We Knew #ExxonKnew. Now We Know that #APIKnew, too.

January 2, 2018

New chapter in history of climate science denial and cover-up.


Over 300 government officials, economists, historians, scientists, and industry executives were present for the Energy and Man symposium – organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business – and Dunlop was to address the entire congregation on the “prime mover” of the last century – energy – and its major source: oil. As President of the Sun OilCompany, he knew the business well, and as a director of the American Petroleum Institute – the industry’s largest and oldest trade association in the land of Uncle Sam – he was responsible for representing the interests of all those many oilmen gathered around him.

Four others joined Dunlop at the podium that day, one of whom had made the journey from California – and Hungary before that. The nuclear weapons physicist Edward Teller had, by 1959, become ostracized by the scientific community for betraying his colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer, but he retained the embrace of industry and government. Teller’s task that November fourth was to address the crowd on “energy patterns of the future,” and his words carried an unexpected warning:

Ladies and gentlemen, I am to talk to you about energy in the future. I will start by telling you why I believe that the energy resources of the past must be supplemented. First of all, these energy resources will run short as we use more and more of the fossil fuels. But I would […] like to mention another reason why we probably have to look for additional fuel supplies. And this, strangely, is the question of contaminating the atmosphere. [….] Whenever you burn conventional fuel, you create carbon dioxide. [….] The carbon dioxide is invisible, it is transparent, you can’t smell it, it is not dangerous to health, so why should one worry about it?

Carbon dioxide has a strange property. It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect [….] It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.

How, precisely, Mr. Dunlop and the rest of the audience reacted is unknown, but it’s hard to imagine this being welcome news. After his talk, Teller was asked to “summarize briefly the danger from increased carbon dioxide content in the atmosphere in this century.” The physicist, as if considering a numerical estimation problem, responded:

At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent [about 360 parts per million, by Teller’s accounting], if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels. By that time, there will be a serious additional impediment for the radiation leaving the earth. Our planet will get a little warmer. It is hard to say whether it will be 2 degrees Fahrenheit or only one or 5.

But when the temperature does rise by a few degrees over the whole globe, there is a possibility that the icecaps will start melting and the level of the oceans will begin to rise. Well, I don’t know whether they will cover the Empire State Building or not, but anyone can calculate it by looking at the map and noting that the icecaps over Greenland and over Antarctica are perhaps five thousand feet thick.

And so, at its hundredth birthday party, American oil was warned of its civilization-destroying potential.

Talk about a buzzkill.

How did the petroleum industry respond? Eight years later, on a cold, clear day in March, Robert Dunlop walked the halls of the U.S. Congress. The 1967 oil embargo was weeks away, and the Senate was investigating the potential of electric vehicles. Dunlop, testifying now as the Chairman of the Board of the American Petroleum Institute, posed the question, “tomorrow’s car: electric or gasoline powered?” His preferred answer was the latter:

We in the petroleum industry are convinced that by the time a practical electric car can be mass-produced and marketed, it will not enjoy any meaningful advantage from an air pollution standpoint. Emissions from internal-combustion engines will have long since been controlled.

Dunlop went on to describe progress in controlling carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, and hydrocarbon emissions from automobiles. Absent from his list? The pollutant he had been warned of years before: carbon dioxide.

The Nuclear Green Revolution:

Truth can come from people we don’t like.  Edward Teller achieved a form of immortality in Peter Sellers satiric portrail of a Teller like figure in the movie Dr. Stranglove.  Teller who was in reality a flawed, complex, and compelling figure, was no Dr. Strangelove, bent on a nuclear war. Teller worried about nuclear winter, and even his most questionable idea, the Star Wars scheme he sold to Ronald Reagan, was intended to prevent the disasterous effects of nuclear war.   Teller shared with Alvin Weinberg concerns about nuclear safety, the problems of carbon-dioxide and global warming, and future sources of energy.
In December 1957 Edward Teller was invited to address the Annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. Teller was at the height of his fame. He was an honest to God celebrity, with reporters at his side, jotting down his comments, photographers snapping his picture, and as disgusting as it might seem now, women volunteering to sleep with him on the basis of his fame. (I know this because a beautify but wayward woman once describe an encounter with Teller to me.  She would have slept with Teller had he consented to the arrangement.)  He was referred to in the press as the Father of the “H-Bomb.” He was also a darling of the American right-wing. No doubt the ACS thought by getting Teller to speak, they had achieved some coup. They must have been a little bit bewildered then when Teller started to talk about carbon dioxide and global climate. Teller told the assembled chemists that continued burning of carbon based fuels would increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, eventually warming the planet to the extent that the polar ice caps would melt, and the resulting rise in sea level would submerge costal cities under water.

However, Teller, in his later years, would come to deride much of what he saw as increasingly common exaggerations and general doomsdayism on the matter of climate change. Thus, he became one of the most prestigious signers[83] of the Oregon Petition. The petition, drafted in 1998, states, in part: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate” [emphasis added].

The Oregon Petition was later criticized heavily on several grounds, to the point where the National Academy of Sciences disavowed the petition, despite the petition being spearheaded by its former president, Fred Seitz. The vast majority of the verifiable signatories lacked any expertise in climate science; pranksters who submitted names like “Charles Darwin” and Star Wars characters got on the list because there was no process to authenticate the identities of the signatories; the petition was accompanied by a non-peer reviewed article from the non-indexed Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which is published by the very organization that organized the petition.

“Oregon Petition” treated here in one of my earlier vids.

Inside Climate News:

The oil industry’s leading pollution-control consultants advised the American Petroleum Institute in 1968 that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels deserved as much concern as the smog and soot that had commanded attention for decades.

Carbon dioxide was “the only air pollutant which has been proven to be of global importance to man’s environment on the basis of a long period of scientific investigation,” two scientists from the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) told the API.

This paper, along with scores of other publications, shows that the risks of climate change were being discussed in the inner circles of the oil industry earlier than previously documented. The records, unearthed from archives by a Washington, D.C. environmental law organization, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), reveal that the carbon dioxide question—an obscure corner of research for much of the 20th century—had been closely studied since the 1950s by some oil company researchers.

By the 1960s, the CO2 problem was gaining wider scientific recognition, especially as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s science advisers and leading experts brought it to the attention of the White House in 1965.

“If CO2 levels continue to rise at present rates, it is likely that noticeable increases in temperature could occur,” SRI scientists Elmer Robinson and R.C. Robbins wrote in their 1968 paper to API.

“Changes in temperature on the world-wide scale could cause major changes in the earth’s atmosphere over the next several hundred years including change in the polar ice caps.”

Ten years later, the world’s leading oil company, Exxon, would launch an ambitious in-house research program into the emerging science of climate change, as detailed by InsideClimate News last year in an investigative series. Beginning in 1978, Exxon researchers hoped their work would identify the risks climate change posed to the company’s business and earn it a seat at the table when policymakers moved to limit CO2emissions, according to internal documents. By the late 1980s, the company and its allies would instead challenge the scientific basis for strong action on climate change.

In a new series of articles, ICN begins to examine how the industry confronted pollution concerns during the infancy of climate research in the mid-20th century. It is based on hundreds of public documents assembled by CIEL, along with others gathered by ICN.

The documents trace early academic research into rising carbon dioxide levels. They show how the oil industry monitored that published work, and help explain the beginnings of its own research. They also show how industry’s reaction to mid-century regulation to curtail other forms of air pollution, such as smog, helped shape its approach toward the risks of carbon dioxide.

The documents reveal a deep and persistent interest by industry in the CO2issue, according to Carroll Muffett, a lawyer who is president of CIEL. If it is shown that oil companies knew fossil fuels posed dangers to the public, he said, the industry might become vulnerable to product liability complaints.

“From a products liability perspective, these documents raise potential claims that oil companies failed to warn consumers about a potentially serious risk linked to their products,” he said.

Muffett’s institute, an advocacy group that provides policy research and legal counsel on energy and environmental matters, is releasing its findings just as several state attorneys general have begun investigating how much oil companies knew about climate change and what they decided to do with their knowledge.

6 Responses to “We Knew #ExxonKnew. Now We Know that #APIKnew, too.”

  1. neilrieck Says:

    For people looking for the Guardian article on Edward Teller, here it is:

    On its 100th birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming


  2. indy222 Says:

    Good find, Peter.

  3. Here is the link to an excerpt (Photo Copy) of the actual record of the Symposium I filed some years ago (includes the question answer session)

    I think I found it in a comment on the Guardian – (too long ago)


    Teller 1959 Energy and Man excerpt including warning to oil industry about global warming

    Kudo’s to Peter and the researchers who did the digging for the background, perspective and details
    Very valuable work

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