Exxon Knew Everything There Was to Know About Climate Change by the Mid-1980s -- and Denied It

And thanks to their willingness to sucker the world, the world is now a chaotic mess.

This one comes from months of careful reporting by two separate teams, one at the Pulitzer Prize-winning website Inside Climate News, and the other at the Los Angeles Times (with an assist from the Columbia Journalism School). Following separate lines of evidence and document trails, they've reached the same bombshell conclusion: ExxonMobil, the world's largest and most powerful oil company, knew everything there was to know about climate change by the mid-1980s, and then spent the next few decades systematically funding climate denial and lying about the state of the science. [...]

A few observers, especially on the professionally jaded left, have treated the story as old news -- as something that even if we didn't know, we knew. "Of course they lied," someone told me. That cynicism, however, serves as the most effective kind of cover for Exxon (right alongside the tired argument that it's "not the fault of the companies -- they're just meeting demand from all of us"). What's beginning to sink in is the horrible impact of their lies: Exxon, had its leaders merely stated directly what they knew to be true, could have ended the pretend debate over climate change as early as the 1980s.

Washington Monthly:

A fossil fuel company intentionally and knowingly obfuscating research into climate change constitutes criminal negligence and malicious intent at best, and a crime against humanity at worst. The Department of Justice has a moral obligation to prosecute Exxon and its co-conspirators accordingly.

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30 Responses:

  1. And of course there is no accountability

  2. James says:

    The good news is that electrodyalisis, the desalination method which is better than reverse osmosis in any way (e.g. it's so efficient that you can use seawater to make a salt water battery sufficient to power it at practical throughput in isolated areas) and is starting to get built in spite of the fact that 40 years of inertia is behind reverse osmosis, can remove carbonic acid directly from seawater for use as plastic stock (fiberglass composite lumber has a better ASME fire resistance score than almost all wood timber, and lasts much longer, being unpalatable to termites and other ubiquitous organisms, permitting reforestation on a massive scale) and hydrogenated into methane for carbon neutral natural gas and further Fischer-Tropsch processed into paraffins for carbon neutral gasoline, felt fuel, diesel, and asphalt so we can continue paving everything long after fracking+GTL prices out of reach. The bad news is that nobody is doing this yet, and Xerox PARC laid off the whole team including the inventor just after the patent for it issued, and the Secretary of Defense refuses to impose the "reasonable and customary" patent licensing provision because, you know, fossil fuel buys more votes.

    • James says:

      s/any way/every way/;s/felt fuel/jet fuel/

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Alternatively, we could all just stop going to work. No imaginary science miracles needed.

      • James says:

        I walk to work. If I stopped going to work I promise you it would not benefit humanity, society, you, or me.

      • I've been waiting for everyone else to start telecommuting for so long that most people don't even know what telecommuting means.

        • Doc says:

          I work for the Feds and we've been telecommunting (against our division head's wishes; sometimes Congress accidentally does good) 4 days a week for the last 5 years. But that's just one drop of condensation from an overworked window air conditioner in a Middle East house...

        • Thomas Lord says:

          I've been waiting for everyone else to start telecommuting

          Oh, I was unclear. I don't mean work-from-home. I mean stop working.

          • Let us know how that works out for you.

            • Thomas Lord says:

              Yes, its true, people will beg for work no matter how pointless, humiliating, soul crushing, anti-social, and exploitative. They will plead for employers to abuse them because they are too scared to imagine living any other way. They will merrily carry on systematically destroying the climate, the oceans, and the land perhaps pausing vaguely to wonder, now and then, when the C-level execs will maybe do something about that. In the end they'll probably march themselves into the ovens if there's a promise of a quarterly bonus in it.

              • BZZT. Godwin's Law. You lose.

                • Thomas Lord says:

                  BZZT. Godwin's Law. You lose.

                  This is fascinating on two levels.

                  First, there is your peculiar insistence that this is some kind of contest. What are you compensating for?

                  Second, that you promote a fake rule -- a rule meant as a joke -- and old and tired joke -- to try your toolish level-best to prevent even the frank mention of actually existing fascism.

                  • James says:

                    When Godwin's law is invoked, the competition is in the use of the Socratic method to address the central point without unduly offending skinheads, compensating for ineffective social egalitarianism.

                • Chris says:

                  Cut out this Godwin's law shit.

          • Doc says:

            ah; would that I could...

    • tfb says:

      Quick fixes like this are generally ruled out by the 2nd law of thermodynamics sadly.

      • James says:

        How so?

        • tfb says:

          Well, you're trying to drive some process uphill, and that needs energy.

          (Note that I haven't read the article in detail yet, but it's extremely unlikely there is a magic fix that scrubs large amounts of CO2 from the system without an enormous energy cost.)

        • tfb says:

          I've now done some sums. They quote figures around 400KJ/mol, and based on this and a human CO2 output of around 30E9 tonnes I get a power requirement of about 8E12W to scrub all the human-produced CO2.

          Three Gorges seems to be the largest power station in the world, which produces about 23E9W, so this is about 3-400 of those.

          Which is less mad than it might be, but still mad.

          Disclaimer: all this was done on scraps of paper without enough thought, I could have made significant errors.

          • James says:

            30E9 tonnes of carbon or CO2 annually? What is 350 Three Gorges in acres of wind turbines?

            • tfb says:

              30E9 tonnes of C02/year (actually 29E9 I think).

              GWEC thinks there were about 3.7E11W of installed wind capacity in 2.7E5 turbines, so the average turbine nameplate power is about 1.4E6W. If you assume a power factor of 0.5 (which is pretty optimistic: Scottish wind farms managed about 0.25 between 2008 and 2010), then the available power/turbine is about 7E5W (700kW).

              So if I'm right about 8E12W, this is about 11 million turbines, or about 42 times the current installed base.

              The real question to ask is: is it better to use that power to reduce emissions in the first place? Almost certainly the answer is that yes, it is.

  3. strontium 90 says:

    I kind of wonder why, if we're treating companies like people now, we don't prosecute them criminally the same way. Commit a crime against humanity? Put the company in "prison" by removing it from society / freezing all of its assets for the number of years we would do that to a person. Clearly, forcing large companies to pay one-off lump sums doesn't do the trick.

    • Joker_vD says:

      Because that wouldn't benefit companies very much. Naturally, they would resist it, and given the resources they have, and the ability of a large company to concentrate and use those resources at the right place, compared to the resources and coordination the general public has, I'd say that's not very much like to pass.

      But hey, you can totally write your Congressman about that! Surely he'll hold your opinion more dear than the opinion of the people who funded his election campaign.

  4. Tomislav Ostojich says:

    Global warming/climate change is a story made up to scare children Has it ever seemed strange to you that every one of these kind of eschatologies always have the same solution: massive population reduction and one world government?

    Also, all the powerful oil companies in the world are nationalized and not publicly owned, so the oil industry at large doesn't need to lie to the public because they aren't subject to market forces.

    • Pavel Lishin says:

      I can't believe I'm wading into this cesspit, but: who exactly is proposing that the solution is a massive population reduction and a one-world government? And which oil companies are nationalized exactly?

    • Jeremy Leader says:

      "... the oil industry at large doesn't need to lie to the public because they aren't subject to market forces."

      By that line of reasoning, no totalitarian government needs to lie to its public, either.

      Exxon wasn't lying to try to control market forces; they were lying to reduce public pressure for government regulation.

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