In extensive interviews with former Exxon employees, scientists and government officials, along with hundreds of pages of internal documents from Exxon, reporters at InsideClimate News (ICN) have discovered that Exxon (now ExxonMobil) conducted extensive research into global warming through increased carbon dioxide emissions between 1977 and 1986, in an effort to understand the impact their product would have on the Earth’s environment.
These studies, of which included CO2 sampling programs and climate modeling, involved the outfitting of one of their supertankers to measure both ocean and atmospheric CO2 levels. These studies all came to the same conclusion as their more modern counterparts: that an increase in carbon dioxide levels would result in a substantial increase in global atmospheric temperatures. they estimated that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would result in an average increase of 2-3°C (4-5°F), and as much as a 10°C (18°F) increase at the poles.
These findings initially galvanized many of Exxon’s executives, managers and researchers, with them seeing the potential for the company to be the vanguard of a movement that could provide positive benefits for the planet. Exxon Research manager Harold N. Weinberg, stated in an internal memo from March 1978: "This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting [sic] mankind."
However, in the late 1980’s, Exxon re-geared those resources into not only covering up their own research, but also into an attempt to bury public debate on the subject. Exxon began lobbying to block both federal and international attempts to address the issue of controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and disseminated a massive amount of disinformation among the public to squelch the debate there.
In addressing the Kyoto Protocol conference in 1997, Exxon CEO Lee Raymond illustrated his company’s complete about-face regarding the issue of human-generated global warming: “Let’s agree there’s a lot we really don’t know about how climate will change in the 21st century and beyond. 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.”
Exxon’s responsibility for promoting the denial side of the climate change debate has now become especially damning, as it appears that the company’s own research revealed that the exact opposite was true.