Researchers: This Is 'Smoking Gun' on an Exxon Cover-Up

Oil giant made eerily accurate predictions on climate change, then misled public, scientists say
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 13, 2023 11:45 AM CST
Exxon's Secret Climate-Change Predictions Were Very Accurate
A sign for an Exxon gas station is displayed in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, on April 26.   (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Who needs Nostradamus when we've got Exxon? The Guardian reports that "a trove of internal documents and research papers" has long established that Exxon, now known as ExxonMobil, knew since the 1970s of the dangers of global warming, and that other oil companies acknowledged the same decades before that. But new research published Friday in the journal Science shows just how spot-on Exxon was in its speculations about what would happen down the road, yet it misled the public anyway.

The researchers—who reviewed more than 100 internal documents and peer-reviewed science publications that involved Exxon researchers between 1977 and 2014—found predictions on global warming that startlingly aligned with, or even outperformed, models made by independent academic and government groups. For instance, Exxon scientists accurately projected that the Earth would warm between 0.2 degrees Celsius and 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade, thanks to emissions from burning fossil fuels—a "breathtaking" prediction when one looks at what actually happened, according to Harvard researcher Geoffrey Supran, one of the study's co-authors.

Per CNBC, the study found between 63% and 83% of Exxon's projections came to pass. Supran calls his team's findings a "smoking gun showing that [Exxon] accurately predicted warming years before they started attacking the science." And yet "Exxon embarked upon a lengthy campaign to downplay or discredit what its own scientists had confirmed," per the Guardian, which flags a 2013 comment from then-CEO Rex Tillerson that the climate models were "not competent." Cornell climate scientist Natalie Mahowald says if Exxon had simply acknowledged the info and worked with it, investments in wind and solar, among other remedies, could've been made earlier on.

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NPR notes that ExxonMobile hasn't yet addressed what the study specifically found, but a statement from ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spitler prior to the research's publication stated, "This issue has come up several times in recent years and, in each case, our answer is the same: Those who talk about how 'Exxon Knew' are wrong in their conclusions." (More Exxon stories.)

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