Exxon-Mobil knew of climate change in 1981, still funded denialists

Exxon Mobil made a business calculation that aimed at predicting the prospect of climate change-related regulations and taxation

An email by a former leading climate scientist at oil giant Exxon Mobil suggested the company knew about the risks fossil fuels posed for climate change back in 1981. Yet the company instead spent millions on supporting climate change deniers.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70 percent CO2.”

The email was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University. The email was released on July 8 by the Union of Concerned Scientists as part of a report on climate disinformation promoted by companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy called the Climate Deception Dossiers.

Bernstein said the company was aware of climate change almost seven years before the issue became a public concern.

He said: “When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions.”

Documents revealed by The Guardian showed that the company continued its refusal to acknowledge its business’s effect on the environment. In fact, it spent more than US$30 million on funding deniers of climate change.

Meanwhile, the company said it no longer funded climate change sceptics and that the science behind the issue itself was in its very early stages.

“The science in 1981 on this subject was in the very, very early days and there was considerable division of opinion,” Richard Keil, an Exxon Mobil spokesperson, told The Guardian.

“There was nobody you could have gone to in 1981 or 1984 who would have said whether it was real or not. Nobody could provide a definitive answer.”

Bernstein said that by studying climate change and the effect of carbon dioxide, Exxon Mobil was making a business calculation that aimed at predicting the prospect of climate change-related regulations and taxation.

“Having spent twenty years working for Exxon and 10 working for Mobil, I know that much of that ethical behaviour comes from a business calculation that it is cheaper in the long run to be ethical than unethical,” said Bernstein.

[Abridged from TeleSUR English.]


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