In the 1980s, a group of scientists predicted climate change with uncanny accuracy. Those scientists happened to work for Exxon.
Many fossil fuel companies knew about climate change well before the general public did.
But a recent review of dozens of internal Exxon documents from the 1970s and ‘80s, found company scientists knew a lot more than the basics of what greenhouse gasses were doing to the planet.
To understand what Exxon knew and how they knew it, let’s go back to 1977. This was an important moment in history: Scientists and government agencies were just starting to seriously study climate change. Researchers knew the basics — carbon dioxide levels were rising, and the Earth would most likely get warmer — but there were still a lot of unanswered questions. And Exxon, a major fossil fuel company with a skilled research department, decided to spend millions of dollars to answer those questions for themselves.
If you read historical documents or interviews from this time, you get the sense that Exxon scientists were genuinely interested in understanding climate change — even a bit idealistic! A top company scientist at the time envisioned Exxon at the center of a global climate research project “aimed at benefiting mankind.”
Learn more: Just how good were Exxon’s climate projections?