Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters
Researchers have found that gas and oil giant ExxonMobil deliberately misled the public about the reality of climate change for decades. While the corporation's own scientists and internal communications acknowledged that climate change is real and man-made, its public advertorials boldly denied it.
Back in 2015, investigative journalists at the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News claimed that ExxonMobil's own scientists found evidence of the reality of climate change way back in the early 70s. However, there's also evidence that the corporation deliberately misinformed the public and made their studies on climate change difficult to access. Exxon rebutted these claims, saying that the journalists had taken Exxon's statements on climate change out of context.
“Read the documents Inside Climate News cites that purportedly prove some conspiracy on ExxonMobil’s part to hide our climate science findings,” Exxon said. “[I]f you read the documents, it will become clear the opposite is true.”
Skeletons in the ExxonMobil Closet
"Read the documents."
So that's exactly what Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran did—read the documents. Exxon's statement included links to a 10-page bibliography, as well as links to the documents that Inside Climate News based their piece on. Oreskes, a Harvard science historian, and Supran, a Harvard postdoctoral fellow, analyzed all 187 documents to confirm or disprove that Exxon did deliberately misinform the public about climate change.
Oreskes and Supran found that 83% of the peer-reviewed scientific papers that ExxonMobil scientists contributed to and 80% of the corporation's internal communications acknowledged that climate change is real and caused by human actions. However, 81% of the advertorials Exxon bought in the New York Times promoted doubt in climate change. The corporation shelled out $31,000 per advertorial to largely downplay or deny the veracity of climate change. They even included information that contradicted the findings of their own scientists.
“We still don't know what role man-made greenhouse gases might play in warming the planet,” the corporation declared, even as their scientists quietly published research detailing exactly how man-made greenhouse gases affect the planet.
Exxon scientists actually did excellent climate change research. However, it looks like the corporation itself deliberately suppressed the findings. “For the most part their research was highly technical, hidden behind the walls of ExxonMobil offices, or reported in academic publications with access only through a paywall,” Oreskes and Supran say.
Too Little, Too Late?
What could the world look like if Exxon had made their findings available decades ago?
“[Exxon] accused their critics of cherry picking statements,” Supran tells The Verge. “But we looked at the whole cherry tree. And the trends we found are clear, and evident.”
At present, Exxon has seemingly been working to combat climate change. It was one of the companies that wanted the US to remain in the Paris agreement. It was also a member of a coalition of entities that want to cut their carbon emissions. While ExxonMobil may be more environmental now than it was before, it still doesn't change the fact that they tried to obfuscate their own scientists' findings on climate change. Who knows how far we could have gone in climate science if the corporation had made its research accessible way back in the 70s?
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