Thursday, April 14, 2016

The oil industry's cover-ups began many decades ago

If more evidence were needed, new documents released this week by the Washington-based non-profit legal organization, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), some dating back to the 1940s, show how the oil industry has systematically covered up the evidence for, and risks of, climate change for many decades.
For instance, 70 years ago, in 1946, in the face of mounting public concern over smog (particularly in rapidly-growing Los Angeles), a group of oil executives formed a group called the "Smoke and Fumes Committee", whose remit was to fund research into smog and other air pollution issues, which it would then use to inform and shape public opinion about environmental issues related to fossil fuels. The express goal of this collaboration was to use science and public skepticism to prevent environmental regulations that they considered hasty, costly and unnecessary. The Smoke and Fumes Committee would later become known as the American Petroleum Institute (API), a highly influential and well-funded organization in the field. The Smoke and Fumes Committee and the API had a policy strangle-hold over many of the institutes and research bodies it funded, including the well-known Stanford Research Institute.
A 1957 paper, published by the independent Scripps Institute, demonstrated scientifically for the first time that far more CO2 would remain in the atmosphere than had been previously assumed, and would potentially accelerate the impact of global climate change. In direct response to this report, another report, known as the Brannon Report and funded by Humble Oil (now Exxon Mobil), acknowledged the rising levels of atmospheric CO2, and also the fact that fossil fuels were contributing to that increase, early evidence that the oil industry itself was well aware of the problem. But this new report made a point of suggesting that CO2 would be retained in the oceans for much longer before returning to the atmosphere than the Scripps Institute report had concluded, so that the impact of fossil fuel emissions would be delayed by decades or even centuries.
In 1968, the Robinson Report, published by the Stanford Research Institute for the American Petroleum Institute, gave a stark account of how rising levels of CO2, for which fossil fuel burning provided the best explanation, would probably result in rising global temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, warming oceans, and serious environmental damage on a global scale. It recommended serious and speedy research into technologies to bring CO2 level under control. The Robinson Report was delivered to industry experts at the 1971 World Petroleum Congress, and another report the next year, based on the Robinson Report's findings, was submitted to the Department of Interior committee on air pollution issues, although in both of these presentations the uncertainties behind the science were stressed. The American Petroleum Institute hastily commissioned a toned-down "Supplemental" report to the Robinson Report, which it relied on heavily in its subsequent questioning of climate science, and industry and climate change skeptics continued to cite this watered-down report for years afterward.
So, just as in the case with the tobacco industry, the oil industry has clearly been well aware of global warming, and its own part in it, for many decades, and it has done its best to cover up the inconvenient truth with its own version of the science.
Dirty business, oil.

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