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Big Oil Knew. Leaked Exxon Research from 1982

I first learned about Global Warming about 30 years ago as a young engineering student.  At the time, I thought of it as a global problem that needed a global solution.  My last two work terms before graduating were at a large engineering firm, helping them to develop an energy conservation department within their Mechanical/Electrical division.  I loved it.  Not only was I helping building owners save energy and money, I was helping to address Global Warming.

But then something happened that I didn’t understand.  People started buying SUVs and large pick-up trucks.  Building owners spent huge amounts of money on the front entrance to their buildings while old, inefficient heating and cooling plants continued to waste energy and money.  Fans and pumps operated continuously, even when the building was empty.  The Toronto skyline was lit up at night, as office tower lights stayed on at all hours.

1982 Exxon Primer on CO2 Greenhouse Effect - Cover Page

Why weren’t people taking Global Warming seriously?

Why was money spent on short-term items instead of invested to reduce long-term costs?  Sure, there were many forward thinking property owners that saw conservation as an opportunity to reduce costs.  But there were many more firms that would “save” by reducing maintenance staff; within no time, utility costs increased to more than offset their “savings”.

I recently came across an Exxon leaked document from 1982.  It helped answer my questions about why Global Warming wasn’t taken seriously.  The short answer is that Big Oil knew about Global Warming and Climate Change.  Instead of becoming part of the solution, they resisted.  They undermined the science through denial and pseudoscience.  They knew exactly what would happen as CO2 levels rose, and did everything they could to increase demand for oil to increase profits.

The leaked document from “Exxon Research and Engineering Company” called CO2 “Greenhouse Effect” summarizes everything that they knew about climate change.  Highlights of the document are:

    • From 1957 to 1979, atmospheric CO2 levels increased from 315 parts per million (PPM) to 337PPM.
    • Before 1850 (the start of the industrial revolution), CO2 levels were somewhere between 260ppm and 300ppm.  (We now know that pre-industrial CO2 levels were 280 ppm.)ExxonMobile CO2 Temp Increase Year Chart-vs Actual


  • “Greenhouse effect” would:
    • Warm the earth’s surface between 1.3°C and 3.1°C
    • Warm ocean temperatures
    • Change rainfall patterns
    • Change soil moisture
    • Ultimately, melt polar ice caps.  Polar temperature increases would be around 10°C
  • Fossil fuels added 6 billion metric tons of carbon per year.
  • Deforestation added 0 to 2 billion metric tons of carbon per year.
  • The soil and oceans absorbed 4 billion metric tons of carbon per year.
  • “Mitigation of the ‘greenhouse effect’ would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion”

This Big Oil attitude may be changing.  Exxon, BP, Shell and Mobile have joined a group of 75 Fortune 500 companies that are encouraging the US lawmakers to pass a national carbon tax.  Let’s hope we get back on the track that we veered off of in the late ’80s.