Exxon scientists have accurately predicted global warming from burning fossil fuels. : NPR

Climate activists protest on the first day of the ExxonMobil trial in front of the New York State Supreme Court Building on October 22, 2019 in New York City. ExxonMobil was found not guilty of misleading investors about how climate change is affecting its finances.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

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Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Climate activists protest on the first day of the ExxonMobil trial in front of the New York State Supreme Court Building on October 22, 2019 in New York City. ExxonMobil was found not guilty of misleading investors about how climate change is affecting its finances.

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Decades of research by scientists at Exxon have accurately predicted the extent of global warming that could occur from burning fossil fuels, according to a new study published in the journal. Sciences.

The findings contradict a highly successful campaign Exxon has led and funded for more than 30 years that has cast doubt on human-driven climate change and the science behind it. This narrative has helped delay federal and international action on climate change, even as the effects of climate change worsen.

Over the past few years, journalists and researchers have revealed that Exxon has conducted internal research that shows it knows human-caused climate change is real. The new study looked at Exxon’s research and compared it to the warming that actually occurred.

Researchers at Harvard University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research analyzed Exxon’s climate studies from 1977 to 2003. The researchers show that the company, now called ExxonMobil, produced climate research that was at least as thorough as — and sometimes even superior to — the work of independent academics and governments.

This is important because ExxonMobil and the broader fossil fuel industry face nationwide lawsuits alleging it misled the public about the harmful effects of its products.

“The bottom line is that we found that they were modeling and predicting global warming with shocking levels of skill and accuracy, especially for a company that spent the next two decades denying climate science itself,” says lead author Jeffrey Soprane. He is now an Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Miami.

Earth already Her temperature rose Just over 1 degree Celsius (about 2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times in the late 19th century. This warming led to severe weather In recent years, including heat waves, droughts and floods. The researchers found, for example, that modeling for Exxon charted this type of temperature increase.

“Specifically, what we’ve done is actually put a number for the first time on what Exxon knows, which is that burning their fossil fuel products would warm the planet by the equivalent of 0.2 [degrees] centenary every decade,” Soprane says.

ExxonMobil’s response

While ExxonMobil did not go into specifics in this paper, the company did respond before the research was published.

“This issue has come up many times in recent years, and in each case, our answer is the same: Those who talk about how Exxon KNOW is wrong in their conclusions,” ExxonMobil spokesman Todd Spittler wrote in a statement.

The campaign to reveal what ExxonMobil knew and when went viral on social media under the hashtag #ExxonKnew.

“ExxonMobil’s understanding of climate science has evolved alongside that of the broader scientific community,” said Spittler. He said the “well-intentioned domestic policy discussions” have been recast by some as “an attempted corporate disinformation campaign”.

Spitler referred to a related 2019 case ExxonMobil won in New York and specifically highlighted a section on page 37 of 55 page judgmentas Justice Barry Ostrager of the Supreme Court of New York State writes:

“What the evidence at trial revealed was that ExxonMobil executives and employees were uniformly committed to performing their duties rigorously and in the most thorough and accurate manner possible…The testimony of these witnesses demonstrated that ExxonMobil had a culture of disciplined analysis, planning, accounting and reporting.”

In this case, the New York Attorney General’s office failed to show that the company violated state law and deceived investors by downplaying the effects climate change might have on ExxonMobil’s finances.

like NPR reported At the time, Ostranger also wrote, “Nothing in this opinion is intended to absolve ExxonMobil of liability for contributing to climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases in the production of its fossil fuel products,” and Ostranger added, “This is a fraud case, not a warrantee.” climate change.”

Research can help with climate-related lawsuits

ExxonMobil has a lot at stake in arguing that it has not misled investors or the public about what it knows about the warming effects of fossil fuels, and when.

The company faces more than 20 lawsuits filed by states and local governments for damages caused by climate change. Baltimore He was among the first And last year cities in Puerto Rico She filed an extortion suit Against fossil fuel companies, industry groups and others who claim they conspired to mislead the public about climate change.

This new research can provide more evidence for those cases as they progress through the courts, says Karen Sokol, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans.

“What the Exxon scientists found and what they told company executives was nothing short of terrifying,” Sokol says. Given how the science works, she says that should have prompted the company to sound a wake-up call to the public and policymakers.

“Imagine this world and the different path consumers, investors, and policymakers could have taken when we still had time, versus now when we’re entrenched in an increasingly expensive fossil-fuel economy that’s hard to get out of,” Sokol says.

It says it provides “significant evidence” of the kind of deception and lawbreaking that many lawsuits are based on.

ExxonMobil and the broader fossil fuel industry have sought to stop lawsuits by getting states to pass laws to prevent municipalities from suing, according to the Monitoring Group’s Center for Climate Integrity.

The industry has also tried to move cases to potentially friendly federal courts, arguing that they are of national importance. In August, the US Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia dropped To do this in a 2020 lawsuit brought by the state of Delaware and the city of Hoboken, New Jersey Delaware sought compensation for the value of property lost due to sea level rise and climate-induced flooding. Hoboken wants money to pay for current and future costs.

As the largest US oil company, ExxonMobil often faces increased scrutiny from activists. The company now says it is “committed to being part of the solution to climate change and the risks it poses.” Climate activists are skeptical, but one thing is clear: Questions about the company’s history of disrupting climate action will be the subject of legal battles for years.

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