In a scientific analysis of four decades of Exxon Mobil's climate change communications, two Harvard University researchers concluded that the oil and gas giant misled the public about what its scientists and executives knew to be true about the state of climate science.
Analyzing 187 documents published between 1977 and 2014, Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science, and Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow, reported that, even as the company publicly played up uncertainties about climate change, internally, it recognized both the validity of the science and the threat of climate change itself. Their study was published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters.
"We found that, from as early as the 1970s, Exxon Mobil (and its predecessors Exxon and Mobil) not only knew about emerging climate science, but also contributed research to it," the team wrote in the New York Times. "Scientific reports and articles written or cowritten by Exxon Mobil employees acknowledged that global warming was a real and serious threat. They also noted it could be addressed by reducing fossil fuel use, meaning that fossil fuel reserves might one day become stranded assets."
Exxon Mobil immediately pushed back with a statement calling the study "inaccurate and preposterous," and claiming that it was "paid for, written and published by activists leading a five-year campaign against the company."
The company has long accused its critics of "cherry-picking" data to suggest that it knew about the risks of climate change. Supran alluded to those accusations on Twitter Wednesday morning, writing, "we analyzed the whole cherry tree, & trends are clear."
Indeed, the study, which was funded by Harvard and the Rockefeller Family Fund, was published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal.