Naomi Oreskes: Exxon Misled the Public about Climate Change

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Where’s your smoking gun Naomi? Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes have accused Exxon of not revealing internal CO2 projections based on Exxon’s public plans to grow their business. But this latest “revelation” in my opinion is just as flimsy as the rest of Oreske’s #ExxonKnew narrative.

ExxonMobil misled the public about the climate crisis. Now they’re trying to silence critics

Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes

Newly leaked documents reported by Bloomberg News show that ExxonMobil’s climate dishonesty is even worse than we thought

In 2017, we published the first peer-reviewed analysis of ExxonMobil’s 40-year history of climate change communications. We found that the company and its parents, Exxon and Mobil, misled the public about climate change and its severity. Central to this conclusion was the contrast between what Exxon and ExxonMobil scientists said in internal reports and scientific articles versus what Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil told the public in non-peer-reviewed publications and in “advertorials” – paid advertisements dressed up to look like opinion pieces – in The New York Times.

Newly leaked documents, reported recently by Bloomberg News, show that ExxonMobil’s climate dishonesty is even worse than we thought. While the company privately has an internal “plan for surging carbon emissions…by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece,” according to Bloomberg, ExxonMobil executives “shield their carbon forecasts from investors.” In other words, ExxonMobil drew up plans to expand fossil fuel production, internally calculated how much this would increase their carbon dioxide emissions, then failed to disclose those estimates to investors. Indeed, the company has never publicly disclosed its emissions forecasts. In response to the Bloomberg report, ExxonMobil claimed that the leaked documents were not up-to-date, but declined to provide “any details on the new projections,” according to Bloomberg.

First, ExxonMobil has not challenged any of our findings about the 187 documents analyzed in our original study. They do not deny that Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil all had early knowledge that their products have the potential to cause dangerous global warming. Nor do they deny that Exxon, Mobil, and ExxonMobil all promoted doubt about climate science and its implications in order to delay action.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/oct/16/exxonmobil-misled-the-public-about-the-climate-crisis-now-theyre-trying-to-silence-critics

Those projections Exxon chose not to publish – they are under no obligation to publish them. From a Bloomberg link provided by Oreskes

Exxon’s Plan for Surging Carbon Emissions Revealed in Leaked Documents

Internal projections from one of world’s largest oil producers show an increase in its enormous contribution to global warming

By Kevin Crowley and Akshat Rathi
5 October 2020, 19:00 GMT+10 Updated on 

Exxon Mobil Corp. had plans to increase annual carbon-dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece, an analysis of internal documents reviewed by Bloomberg shows, setting one of the largest corporate emitters against international efforts to slow the pace of warming.

In a statement released after the publication of this story, Exxon said its internal projections are “a preliminary, internal assessment of estimated cumulative emission growth through 2025 and did not include the [additional] mitigation and abatement measures that would have been evaluated in the planning process. Furthermore, the projections identified in the leaked documents have significantly changed, a fact that was not fully explained or prominently featured in the article.” Exxon declined to provide any details on the new projections.

Read more: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-05/exxon-carbon-emissions-and-climate-leaked-plans-reveal-rising-co2-output

I decided to take a closer look at one of Oreskes original #ExxonKnew memos.

There is no doubt that Exxon received early warnings about global warming, some of them expressing serious concern. But the opinions expressed in some internal documents were not very alarming.

Naomi Oreske’s 2017 study referenced an internal Exxon memo, Glaser 1982. Oreske’s reference link to Glaser 1982 was not very helpful, it just linked to a Google Scholar search page when I tried it. So I tracked down a direct link to a copy of Glaser 1982 from Inside Climate News.

Judge for yourself (original document source Inside Climate News).

Consider the “warning” at the bottom of Page 4, continuing to the top of Page 5:

“There is currently no unambiguous evidence that the earth is warming. If the earth is on a warming trend, we’re not likely to detect it before 1995. This is about the earliest projection of when the temperature might rise the 0.5° needed to get beyond the range of normal temperature fluctuations. On the other hand, if climate modelling uncertainties have exaggerated the temperature rise, it is possible that a carbon dioxide induced “greenhouse effect” may not be detected until 2020 at the earliest”.

Imagine you were an Exxon executive in 1982 reading a statement like that. Would you have a) hit the panic button and explained to shareholders you were going to close the company, or b) regarded Glaser 1982 as an interesting scientific document, of little importance to current operations?

At the bottom of Page 5, Glaser 1982 provides advice on the appropriate response;

Overall, the current outlook suggests potentially serious climate problems are not likely to occur until the late 21st century, or perhaps beyond at projected energy demand rates. This should provide time to remove uncertainties regarding the overall carbon cycle and the contribution of fossil fuel combustion as well as the roles of the oceans as a reservoir for both heat and carbon dioxide. It should also allow time to better define the effect of carbon dioxide and other infrared absorbing gases on surface climate. Making significant changes in energy consumption patterns now to deal with this potential problem amid all the scientific uncertainties would be premature in view of the severe impact such moves could have on the world’s economies and societies.

Oreskes charge against Exxon that they concealed knowledge of dangerous climate change is clearly false.

Exxon executives received an indication there might be a problem with global warming in the future, but the picture was confused. Some internal reports took an alarmist position, others like Glaser 1982 suggested immediate action would be premature, that the case for immediate action was weak.

Executives had to make a decision based on competing viewpoints, so they chose the more conservative viewpoint. That is what senior executives in a major company do.

Internal documents like Glaser mostly provided a review of existing public knowledge, so the charge that Exxon was concealing something is absurd. The information Glaser summarised in the internal document was public knowledge. Glaser just put existing public knowledge together into a neat document, and supplied an opinion as to the best interpretation of that knowledge.

Glaser advised Exxon it was premature to do do anything radical to address global warming – so Exxon executives chose to follow Glaser’s advice.

Lets not forget, 1982, when the Glaser wrote the review for Exxon, was just nine years after the 1973 oil crisis. Exxon executives in 1982 would have felt a strong sense of duty to ensure the reliable supply of oil, to prevent anything like the 1973 oil crisis from ever happening again.

Glaser 1982 advice that climate change might not be a problem to date has been vindicated – nothing bad is happening to the global climate. Even NASA says the world is greening. Observational evidence to date suggests anthropogenic CO2 is good for plant life and food production. The only indication anthropogenic CO2 might not be a good thing is a bunch of defective computer models which have never demonstrated useful predictive skill.

Fast forward to 2020; Oreskes is getting excited about a leaked document which indicates Exxon’s plans to raise fossil fuel extraction would increase global CO2 emissions. A calculation anyone could likely have performed, just by looking at Exxon’s production forecasts.

Oreskes might not like the fact Exxon plans to grow their business, and she might not like some of the decisions taken by Exxon executives, but for now at least, growing your business is legal, and publishing every single internal memo is not mandatory, even if your business is fossil fuel.

Naomi Oreskes, you’ve got nothing.

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October 16, 2020 at 11:31PM

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