis. The protection of the interests of society as a whole requires the establishment of legal controls on pollution and on other anti-social acts,” said the 1970 report.
This runs counter to public statements made by Imperial Oil executives from the 1990s that said scientists were still debating whether rising carbon dioxide levels were warming the atmosphere. In 1998, Imperial Oil’s then-chief executive officer, Robert Patterson, said that carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and that greenhouse gases had “no connection whatsoever with our day-to-day weather.”
As recently as 2002, Imperial Oil was one of two Canadian oil companies, along with Talisman Energy, that sponsored an event organized by climate change science doubters on Parliament Hill who attacked the Liberal government of former prime minister Jean Chrétien and his plans at the time to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
The 1970 report also referenced published scientific research from 1969 about the impacts of greenhouse gases on the planet. The Imperial Oil document warned that pollutants were affecting everyone.