Exxon Understood Fossil Fuel/Climate Change Link 3 Decades Ago — And Buried It

Exxon Mobil, the largest oil company on the planet, has spent millions of dollars over the last 27 years attempting to convince humankind that fossil fuels have no link to climate change. However, according to the Guardian, recently-discovered emails reveal that not only did Exxon realize that fossil fuels cause climate change since 1981, Exxon actively covered it up — effectively buried it.

The email referred to is from one of Exxon’s own climate experts, a Mr. Lenny Bernstein. Bernstein claims that Exxon knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change in 1981, seven years before climate change and global warming became a public issue.

The Exxon climate expert wrote the following in the email.

“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions… Instead of taking responsibility, they have either directly – or indirectly through trade and industry groups – sown doubt about the science of climate change and fought efforts to cut emissions.”

Critics who have read Bernstein’s email say that it’s a smoking gun for Exxon Mobil. Exxon decided not to go ahead with the Natuna project, because of the CO2 impact. Critics say that the information outs Exxon as knowing full well what kinds of effects that fossil fuel emissions have on climate change.

Exxon, of course, disagrees, stating that there were a “huge range of reasons” why the Natuna site wasn’t developed.

The recipient of Lenny Bernstein’s email, Alyssa Bernstein, said that there can be no doubt about what Exxon knew and when they knew it.

“What it shows is that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision-making, in making their economic calculation.”

Sharon Eubanks, a former lawyer for the Federal Department of Justice, says that Exxon’s denial of climate change may cost them a fortune in the long run.

“It starts to look like a much longer conspiracy. It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected. So your liability can grow exponentially as the timeline gets longer.”

[Photo by David McNew / Getty Images]