Friday, September 25, 2015

Exxon's Response to the "Inside Climate News" Report


Exxon, converting oil to money (source)

by Gaius Publius

I said earlier that I'd write up Exxon's reply to the (in my mind) blockbuster story broken by Inside Climate News this week about what Exxon knew (or strongly suspected and were studying) about climate change and CO2, as far back as 1977. (I say "in my mind" because, I guess predictably, not a ripple in the big mainstream press. But this is Pope Week. Maybe soon?)

The main pieces in our coverage are these:
The last links to a petition you can sign. (Please do.)

There's been a ripple in the small mainstream press, though, in particular from NPR's program On The Media. Host Bob Garfield interviewed Exxon spokesman Richard Keil and asked him pointedly and directly about the Inside Climate News report. The clip is short, less than nine minutes long, and very listenable.

[Sorry, clip disabled. Click the link to listen to the interview.]

It's fascinating hearing Keil spin Exxon's reaction to the ICN story. Bob Garfield's interviewing is excellent. For example, listen starting at about 4:30 to Exxon's defense of its denier operation. In that exchange, the interviewer frames it perfectly (5:15):
It's so simple: If you did fund these different disinformation campaigns to muddy the issues on climate science, the question is .. why? Why go from a white hat operation that funds very serious research, into a damage control operation that seeks to muddy the issues for the public? Why?
Note near the end of the interview how Garfield ferrets out the news that Keil stonewalled ICN on the flimsiest of excuses, when they requested a detailed response on aspects of the story from him.

On The Media is a public radio production, but they like to say, it's with a difference:
While maintaining the civility and fairness that are the hallmarks of public radio, OTM tackles sticky issues with a frankness and transparency that has built trust with listeners and led to more than a tripling of its audience in five years.

Since OTM was re-launched in 2001, it has been one of NPR's fastest growing programs, heard on more than 300 public radio stations. It has won Edward R. Murrow Awards for feature reporting and investigative reporting, the National Press Club's Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism and a Peabody Award for its body of work.
A nice set of credits.

About that Inside Climate News Report

If you want a taste of what Inside Climate News is reporting and you don't want to do a lot of clicking, here's some of it. From their initial report (my emphasis):
Exxon's Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels' Role in Global Warming Decades Ago

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation's headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world's use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

"In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," Black told Exxon's Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon's leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon's Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

"Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed," Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.

His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. "Present thinking," he wrote in the 1978 summary, "holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon's ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company's understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business. ...
What Keil characterized as "uncertainties" would better be characterized as "identifying high probabilities," something science does, and something Exxon, when it was in its "science" phase, was also doing. In its third report, ICN detailed work done in the early 1980s by Exxon under this headline:

Exxon Confirmed Global Warming Consensus in 1982 with In-House Climate Models

Again, reducing uncertainties and identifying high probabilities. Excellent work by ICN. The main page for their continuing series is here. The Exxon document archive is here. Feel free to check back often for more.


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