An investigative report from InsideClimate News' Neela Banerjee found that oil company Exxon wasn't the only one who knew about global warming since 1970s. The report found almost all American and multinational gas and oil companies knew about the effects of carbon emissions.
InsideClimate News was able to obtain internal documents stating that the American Petroleum Institute (API), oil and gas industries' most influential lobby group, created a task force between 1979 and 1983 to monitor and share climate research with other fossil fuel companies.
The internal documents revealed the inclination of oil and gas companies to research on the associations between their products, the climate and increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. API task force's former director James J. Nelson said that some companies even conducted their own research teams to pursue the goal. Compared to the one conducted by Exxon, these teams were relatively smaller and they gravitated towards climate modeling.
"It was a fact-finding task force. We wanted to look at emerging science, the implications of it and where improvements could be made, if possible, to reduce emissions," said Nelson.
The API task force was initially called the "CO2 and Climate Task Force." In 1980, the team changed its name to "Climate and Energy Task Force" and enrolled researchers from Shell, Exxon, Sunoco, Amoco, Chevron, Phillips, Mobil, Texaco and Sohio to name a few.
An Exxon task force representative's memo highlighted a CO2 background paper in 1979. The paper included a prediction of climate change's first real consequences. It also noted that the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere were increasing at a steady pace.
A task force meeting was held in New York in February 1980 where Stanford University's Professor John A. Laurmann was invited to speak about climate change.
Laurmann said CO2 levels in the atmosphere would increase by twofold by 2038. The estimated amount would result in a 2.5 degrees Celsius (36.5 degrees Fahrenheit) surge in average temperatures worldwide along with major consequences in the global economy. By 2067, Laurmann said the steady rise will lead to a 5 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in global average temperatures along with "globally catastrophic effects."
The investigative report found documents that showed API members thought of alternative directions given the troublesome predictions.
Based on a Feb. 29, 1980 minutes of the meeting, Texaco's Bruce S. Bailey offered an idea about the task force's overall goal. Bailey said the task force should aid in the development of ground rules that will monitor energy fuel releases and cleanups related to CO2 emissions.
The obtained minutes of the meeting also revealed the task force called for a revolution that would break away from fossil fuels in 1980. However in the 1990s, the API moved towards a different tactic in handling climate change's impending threats.
The task force joined the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) along with Exxon, major manufacturers and various fossil fuel companies. GCC's goal is to hold off efforts from the international community to limit CO2 emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol, which cuts fossil fuel emissions, was enrolled by many countries in 1997. A year later, API devised a campaign to convince the American people and the country's lawmakers that climate science was not strong enough for the U.S. to approve the proposed treaty.
Fast forward to 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement was the first worldwide effort designed to prevent the catastrophic consequences of climate change and reduce carbon pollution. Experts highlighted that the battle against climate change would have been a substantial step if only it took place 10 years ago. However, the task force wasn't as tough then as it is now when the consequences are slowly manifesting themselves.
Photo: Eric Schmuttenmaer | Flickr