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  • Big oil, including the company now known as Exxon Mobil, have been suppressing climate science for decades, says a new report by CIEL.

    Big oil, including the company now known as Exxon Mobil, have been suppressing climate science for decades, says a new report by CIEL. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 April 2016

Big Oil knew about climate change since at least the 1950s, but chose to ignore the science and hide the information from the public.

A new study has found that oil companies have known about the dangers of climate change decades before anyone else and have been leading a campaign to suppress climate science and create public doubt about global warming since the 1950s.   

The Center for International Environmental Law released a report Wednesday that showcases their analysis of  hundreds of documents and the decades-long corporate misinformation campaign to derail climate science.    

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“We began with three simple, related questions,” says Carroll Muffett, President of CIEL. “What did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? What we found is that they knew a great deal, and they knew it much earlier and with greater certainty than anyone has recognized or that the industry has admitted.” 

According to the report, industry excutives met in Los Angeles in 1946 to discuss growing public concern about air pollution. This led to the creation of the Smoke and Fumes Committee – a special research panel that would conduct research into pollution issues. Among these issues was the potential effects of rising levels of C02 in the atmosphere.  

According to the documents analyzed by CIEL, over the next few decades, the Smoke and Fumes Committee had funded “massive levels of research in an array of air pollution issues.” Climate change became one of those issues by at least the mid-1950s. 

CIEL also uncovered that Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil) funded scientists for environmental research, while at the same time “actively funded and published research into alternate theories of global warming.”       

By 1968, external research by the Stanford Research Institute was presented to the American Petroleum Institute warning of the potential consequences of C02 emissions in the atmosphere. 

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It also warned of potentially catastrophic events such as rising temperatures that could cause melting ice caps, a rise in sea levels, warming of the oceans, and an increase in photosynthesis by the year 2000. 

“CIEL’s findings add to the growing body of evidence that the oil industry worked to actively undermine public confidence in climate science and in the need for climate action even as its own knowledge of climate risks was growing,” said Muffett. 

The industry continued to fund research that was used to “promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary,” according to the CIEL report. 

“These documents are the tip of an evidentiary iceberg that demands further investigation,” says Muffett. “Oil companies had an early opportunity to acknowledge climate science and climate risks, and to enable consumers to make informed choices. They chose a different path. The public deserves to know why.” 

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