The warning is clear and dire — and the source unexpected. “This report unquestionably will fan emotions, raise fears, and bring demand for action,” the president of the American Petroleum Institute (API) told an oil industry conference, as he described research into climate change caused by fossil fuels.
“The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out.”
The API president speaking those words was named Frank Ikard — and the year was 1965, over a half-century ago.
It was the same year that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Muhammad Ali felled Sonny Liston in the first round, and Malcom X was fatally shot in New York. The first American ground combat troops arrived in Vietnam and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the law establishing Medicaid and Medicare.
It would be another four years before American astronaut Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon — and another decade before the phrase “global warming” would appear for the first time in a peer-reviewed study.
“One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts,” Ikard presciently added, according to excerpts from his speech published in Nature.
API Funded Early Research Linking CO2 and Fossil Fuels
That prediction was based in part on information that was known to the oil industry trade group for over a decade — including research that was directly funded by the API, according to Nature.
In 1954, a California Institute of Technology geochemist sent the API a research proposal in which they reported that fossil fuels had already caused carbon dioxide (CO2) levels to rise roughly five percent since 1854 — a finding that Nature notes has since proved to be accurate.
API accepted the proposal and funded that Caltech research, giving the program the name Project 53. Project 53 collected thousands of CO2 measurements — but the results were never published.
Meanwhile, other researchers were reaching similar conclusions. Nuclear physicist Edward Teller became known in 1951 as the “father of the hydrogen bomb” for designing a thermonuclear bomb that was even more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Teller warned the oil and gas industry in 1959 about global warming and sea level rise in a talk titled “Energy Patterns of the Future.”
“Carbon dioxide has a strange property,” Teller said in excerpts published earlier this year by The Guardian. “It transmits visible light but it absorbs the infrared radiation which is emitted from the earth. Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect.”
A researcher at Humble Oil Co. (now known as ExxonMobil) checked results from a study of carbon isotopes in tree rings against the unpublished Caltech results, and found that the two separate methods essentially agreed.
And in 1960, Charles Keeling first published the measurements that became the famous “Keeling curve” — establishing one of the bedrock findings connecting climate change to fossil fuels. The CO2 measurements taken by Keeling back in the late 1950s showed levels of roughly 315 parts per million (ppm) at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii and rising.
Those CO2 levels have since climbed upwards to 410.13 (ppm) on the day that the Nature letter was published — CO2 levels that scientists knew both then and now would be dangerously high, as carbon levels in the Earth’s atmosphere have not been over 410 ppm in millions of years.
What the Oil Industry Knew, Then and Now
In his 1965 talk, the API’s Ikard described the role of oil and gasoline specifically in causing climate change. “The report further states, and I quote: ‘… the pollution from internal combustion engines is so serious, and is growing so fast,’” he told the API conference, “‘that an alternative nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.’”
Three decades later, the API urged a different approach to climate science. “It’s not known for sure whether (a) climate change actually is occurring, or (b) if it is, whether humans really have any influence on it,” the API wrote in a 1998 draft memo titled “Global Climate Science Communications Plan,” which was subsequently leaked.
As of publication time, an API spokesperson had not replied to questions sent by DeSmog.
It’s worth noting that since 1965, the science connecting climate change to fossil fuels has grown stronger and more robust. A scientific consensus around the hazards of climate change and the role that fossil fuels play in causing it has formed.
“Rigorous analysis of all data and lines of evidence shows that most of the observed global warming over the past 50 years or so cannot be explained by natural causes and instead requires a significant role for the influence of human activities,” the Royal Society explains.
Today, the API continues to call for further research on climate change — and expanding the use of fossil fuels in the meantime.
“It is clear that climate change is a serious issue that requires research for solutions and effective policies that allow us to meet our energy needs while protecting the environment: that’s why oil and gas companies are working to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” the API’s webpage on climate change states.
Four years ago, I traveled around America, visiting historical archives. I was looking for documents that might reveal the hidden history of climate change – and in particular, when the major coal, oil and gas companies became aware of the problem, and what they knew about it.
I pored over boxes of papers, thousands of pages. I began to recognize typewriter fonts from the 1960s and ‘70s and marveled at the legibility of past penmanship, and got used to squinting when it wasn’t so clear.
What those papers revealed is now changing our understanding of how climate change became a crisis. The industry’s own words, as my research found, show companies knew about the risk long before most of the rest of the world.
At an old gunpowder factory in Delaware – now a museum and archive – I found a transcript of a petroleum conference from 1959 called the “Energy and Man” symposium, held at Columbia University in New York. As I flipped through, I saw a speech from a famous scientist, Edward Teller (who helped invent the hydrogen bomb), warning the industry executives and others assembled of global warming.
“Whenever you burn conventional fuel,” Teller explained, “you create carbon dioxide. … Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect.” If the world kept using fossil fuels, the ice caps would begin to melt, raising sea levels. Eventually, “all the coastal cities would be covered,” he warned.
1959 was before the moon landing, before the Beatles’ first single, before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, before the first modern aluminum can was ever made. It was decades before I was born. What else was out there?
In Wyoming, I found another speech at the university archives in Laramie – this one from 1965, and from an oil executive himself. That year, at the annual meeting of the American Petroleum Institute, the main organization for the U.S. oil industry, the group’s president, Frank Ikard, mentioning a report called “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” that had been published just a few days before by President Lyndon Johnson’s team of scientific advisers.
“The substance of the report,” Ikard told the industry audience, “is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequences of pollution, but time is running out.” He continued that “One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate.”
Ikard noted that the report had found that a “nonpolluting means of powering automobiles, buses, and trucks is likely to become a national necessity.”
As I reviewed my findings back in California, I realized that before San Francisco’s Summer of Love, before Woodstock, the peak of the ’60s counterculture and all that stuff that seemed ancient history to me, the heads of the oil industry had been privately informed by their own leaders that their products would eventually alter the climate of the entire planet, with dangerous consequences.
Secret research revealed the risks ahead
While I traveled the country, other researchers were hard at work too. And the documents they found were in some ways even more shocking.
By the late 1970s, the American Petroleum Institute had formed a secret committee called the “CO2 and Climate Task Force,” which included representatives of many of the major oil companies, to privately monitor and discuss the latest developments in climate science.
In 1980, the task force invited a scientist from Stanford University, John Laurmann, to brief them on the state of climate science. Today, we have a copy of Laurmann’s presentation, which warned that if fossil fuels continued to be used, global warming would be “barely noticeable” by 2005, but by the 2060s would have “globally catastrophic effects.” That same year, the American Petroleum Institute called on governments to triple coal production worldwide, insisting there would be no negative consequences despite what it knew internally.
Exxon had a secretive research program too. In 1981, one of its managers, Roger Cohen, sent an internal memo observing that the company’s long-term business plans could “produce effects which will indeed be catastrophic (at least for a substantial fraction of the earth’s population).”
The next year, Exxon completed a comprehensive, 40-page internal report on climate change, which predicted almost exactly the amount of global warming we’ve seen, as well as sea level rise, drought and more. According to the front page of the report, it was “given wide circulation to Exxon management” but was “not to be distributed externally.”
Other oil companies knew the effects their products were having on the planet too. In 1986, the Dutch oil company Shell finished an internal report nearly 100 pages long, predicting that global warming from fossil fuels would cause changes that would be “the greatest in recorded history,” including “destructive floods,” abandonment of entire countries and even forced migration around the world. That report was stamped “CONFIDENTIAL” and only brought to light in 2018 by Jelmer Mommers, a Dutch journalist.
In October 2021, I and two French colleagues published another study showing through company documents and interviews how the Paris-based oil major Total was also aware of global warming’s catastrophic potential as early as the 1970s. Despite this awareness, we found that Total then worked with Exxon to spread doubt about climate change.
Big Oil’s PR pivot
These companies had a choice.
Back in 1979, Exxon had privately studied options for avoiding global warming. It found that with immediate action, if the industry moved away from fossil fuels and instead focused on renewable energy, fossil fuel pollution could start to decline in the 1990s and a major climate crisis could be avoided.
But the industry didn’t pursue that path. Instead, colleagues and I recently found that in the late 1980s, Exxon and other oil companies coordinated a global effort to dispute climate science, block fossil fuel controls and keep their products flowing.
We know about it through internal documents and the words of industry insiders, who are now beginning to share what they saw with the public. We also know that in 1989, the fossil fuel industry created something called the Global Climate Coalition – but it wasn’t an environmental group like the name suggests; instead, it worked to sow doubt about climate change and lobbied lawmakers to block clean energy legislation and climate treaties throughout the 1990s.
For example, in 1997, the Global Climate Coalition’s chairman, William O’Keefe, who was also an executive vice president for the American Petroleum Institute, wrote in the Washington Post that “Climate scientists don’t say that burning oil, gas and coal is steadily warming the earth,” contradicting what the industry had known for decades. The fossil fuel industry also funded think tanks and biased studies that helped slow progress to a crawl.
A Congressional subcommittee on Oct. 28, 2021, questioned executives from Exxon, BP, Chevron, Shell and the American Petroleum Institute about industry efforts to downplay the role of fossil fuels in climate change. Exxon CEO Darren Woods told lawmakers that his company’s public statements “are and have always been truthful” and that the company “does not spread disinformation regarding climate change.”
Over images typical of fossil fuel company ads that have been accused of “greenwashing” their practices, a new viral video explains that oil giant Chevron is “actively murdering” people across the globe as it continues to extract fossil fuels despite warnings from climate and energy experts alike.
“We at Chevron believe there is nothing more precious than life,” the voiceover says over footage of a newborn baby and mother. “And the most precious life of all is the dead kind, that has been compressed for hundreds of millions of years under massive rocks until it magically becomes oil.”
The parody ad, which was released Thursday, goes on to show a wind power farm, a child’s birthday party, marine life, and a picturesque image of an oil rig at sunset as the narration explains that the oil it refines and sells as gasoline makes it possible for “a cool-ass tank” to “crush a clay hut” and an airplane to “take a businessman 3,000 miles to have dinner with someone, or whatever, all the while releasing greenhouse gases that are transforming the planet right this second.”
While the images displayed continue to show an idealized image of families, pets, and nature, viewers are assured that “we at Chevron straight-up don’t give a single fuck about you, your weird children, or your stupid, ratty-ass dog.”
The company also has “billions and billions of dollars,” the narrator says, “to pay for this commercial time, this cheesy footage, and this bullshit music, all so you’ll be lulled into a catatonic state that makes you forget one singular fact: Chevron is actively murdering you every day.”
The fake ad was released weeks after the U.K.-based group InfluenceMap revealed that the five largest fossil fuel companies—Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies—spend a cumulative $750 million per year on public relations campaigns to make the corporations seem committed to climate action, while spending just 12% of their capital expenditures on low-carbon activities.
The parody, which was produced by film director Adam McKay, amounted to a “surprisingly honest” advertisement for Chevron, said the Climate Ad Project.
“Normally I’m anti-fossil fuel advertising, but this one should be watched by everyone on the planet,” said Jamie Henn, director of Fossil Free Media, which supports the movement to end fossil fuels by pushing back against industry propaganda.
Along with the video, McKay, who directed the climate crisis-themed satire Don’t Look Up last year, posted several doctored images of news coverage of Hurricane Ian, which killed at least 21 people when it devastated parts of Florida this week.
The images showed news outlets labeling the storm Hurricane Chevron, Hurricane Exxon, and Hurricane Shell, referring to scientists’ warnings that the continued extraction of fossil fuel is intensifying extreme weather events.
Republished. Common Dreams‘ work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
[ed: O}n day 32 of their activism my friends ;) at Just Stop Oil attempted to scale the gates of Downing Street and blocked Whitehall to demand that the government halts all new oil and gas licences and consents.
At 11:20am yesterday, a group of Just Stop Oil supporters swarmed towards the entrance to Downing street on Whitehall and attempted to scale the gates. A further group sat down in the road with banners to block Whitehall. Some glued themselves to the tarmac. 22 people were involved in the actions.
A Just Stop Oil spokesperson said:
“Rishi Sunak is about to U-turn on attending COP27. We demand that he also U-turn on new oil and gas. This genocidal policy will kill millions of people, while failing to address the worst cost of living crisis this country has ever seen.
“Its time for a serious windfall tax on big oil, without the get-out-of-jail-free tax credits that will encourage more oil and gas that we cannot afford. Vulnerable people will be freezing to death in their homes this winter, unable to afford a can of soup, while his government refuses to tax the rich and the big energy companies that are profiting from our misery.
“We owe it to our young people to stop fossil fuels, we owe it to our workers to create a just transition to a zero carbon economy, we owe it to our old people to enable them to live with dignity. We are not prepared to stand by and watch while everything we love is destroyed. “
The action yesterday followed BP’s announcement of a bumper profit of £7bn for the last quarter alone, while it expects to pay only £700m in windfall tax on its North Sea operations for the whole year. It also announced that rather than reinvesting its profits in the transition to renewable energy as it claims or in reducing costs for customers, it is prioritising transfers to wealthy shareholders by spending $8.5bn so far this year on share buy backs.
Yesterday’s action follow four weeks of continuous civil resistance by supporters of Just Stop Oil during which the police have made 678 arrests. Since the campaign began on April 1st, Just Stop Oil supporters have been arrested nearly 2,000 times, with 6 supporters currently in prison.
This week’s UN Report states that “Staying under 1.5C is no longer credible.”
Going over 1.5C locks in the loss of the coral reefs, the loss of 25% of the world’s fish stocks, the destruction of hundreds of millions of livelihoods and millions of innocent lives.
Going over 1.5C means island nations going underwater and this is just the beginning.
Just Stop Oil will be pausing its campaign of civil resistance from yesterday. They say that they are giving time to those in the government who are in touch with reality to consider their responsibilities to this country at this time.
[This report is sourced mainly from Just Stop Oil press bulletins.]
The chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, held undisclosed meetings with senior executives of Saudi Arabian firms when he was the business secretary, documents acquired by the Guardian show.
The meetings occurred in January, when Kwarteng visited the kingdom for a two-day trip under his previous ministerial role.
Documents released using the Freedom of Information Act (FoI) show Kwarteng held undisclosed meetings with the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer; the chief executive of Sabic, the world’s fourth largest petrochemical company; and the chair of Alfanar Group, an industrial conglomerate.
However, transparency disclosures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not contain any reference to meetings during the period Kwarteng was in Saudi Arabia when originally published.
I seem to remember someone saying that it’s difficult to tell politics and big oil apart …
The oil and gas industry has delivered $2.8bn (£2.3bn) a day in pure profit for the last 50 years, a new analysis has revealed.
The vast total captured by petrostates and fossil fuel companies since 1970 is $52tn, providing the power to “buy every politician, every system” and delay action on the climate crisis, says Prof Aviel Verbruggen, the author of the analysis. The huge profits were inflated by cartels of countries artificially restricting supply.
The analysis, based on World Bank data, assesses the “rent” secured by global oil and gas sales, which is the economic term for the unearned profit produced after the total cost of production has been deducted.
The study has yet to be published in an academic journal but three experts at University College London, the London School of Economics and the thinktank Carbon Tracker confirmed the analysis as accurate, with one calling the total a “staggering number”. It appears to be the first long-term assessment of the sector’s total profits, with oil rents providing 86% of the total.
The long-awaited climate-emergency post. I have taken some time to decide what’s necessary to say. This post may be revised and expanded but the main points will remain.
Climate change, the climate emergency or crisis is a fact. The poles are melting, sea levels are rising, seas are turning to acid, polar bears and penguins have nowhere to live. It’s taken repeated record temperatures and a little girl for it to be accepted such was the power of climate denial.
Political parties that deny climate change – right-wing parties like UKIP and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party “In terms of policy, there’s no difference (to UKIP)…” are sucking up to the ultra-rich showing that they present no threat to their interests. ed: many prominent Brexiteers are climate change enthusiasts.
It is safe to assume that the World’s plants and animals do not have a concept of ownership. They do however have as much right to live, to exist. The rich do not own the planet and do not have the right to destroy it.
Unless you’re filthy rich, it’s unlikely whatever you do is going to make any noticeable difference. It is the rich who have superyachts and private jets. It is the rich who fly abroad for meals. It is the rich who travel with entourages. It is the rich that own private islands.
There is an exception – a secondary lesser class of human that is climate-dirty: those who travel a great deal especially those that commute by airplane. People who fly regularly are climate-dirty.
A wider issue: the rich are in charge. Wars are conducted at their behest and for their benefit. The whole bullshit narrative of terrorism and consequent anti-Muslim racism is for them. It is their bullshit narrative to divide and control, to weild their influence. There is one main nation-state behind terrorist attacks, often aided by another one or two nation-states with police and intelligence agencies playing along with it, turning a blind eye. Terrorist attacks are often timed for political objectives of no advantage to Islamists. You have to be really stupid to believe that a disabled old man could achieve so much from a cave in Afghanistan and that it didn’t provide the excuse for yet another war for the dirty black stuff.
edit: I am aware that I have power and influence which I tend to regard as transitory and temporary. The climate emergency is a big deal and I am laying the blame exactly where it belongs.
later: I need to write about corporate climate destruction while this post is about lifestyle climate destruction. Corporate solar exploration appears particularly futile and climate destructive. Trips to outer space for the rich? ed: It’s space tourism for the rich to further destroy the planet.