James Black (1919-1988) was the Scientific Advisor in the Products Research Division of Exxon Research & Engineering, and one of the top technical people at Exxon Research & Engineering until his retirement in 1983.
In 1977, Black addressed Exxon’s management committee of top executives at the Corporate headquarters and delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.
Black sent a written transcript of his presentation the Vice President of Exxon Research and Engineering:
The Greenhouse Effect refers to a warning of the earth’s atmosphere due to an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide. …
Since 1958, C02 has been monitored at a number of remote sites which are free from local inputs (Vugraph 2), These are Point Barrow, Alaska; some Swedish aircraft flights; Mauna Loa, Hawaii; American Samoa and the South Pole. The carbon dioxide concentration has been found to be increasing rather uniformly at all locations with the South Pole measurements rather lagging those in the Northern Hemisphere.
Atmospheric scientists generally attribute this growth in C02 to the combustion of fossil fuel. A principal reason for this is that fossil fuel combustion is the only readily identifiable source which is (1) growing at the same rate, (2) large enough to account for the observed increases, and (3) capable of affecting the Northern Hemisphere first.
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.
In 1982, an internal memo circulated in Exxon so as to prepare their staff for all the “increased attention in both the scientific and popular press as an emerging environmental issue”
The material has been given wide circulation to Exxon management and is intended to familiarize Exxon personnel with the subject. ft may be used as a basis for discussing the issue with outsiders as may be appropriate. However, it should be restricted to Exxon personnel and not distributed externally.
The “greenhouse effect” is not likely to cause substantial climatic changes until the average global temperature rises at least 1 C above today’s levels. This could occur in the second to third quarter of the next century. However, there is concern among some scientific groups that once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible …
The memo then goes on to give it’s most revealing statement:
Mitigation of the “greenhouse effect” would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion. Shifting between fossil fuels is not a feasible alternative because of limited long-term supply availability for certain fuels.
In other words, doing the most logical thing which would be to reduce the use of fossil fuels would hurt profits since Exxon does not have an alternative as lucrative as oil.
Realizing the risks that climate science posed to the company’s profits, Exxon decided to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.
Lee Raymond, Exxon’s former Chairman and CEO said the following statements in a 1997 speech to the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing, China.
I know there are some people who argue that we should drastically curtail our use of fossil fuels for environmental reasons, and I’ll have more to say about that in a moment. But let me state at this point my belief that such proposals are neither prudent nor practical.
With no readily available economic alternatives on the horizon, fossils fuels will continue to supply the most of the world’s and this region’s energy for the foreseeable future.
Today, concern about the environment focuses on the issue of global climate change. In December, representatives from 160 nations will meet int the beautiful city of Kyoto, Japan, to decide on legally binding agreements that would have the effect of cutting the use of oil and other fossil fuels. Clearly, all of us here today have a big stake in the decisions that will be made.
Proponents of the agreements say they are necessary because burning fossil fuels causes global warning. Many people – politicians and the public alike – believe that global warming is a rock-solid certainty. But it’s not.
Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate change will change in the 21st century and beyond. That means we need to understand the issue better, and fortunately, we have time. It is highly unlikely that the temperature in the middle of the next century will be significantly affected whether policies are enacted now or 20 years from now.
Raymond’s statements are complete lies. Exxon’s internal documents reveal the exact opposite of everything Exxon’s CEO just vomited to the world.
Raymond’s statement on the insignificance of enacting policies “now or 20 years from now” are specially cynical given that James Black advised Exxon management in 1978 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.
In Januray 2023, at a gathering of world leaders and corporate executives in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, The United Nations secretary-general condemned fossil fuel executives for deliberately misleading the public about the threat posed by their products. António Guterres made the remarks in an address to the World Economic Forum, after a new study found Exxon was aware of the link between fossil fuel emissions and global heating as early as the 1970s — but spent decades refuting and obscuring the science in order to make maximum profits.
Here are the words from the United Nations secretary-general:
Some in Big Oil peddled the big lie. And like the tobacco industry, those responsible must be held to account. Today, fossil fuel producers and their enablers are still racing to expand production, knowing full well that this business model is inconsistent with human survival.
The study, published in Science, starts like this:
For decades, some members of the fossil fuel industry tried to convince the public that a causative link between fossil fuel use and climate warming could not be made because the models used to project warming were too uncertain. Supran et al. show that one of those fossil fuel companies, ExxonMobil, had their own internal models that projected warming trajectories consistent with those forecast by the independent academic and government models. What they understood about climate models thus contradicted what they led the public to believe.
Our results show that in private and academic circles since the late 1970s and early 1980s, ExxonMobil predicted global warming correctly and skillfully.
And there you have it!
Thanks for reading,
In 2015, PBS Frontline brought all these findings to the public: Investigation Finds Exxon Ignored Its Own Early Climate Change Warnings
The internal records are detailed in InsideClimate News, a Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization covering energy and the environment.
Learn more about the CO2 researchers’ work in Exxon: Inside Exxon’s Great Climate Cover-Up: From Early Climate Change Researcher to Epic Climate Denier: https://www.democracynow.org/2016/12/12/inside_exxons_great_climate_cover_up
“Losing Earth”: How Humanity Came to Understand Climate Change & Failed to Act in Time: https://www.democracynow.org/2018/8/2/losing_earth_how_humanity_came_to?autostart=true
Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.abk0063