Exxon and Shell knew they were causing climate change decades ago

Way back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, global energy companies were waking up to the fact that their day-to-day business could be harming the planet.

In 2015 InsideClimate News broke a story detailing how Exxon hired top scientists to research the issue. They built a top-notch research program, measured carbon dioxide in the environment, ventured out onto the ocean to determine if the water was absorbing greenhouse gases in significant amounts and created extensive climate models.

The senior scientist on the project, James Black, reported back to Exxon management that “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.” He warned that doubling CO2 gases in the atmosphere would raise the average global temperatures by two to three degrees and “man has a time window of five to 10 years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

This was in 1978. Exxon then spent the next several decades publicly questioning global warming and worked to prevent the United States from signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998.

It has recently come to light that Royal Dutch Shell also understood at least as far back as the late 1980’s the risks of global warming caused by fossil fuels. The Dutch newspaper  De Correspondent uncovered a 1988 internal company report discussing the looming climate crisis. Although company scientists agreed that it might take until the 2000’s for enough evidence to prove to the world that man made emissions were causing unnaturally rapid climate change, steps needed to be taken immediately.

“With the very long time scales involved,” they wrote, “it would be tempting for society to wait until then before doing anything… The potential implications for the world are, however, so large that policy options need to be considered much earlier. And the energy industry needs to consider how it should play its part…” Otherwise “it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.”

One of the documents even warned against a potential public backlash once storms caused by climate change begin to effect life and property. That prediction seems to be coming to fruition as hurricanes become more frequent in the Caribbean and in reaching the east coast of the United States.

Predictably, after receiving the internal 1988 reports, Shell publicly spoke of the uncertainties of climate science and focused on the potential costs of corrective actions.

Many of the documents, including explanatory notes, were released on the Climate Files website, where climate researcher Kert Davies maintains extensive archives.