DENVER — Exxon Mobil scientists were remarkably accurate in their predictions of global warming, a new study shows, despite public statements from the company that contradicted their scientists’ conclusions.

The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, looked at Exxon-funded research that not only confirmed what climate scientists said, but also used more than a dozen different computer models to predict upcoming warming , with an accuracy equal to or better than that of government and academic scientists.

Meanwhile, the oil major has openly doubted the reality of warming and dismissed the accuracy of climate models. Exxon said its understanding of climate change has evolved over the years and that critics have misunderstood its earlier research.

A few years ago, scientists, governments, activists, and news sites, including Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times, reported that “ExxonMobil knew” about climate change science since 1977 or so, while publicly skeptical. What the new study does is detail the accuracy of the ExxonMobil-funded study. Between 63 and 83 percent of these predictions met the strict accuracy criteria and were generally correct in predicting that the Earth will warm by about 0.36 degrees (0.2 degrees Celsius) over a decade.

Study co-author Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science at Harvard, said the ExxonMobil-funded science is “actually surprising” in its precision and accuracy. But she added, “The hypocrisy is because of the massive amount of disinformation by ExxonMobil over the years … claiming that climate models are unreliable.”

The study’s lead author, Geoffrey Supran, who started the work at Harvard and is now a professor of environmental science at the University of Miami, said it was different from what had been previously found in documents about the oil company.

“We dug deep not only at the language and rhetoric in these documents, but also at the data. In that sense, I would say our analysis did come to an agreement that ‘Exxon knew,'” Supran said . It “gives us unassailable evidence that Exxon Mobil accurately predicted global warming years ago and then turned to attack the science behind it.”

The newspaper quoted then-ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond in 1999 as saying that future climate “forecasts are based on entirely unproven climate models, or more often, pure guesswork,” while his successor in 2013 The authors called the model “incompetent”.

Company spokesman Todd Spitler said ExxonMobil’s understanding of climate science has evolved with the broader scientific community, and its 40 years of research in climate science has resulted in more than 150 publications, including 50 peer-reviewed publications.

“This question has come up multiple times in recent years, and each time our answer has been the same: Those who talk about ‘Exxon knew’ are wrong to conclude,” Spittler said in an emailed statement. People are trying to misrepresent the facts and ExxonMobil’s position on climate science and its support for effective policy solutions, recasting a well-intentioned internal policy debate as a corporate disinformation campaign.”

ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, has been the target of numerous lawsuits alleging the company knew the damage its oil and gas would do to the climate but did so by sowing skepticism about climate change. mislead the public. In the latest such lawsuit, New Jersey accused five oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobil, of deceiving the public for decades while knowing the harmful effects of fossil fuels on the climate.

Similar lawsuits from New York to California allege that ExxonMobil and other oil and gas companies launched a public relations campaign to stoke questions about climate change. In it, then-Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Exxon’s public relations efforts were “reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s longstanding denial campaign” about the dangerous effects of cigarettes.

Oreskes acknowledged in the study that she was a paid consultant to a law firm suing Exxon in the past, while Supran received funding from the Rockefeller Family Foundation, which also helped fund the group suing Exxon. The Associated Press is supported in part by the Rockefeller Foundation and maintains full control over editorial content.

Oil majors including ExxonMobil and Shell have been accused in congressional hearings in 2021 of spreading misinformation about climate, but executives at the companies have denied the charges.

Donald Wuebbles, professor emeritus of atmospheric scientists at the University of Illinois, told The Associated Press that he worked with Exxon-funded scientists in the 1980s and was not surprised by the company’s knowledge or models. Here’s what the science and people who have studied the subject know.

“It’s clear that Exxon knew what was going on,” Wuebbles said. “The problem is they’re also paying people to post misinformation. That’s the big problem.”

The “hype and misrepresentation” that companies do to get you to buy a product, or the “hype” and “outright lies” that politicians do to get your vote, Oreskes says, is Ekes There is a difference between what Mori Mobil does”.

Several outside scientists and activists said the study showed Exxon was serious about what it was doing.

“The harm done by Exxon is enormous,” said Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the University of Michigan School of the Environment. “They know that fossil fuels, including oil and gas, drastically alter the Earth’s climate, at a high cost in lives, human suffering, and economic impact. Yet, despite this understanding, they choose to publicly downplay climate change problems and the dangers they pose to people and the planet.”

“How many (or more) people have been killed or adversely affected by ExxonMobil’s deliberate science cover-up campaign?” asks Natalie Mahowald, a climate scientist at Cornell University.

Critics say Exxon’s past actions on climate change have undercut its narrative of commitment to reducing emissions.

After tracking corporate lobbying by ExxonMobil and hundreds of other companies on climate change policy, InfluenceMap, a firm that analyzes data on how companies influence the climate crisis, concluded that ExxonMobil’s lobbying was generally consistent with the Paris Agreement. , and it is currently one of the most negative and influential corporations blocking climate policy.

“All of our research shows that efforts to deter climate action continue to this day, prioritizing protection of the oil and gas industry value chain from the ‘potential’ threat of climate change, rather than the other way around,” said project leader Faye Holder. InfluenceMap Manager.

“Refused and delayed messages may look different, but the intent is the same.”


Bussewitz reported from New York.


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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter @borenbears with Cathy Bussewitz at @cbussewitz


AP climate and environment reporting is supported by several private foundations. Find out more about the AP Climate Initiative here. The Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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