Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Shell's 1991 warning: climate changing ‘at faster rate than at any time since end of ice age’

Extract from The Guardian
Critics say public information film shows Shell ‘understood the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilisation, more than a quarter of a century ago’

 What Shell knew about climate change in 1991

Damian Carrington and Jelmer Mommers
Tuesday 28 February 2017 16.45 AEDT

Climate change “at a rate faster than at any time since the end of the ice age – change too fast perhaps for life to adapt, without severe dislocation”. That was the startling warning issued by the oil giant Shell more than a quarter of a century ago.
The company’s farsighted 1991 film, titled Climate of Concern, set out with crystal clarity how the world was warming and that serious consequences could well result.
Tropical islands barely afloat even now, first made inhabitable, and then obliterated beneath the waves … coastal lowlands everywhere suffering pollution of precious groundwater, on which so much farming and so many cities depend,” says the film’s narrator, over disturbing images of people affected by natural disasters and famine. “In a crowded world subject to such adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?”
The film acknowledged the uncertainties in the computer model predictions at the time, but noted the various scenarios had “each prompted the same serious warning, a warning endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”.
What they foresee is not a steady and even warming overall, but alterations to the familiar patterns of climate, and the increasing frequency of abnormal weather,” it cautioned. “It is thought that warmer seas could make destructive [storm] surges more frequent and even more ferocious.”
Whether or not the threat of global warming proves as grave as the scientists predict, is it too much to hope as it might act as the stimulus – the catalyst – to a new era of technical and economic cooperation?” the film concludes. “Our numbers are many, and infinitely diverse. But the problems and dilemmas of climatic change concern us all.”
A family leaves their flooded home in Tangail, Bangladesh. ‘In a crowded world subject to such adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?’ says the film’s narrator.

 A family leaves their flooded home in Bangladesh. ‘In a crowded world subject to adverse shifts of climate, who would take care of such greenhouse refugees?’ says the film’s narrator. Photograph: Mufti Munir/AFP/Getty Images
The film was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities, but is believed to have been unseen for many years. It was remarkably prescient, according to Prof Tom Wigley, who was head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia when it helped Shell with the 1991 film.
It is amazing it is 25 years ago. Incredible,” he said. “It was quite comprehensive on what might happen, what the consequences are, and what we can do about it. I mean, there’s not much more.” He said the predictions for temperature and sea level rises in the 1991 film were “pretty good compared with current understanding”.
What is really striking is nothing has happened [since] to make you doubt the science as it was stated then,” said Tom Burke, at the green thinktank E3G and a former member of Shell’s external review committee.
Shell’s 1991 public information film, Climate of Concern.
 Shell’s 1991 public information film, Climate of Concern. Photograph: the Correspondant
But Shell’s actions on global warming since 1991, such as major investments in highly polluting tar sands and lobbying against climate action, have been heavily criticised. In 2015, it was accused of behaving like a “psychopath” by the UK’s former climate change envoy and of being engaged in a cynical attempt to block action on global warming. Even its own former group managing director, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, said in 2015 it was “distressing” that “remarkably little progress” had been made on climate change by Shell and other oil companies.
The revelation of the film, obtained by the Correspondent, a Dutch online journalism platform, and shared with the Guardian, has renewed the criticism.
The film shows that Shell understood that the threat was dire, potentially existential for civilisation, more than a quarter of a century ago,” said Jeremy Leggett, a solar power entrepreneur and former geologist who had earlier researched shale deposits with Shell and BP funding.
I see to this day how they doggedly argue for rising gas use, decades into the future, despite the clear evidence that fossil fuels have to be phased out completely,” he said. “I honestly feel that this company is guilty of a modern form of crime against humanity. They will point out that they have behaved no differently than their peers, BP, Exxon and Chevron. For people like me, of which there are many, that is no defence.”
Shell’s 1991 film linked fossil fuel burning with rising atmospheric CO2 and said the “serious warning” of dangerous warming was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists”.
 Shell’s 1991 film linked fossil fuel burning with rising atmospheric CO2 and said the “serious warning” of dangerous warming was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists”. Photograph: Climate of Concern screengrab
Paul Spedding, HSBC’s former global head of oil and gas and now at the thinktank Carbon Tracker, said about half of Shell’s reserve base is natural gas, the least carbon intensive of the fossil fuels. “However, its oil portfolio could be a ticking tar-sands time bomb. Tar sands, which make up nearly 30% of group oil reserves, are significantly more carbon intensive than conventional oil. As things stand, Shell’s oil production is destined to become heavier, higher cost, and higher carbon, hardly a profile that fits the outlook described in Shell’s video.”
Shell had, in fact, known of the risks of climate change even earlier. A “confidential” company report written in 1986, also seen by the Guardian, noted the significant uncertainties in climate science at the time but warned of the possibility of “fast and dramatic” changes that “would impact on the human environment, future living standards and food supplies, and could have major social, economic, and political consequences”.
In 1989, Shell had already taken the effects of climate change into account in the construction of an oil rig. But in the same year, the so-called Global Climate Coalition (GCC) was formed by the major oil companies, including Shell’s US operation Shell Oil. It lobbied hard to cast doubt on climate science and oppose government action, and in 1998 Shell withdrew, citing “irreconcilable” differences.
However, Shell remained a member of another business lobby group that campaigned against climate action, the American Legislative Exchange Council, until 2015 and remains a member of the Business Roundtable and American Petroleum Institute, which both fought against Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
The company has said it has remained a member of groups that hold different views on climate action to “influence” them. But Thomas O’Neill, from the group Influence Map, which tracks lobbying, said: “The trade associations and industry groups are there to say things the company cannot or does not want to say. It’s deliberately that way.”
Shell has also lobbied directly to undermine European renewable energy targets, a sector it has invested in although at a much lower level than oil and gas. In 2016, Shell launched its New Energies division, with annual spending less than 1% of the total $30bn Shell pumps into oil and gas.
Despite the company’s public support since the 1990s for carbon taxes to drive cuts in emissions, in 2015 it lobbied for exemptions for the electricity it produces and uses, particularly for its offshore oil and gas platforms.
Some of Shell’s investments today are also criticised for being incompatible with the 2C warming target agreed by the world’s nations. A 2015 Carbon Tracker report concluded the company was planning to invest more than $75bn in such projects over the following decade, part of a “carbon bubble” in which reserves are being developed that cannot be burned if climate change is to be halted – a concern shared by the Bank of England and World Bank.
Another Carbon Tracker report in 2016 cited a 1998 Shell document showing the company was aware of this risk. “Shell knew about, but did not act on, the risks of a carbon bubble,” the report said. “Looking back over the last 20 years, it seems like Shell has gone backwards in terms of transparency, and is still recycling the same old green initiatives, and attempting to deflect responsibility in the face of an existential threat to its business.”
Shell was one of the first major oil companies to acknowledge the need to act on climate change and has long argued that providing affordable energy was vital for the world and its development. The 1991 film anticipated the problem: “How could [developing] countries continue to advance but leapfrog the energy-intensive face of development, by which other nations prospered before its adverse consequences came to light?”
But in 2015 its own external review committee concluded Shell’s sustainability report did not “adequately convey the urgency of this [low-carbon energy] transition”. Earlier in February, Shell’s CEO Ben van Beurden said: “We believe that climate change is real and we believe that action will be needed.”
Moody-Stuart, who was also chairman of Shell from 1998-2002, told the Guardian the broad criticism of the company was unfair. “I don’t think enough has been done, but I wouldn’t single out the oil industry. Governments and others have some responsibility and Shell and others have called for a price on carbon since the 1990s.”
It hasn’t got very far at all but that is not Shell’s fault,” he said. “It is pretty unique for an industry to be actually asking for something which will increase the price of their product, but they are asking for it because that is what is needed to drive the industry in the right direction.”
Burke, a former head of Friends of the Earth, agreed there is a wider problem. “It is too easy to blame it all on Shell for getting it wrong”, he said, as there has been “a broader societal failure”.

Shell’s 1986 report said the climate change problem was one that “ultimately only governments can tackle”. But it also noted, over three decades ago, that the energy industry “has very strong interests at stake and much expertise to contribute. It also has its own reputation to consider, there being much potential for public anxiety and pressure group activity.”

Rockefeller family tried and failed to get ExxonMobil to accept climate change

Founding family of the US oil empire Exxon, begged the company to give up climate denial and reform their ways a decade ago – but attempts at engagement failed

Rockefeller family members voiced concern about the direction of the oil company ExxonMobil
Peter O’Neill, chair of the Rockefeller Family committee (C) sits with Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, economist, and great-granddaughter of John D Rockefeller and Stephen B Heintz, president, Rockefeller Brothers Fund during a news conference in which Rockefeller family members voiced concern about the direction of the oil company ExxonMobil in April 2008 in New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Members of the Rockefeller family tried to get ExxonMobil to acknowledge the dangers of climate change a decade ago – but failed in their efforts to reform the oil giant.
In letters, lunch meetings, and shareholder resolutions, the descendants of John D Rockefeller, founder of the oil empire that eventually became Exxon, sought repeatedly to persuade the company to abandon climate denial and begin shifting their business towards clean energy.
“We were really begging the company to look harder at what they were doing. They were still into climate denial and funding deniers and really against any positive steps,” said Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, a co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University, who helped lead the reform effort.
The outreach effort, led mainly by Rockefeller’s great grandchildren, began with a lunch meeting in 2004 with Exxon’s then head of investor relations.
“This was the family trying to get into a friendly conversation with ExxonMobil, feeling we have a strong historical connection with that company,” said Goodwin. “We wanted to start talking with the company about their view of the future and how they could be a constructive player as well as part of the problem.”
The company was blindsided. David Henry, then head of investor relations, was “stunned” at the family’s concern about climate change, according to Goodwin’s recollection of events.
“The head of investor relations was really surprised to find we didn’t love Exxon as it was but thought changes might be a good idea,” she said.
Over the next few years, Goodwin and about a dozen other Rockefellers launched three separate shareholder resolutions pressing Exxon to recognise climate change and invest in renewable energy. The cousins also sought an independent chairman, believing it would make the company more responsive.
At the time the oil company was the main funder of dozens of front groups and researchers rubbishing any link between the burning of fossil fuels and climate change – or denying climate change was occurring at all.
Among the recipients was Willie Soon, the Harvard-Smithsonian researcher who received more than $1m (£0.7m) from industry, according to documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings.
In a report released on the eve of their 2008 annual general meeting, the oil company pledged to stop funding groups that promote climate denial.
However, the company continued funding Soon for three more years. The documents show that Exxon gave Soon an additional $76,106 from 2008 to 2010, despite claiming to have stopped.
The shareholder resolutions were easily defeated.

steam rises from towers at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas
Steam rises from towers at an Exxon Mobil refinery in Baytown, Texas. Photograph: Pat Sullivan/AP
The US environmentalist Bill McKibben says the failure of the family’s efforts is telling and signals the limits of shareholder engagement with some fossil fuel companies. “It makes a very clear point that engaging with fossil fuel companies to somehow get them to change their ways is unlikely to work if the family of the founder can’t get Exxon to shift.”
The Rockefeller heirs also tried private and public pressure. Nearly 100 direct descendants also signed a letter expressing concern as investors and begging the company to stop funding climate deniers, Goodwin said.
In 2006, another cousin, Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, and Senator Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, wrote a letter to the incoming Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson, urging the company to stop funding climate deniers.
“ExxonMobil’s longstanding support of a small cadre of global climate change sceptics, and those sceptics’ access to and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy,” the letter said. “It is our hope that under your leadership, ExxonMobil would end its dangerous support of the ‘deniers’.”
Most of the Rockefellers’ personal fortunes are held in trusts set up in the 1930s.
The family retains only a tiny fraction of shares in Exxon. But the stand taken by the Rockefellers – at a time when Exxon was under attack from campaign groups for its support of climate denial – rankled company executives who had expected family members to be allies, Goodwin said. “They were shocked to find this family that had a strong link with them, and that they expect to find a great friend and admirer ... had such a negative view.”
But even with the weight of that historical connection Exxon was still not persuaded to change.

Neva Goodwin during Leontiel 2013 Prize Ceremony at Tufts University
Neva Goodwin. Photograph: GDAE/Tufts University
“I was pretty discouraged. Exxon has an extremely strong culture of believing that they are right and know what they are doing and really don’t need to listen to anybody else,” Goodwin went on. “It was clear that we didn’t have an ability to make more of a dent in that.”
When the Guardian asked for a comment on the Rockefellers’ attempts to engage with the company it issued this statement. “ExxonMobil will not respond to Guardian inquiries because of its lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”
Ken Cohen, ExxonMobil’s vice president for public and government affairs has previously been dismissive of the concept of fossil fuel divestment, saying that it is “out of step with reality”.
“There are no scalable alternative fuels or technologies available today capable of taking the place of fossil fuels and offering society what those energy sources provide,” he wrote in a blog in October.

US taxpayers subsidising world's biggest fossil fuel companies

Extract from The Guardian

Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidises granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals

Marathon Refinery in Canton, Ohio
Marathon Petroleum refinery in Canton, Ohio, got a job subsidy scheme worth $78m when it started in 2011. Photograph: PR

The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change.
A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidises were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.
The Guardian has found that:
  • A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6bn (£1bn) in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8bn.
  • ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana are benefitting from $119m of state subsidy, with the support starting in 2011, when the company made a $41bn profit.
  • A jobs subsidy scheme worth $78m to Marathon Petroleum in Ohio began in 2011, when the company made $2.4bn in profit.
“At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said senator Bernie Sanders, who announced on 30 April he is running for president.
Sanders, with representative Keith Ellison, recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135bn of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8bn on lobbying, much of it in defence of these giveaways,” according to Sanders and Ellison.
In April, the president of the World Bank called for the subsidies to be scrapped immediately as poorer nations were feeling “the boot of climate change on their neck”. Globally in 2013, the most recent figures available,the coal, oil and gas industries benefited from subsidies of $550bn, four times those given to renewable energy.
“Subsidies to fossil fuel companies are completely inappropriate in this day and age,” said Stephen Kretzmann, executive director of Oil Change International, an NGO that analyses the costs of fossil fuels. OCI found in 2014 that US taxpayers were subsidising fossil fuel exploration and production alone by $21bn a year. In 2009, President Barack Obama called on the G20 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies but since then US federal subsidies have risen by 45%.
“Climate science is clear that the vast majority of existing reserves will have to stay in the ground,” Kretzmann said. “Yet our government spends many tens of billions of our tax dollars – every year – making it more profitable for the fossil fuel industry to produce more.”
Tax credits, defined as a subsidy by the World Trade Organisation, are a key route of support for the fossil fuel industry. Using the subsidy tracker tool created by the Good Jobs First group, the Guardian examined some of the biggest subsidies for specific projects.
Shell’s proposed $4bn plant in Pennsylvania is set to benefit from tax credits of $66m a year for 25 years. Shell has bought the site and has 10 supply contracts in place lasting up to 20 years, including from fracking companies extracting shale gas in the Marcellus shale field. The deal was struck by the then Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who received over $1m in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry. According to Guardian analysis of data compiled by Common Cause Pennsylvania, Shell have spent $1.2m on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2011.
A Shell spokesman said: “Shell supports and endorses incentive programmes provided by state and local authorities that improve the business climate for capital investment, economic expansion and job growth. Shell would not have access to these incentive programmes without the support and approval from the representative state and local jurisdictions.”
ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge refinery is the second-largest in the US. Since 2011, it has been benefitting from exemptions from industrial taxes, worth $118.9m over 10 years, according to the Good Jobs First database. The Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal has expressed his pride in attracting investment from ExxonMobil. In state election campaigns between 2003 and 2013, he received 231 contributions from oil and gas companies and executives totalling $1,019,777, according to a list compiled by environmental groups.
A spokesman for ExxonMobil said: “ExxonMobil will not respond to Guardian inquiries because of its lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”
The Guardian is running a campaign asking the world’s biggest health charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to sell their fossil fuel investments on the basis that it is misguided to invest in companies dedicated to finding more oil, gas and coal when current reserves are already several times greater than can be safely burned. Many philanthropic organisations have already divested from fossil fuels, including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund whose wealth derives from Standard Oil, which went on to become ExxonMobil.
In Ohio, Marathon Petroleum is benefitting from a 15-year tax credit for retaining 1,650 jobs and a 10-year tax credit for creating 100 new jobs. The subsidy is worth $78.5m, according to the Good Jobs First database. “I think Marathon always wanted to be here,” Republican governor John Kasich said in 2011. “All we’re doing is helping them.” In 2011, Kasich was named as the top recipient of oil and gas donations in Ohio, having received $213, 519. The same year Kasich appointed Marathon Petroleum’s CEO to the board of Jobs Ohio, a semi-private group “in charge of the economic growth in the state of Ohio”.
A spokesman for Marathon Petroleum said: “The tax credit recognises the enormous contribution we make to the Ohio economy through the taxes we pay and the well-paying jobs we maintain. We have more than doubled the 100 new jobs we committed to create.” The spokesman said the company paid billions of dollars in income and other taxes every year across the US.
“Big oil, gas, and coal have huge influence on politicians and governments and they get that influence the old fashioned way – they buy it,” said Kretzmann. “Through campaign finance, lobbying, advertising and superpac spending, the industry has many ways to influence candidates and government officials seeking re-election.”
He said fossil fuel subsidies were endemic in the US: “Every single well, pipeline, refinery, coal and gas plant in the country is heavily subsidised. Big Fossil’s lobbyists have done their jobs well for the last century.”
Ben Schreiber, at Friends of the Earth US, said. “There is a vibrant discussion about the best way to keep fossil fuels in the ground – from carbon taxation to divestment – but ending state and federal corporate welfare for polluters is one of the easiest places to start.”
Schreiber also defended subsidies for renewable energy: “Fossil fuels are a mature technology while renewable energy is nascent and still developing. It makes sense to subsidise technologies that are going to help solve climate change, but not to do the same for those that are causing the problem.” 

Work of prominent climate change denier was funded by energy industry

  • Willie Soon is researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
  • Documents: Koch brothers foundation among groups that gave total of $1.25m
Climate change smoke
Willie Soon does not accept that rising greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change, instead blaming the sun. Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images
Over the last 14 years Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics, received a total of $1.25m from Exxon Mobil, Southern Company, the American Petroleum Institute (API) and a foundation run by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, the documents obtained by Greenpeace through freedom of information filings show.
According to the documents, the biggest single funder was Southern Company, one of the country’s biggest electricity providers that relies heavily on coal.
The documents draw new attention to the industry’s efforts to block action against climate change – including President Barack Obama’s power-plant rules.
Unlike the vast majority of scientists, Soon does not accept that rising greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial age are causing climate changes. He contends climate change is driven by the sun.
In the relatively small universe of climate denial Soon, with his Harvard-Smithsonian credentials, was a sought after commodity. He was cited admiringly by Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who famously called global warming a hoax. He was called to testify when Republicans in the Kansas state legislature tried to block measures promoting wind and solar power. The Heartland Institute, a hub of climate denial, gave Soon a courage award.
Soon did not enjoy such recognition from the scientific community. There were no grants from Nasa, the National Science Foundation or the other institutions which were funding his colleagues at the Center for Astrophysics. According to the documents, his work was funded almost entirely by the fossil fuel lobby.
“The question here is really: ‘What did API, ExxonMobil, Southern Company and Charles Koch see in Willie Soon? What did they get for $1m-plus,” said Kert Davies, a former Greenpeace researcher who filed the original freedom of information requests. Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, of which Davies is the founder, shared the documents with news organisations.
“Did they simply hope he was on to research that would disprove the consensus? Or was it too enticing to be able to basically buy the nameplate Harvard-Smithsonian?”
From 2005, Southern Company gave Soon nearly $410,000. In return, Soon promised to publish research about the sun’s influence on climate change in leading journals, and to deliver lectures about his theories at national and international events, according to the correspondence.
The funding would lead to “active participations by this PI (principal investigator) of this research proposal in all national and international forums interested in promoting the basic understanding of solar variability and climate change”, Soon wrote in a report to Southern Company.
In 2012, Soon told Southern Company its grants had supported publications on polar bears, temperature changes in the Arctic and China, and rainfall patterns in the Indian monsoon.
ExxonMobil gave $335,000 but stopped funding Soon in 2010, according to the documents. The astrophysicist reportedly received $274,000 from the main oil lobby, the American Petroleum Institute, and $230,000 from the Charles G Koch Foundation. He received an additional $324,000 in anonymous donations through a trust used by the Kochs and other conservative donors, the documents showed.
Greenpeace has suggested Soon also improperly concealed his funding sources for a recent article, in violation of the journal’s conflict of interest guidelines.
“The company was paying him to write peer-reviewed science and that relationship was not acknowledged in the peer-reviewed literature,” Davies said. “These proposals and contracts show debatable interventions in science literally on the behalf of Southern Company and the Kochs.”
In letters to the Internal Revenue Service and Congress, Greenpeace said Soon may have misused the grants from the Koch foundation by trying to influence legislation.
Soon did not respond to requests for comment. But he has in the past strenuously denied his industry funders had any influence over his conclusions.
“No amount of money can influence what I have to say and write, especially on my scientific quest to understand how climate works, all by itself,” he told the Boston Globe in 2013.
As is common among Harvard-Smithsonian scientists, Soon is not on a salary. He receives his compensation from outside grant money, said Christine Pulliam, a spokeswoman for the Center for Astrophysics.
The Center for Astrophysics does not require scientists to disclose their funding sources. But Pulliam acknowleged that Soon had failed to meet disclosure requirements of some of the journals that published his research. “Soon should have followed those policies,” she said.
Harvard said Soon operated outside of the university – even though he carries a Harvard ID and uses a Harvard email address.
“Willie Soon is a Smithsonian staff researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, a collaboration of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory,” a Harvard spokesman, Jeff Neal, said.
“There is no record of Soon having applied for or having been granted funds that were or are administered by the University. Soon is not an employee of Harvard.”
Both Harvard and the Smithsonian acknowledge that the climate is changing because of rising levels of greenhouse gas concentrations caused by human activities.
Pulliam cast Soon’s association with the institutions as an issue of academic freedom: “Academic freedom is critically important. The Smithsonian stands by the process by which the research results of all of its scholars are peer reviewed and vetted by other scientists. This is the way that the scientific process works. The funding entities, regardless of their affiliation, have no influence on the research.”

Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years

A newly unearthed missive from Lenny Bernstein, a climate expert with the oil firm for 30 years, shows concerns over high presence of carbon dioxide in enormous gas field in south-east Asia factored into decision not to tap it
Tugboats tow the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound 05 April 1989
Tugboats tow the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound 5 April 1989. Exxon became aware of climate change as early as 1981, according to a newly discovered email. Photograph: Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images

ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.
The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago – factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.
“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.
However, Exxon’s public position was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers, its founding family, and its continued financial support for climate denial. Over the years, Exxon spent more than $30m on thinktanks and researchers that promoted climate denial, according to Greenpeace.
Exxon said on Wednesday that it now acknowledges the risk of climate change and does not fund climate change denial groups.
Some climate campaigners have likened the industry to the conduct of the tobacco industry which for decades resisted the evidence that smoking causes cancer.
In the email Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert who spent 30 years at Exxon and Mobil and was a lead author on two of the United Nations’ blockbuster IPCC climate science reports, said climate change first emerged on the company’s radar in 1981, when the company was considering the development of south-east Asia’s biggest gas field, off Indonesia.
That was seven years ahead of other oil companies and the public, according to Bernstein’s account.
Climate change was largely confined to the realm of science until 1988, when the climate scientist James Hansen told Congress that global warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels.
By that time, it was clear that developing the Natuna site would set off a huge amount of climate change pollution – effectively a “carbon bomb”, according to Bernstein.
“When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions,” Bernstein wrote.
The email was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.
“What it shows is that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation,” the director of the institute, Alyssa Bernstein (no relation), told the Guardian.
“One thing that occurs to me is the behavior of the tobacco companies denying the connection between smoking and lung cancer for the sake of profits, but this is an order of magnitude greater moral offence, in my opinion, because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilisation, not to be melodramatic.”
Bernstein’s response, first posted on the institute’s website last October, was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday as part of a report on climate disinformation promoted by companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy, called the Climate Deception Dossiers.
Asked about Bernstein’s comments, Exxon said climate science in the early 1980s was at a preliminary stage, but the company now saw climate change as a risk.
“The science in 1981 on this subject was in the very, very early days and there was considerable division of opinion,” Richard Keil, an Exxon spokesman, said. “There was nobody you could have gone to in 1981 or 1984 who would have said whether it was real or not. Nobody could provide a definitive answer.”
He rejected the idea that Exxon had funded groups promoting climate denial. “I am here to talk to you about the present,” he said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.”
Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account.
“In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue,” he wrote.
“Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations,” Bernstein wrote in the email.
Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who researches the history of climate science, said it was unsurprising Exxon would have factored climate change in its plans in the early 1980s – but she disputed Bernstein’s suggestion that other companies were not. She also took issue with Exxon’s assertion of uncertainty about the science in the 1980s, noting the National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.
The White House and the National Academy of Sciences came out with reports on climate change in the 1970s, and government scientific agencies were studying climate change in the 1960s, she said. There were also a number of major scientific meetings on climate change in the 1970s.
“I find it difficult to believe that an industry whose business model depends on fossil fuels could have been completely ignoring major environmental reports, major environmental meetings taken place in which carbon dioxide and climate change were talked about,” she said in an interview with the Guardian.
The East Natuna gas field, about 140 miles north-east of the Natuna islands in the South China Sea and 700 miles north of Jakarta, is the biggest in south-east Asia, with about 46tn cubic ft (1.3tn cubic metres) of recoverable reserves.
However, Exxon did not go into production on the field.
Bernstein writes in his email to Ohio University: “Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.”
Bernstein, who is now in his mid-70s, spent 20 years as a scientist at Exxon and 10 years at Mobil. During the 1990s he headed the science and technology advisory committee of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group that lobbied aggressively against the scientific consensus around the causes of climate change.
However, GCC climate experts accepted the impact of human activity on climate change in their internal communications as early as 1995, according to a document filed in a 2009 lawsuit and included in the UCS dossier.
The document, a 17-page primer on climate science produced by Bernstein’s advisory committee, discounts the alternate theories about the causes of climate change promoted by climate contrarian researchers such as Willie Soon, who was partly funded by Exxon.
“The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes, but they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change,” the advisory committee said.
The 1995 primer was never released for publication. A subsequent version, which was publicly distributed in 1998, removed the reference to “contrarian theories”, and continued to dispute the science underlying climate change.
Kenneth Kimmel, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said ExxonMobil and the other companies profiled in its report had failed to take responsibility about the danger to the public of producing fossil fuels.
“Instead of taking responsibility, they have either directly – or indirectly through trade and industry groups – sown doubt about the science of climate change and fought efforts to cut emissions,” he wrote in a blogpost. “I believe that the conduct outlined in the UCS report puts the fossil fuel companies’ social license at risk. And once that social license is gone, it is very hard to get it back. Just look at what happened to tobacco companies after litigation finally pried open the documents that exposed decades of misinformation and deception.”
Keil, the ExxonMobil spokesman, confirmed that the company had decided not to develop Natuna, but would not comment on the reasons. “There could be a huge range of reasons why we don’t develop projects,” he said.

Full text of scientist’s email

Below is the text of an email from Lenny Bernstein to the director of the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University, Alyssa Bernstein (no relation), who had asked for ideas to stimulate students for an ethics day announced by the Carnegie Council.
Alyssa’s right. Feel free to share this e-mail with her. Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.
Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2. That CO2 would have to be separated to make the natural gas usable. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions.
The alternative to venting CO2 to the atmosphere is to inject it into ground. This technology was also well known, since the oil industry had been injecting limited quantities of CO2 to enhance oil recovery. There were many questions about whether the CO2 would remain in the ground, some of which have been answered by Statoil’s now almost 20 years of experience injecting CO2 in the North Sea. Statoil did this because the Norwegian government placed a tax on vented CO2. It was cheaper for Statoil to inject CO2 than pay the tax. Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.
In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue. Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations. Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question – legitimately, in my opinion – the validity of some of the science.
Political battles need to personify the enemy. This is why liberals spend so much time vilifying the Koch brothers – who are hardly the only big money supporters of conservative ideas. In climate change, the first villain was a man named Donald Pearlman, who was a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. (In another life, he was instrumental in getting the US Holocaust Museum funded and built.) Pearlman’s usefulness as a villain ended when he died of lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker to the end.
Then the villain was the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a trade organization of energy producers and large energy users. I was involved in GCC for a while, unsuccessfully trying to get them to recognize scientific reality. (That effort got me on to the front page of the New York Times, but that’s another story.) Environmental group pressure was successful in putting GCC out of business, but they also lost their villain. They needed one which wouldn’t die and wouldn’t go out of business. Exxon, and after its merger with Mobil ExxonMobil, fit the bill, especially under its former CEO, Lee Raymond, who was vocally opposed to climate change regulation. ExxonMobil’s current CEO, Rex Tillerson, has taken a much softer line, but ExxonMobil has not lost its position as the personification of corporate, and especially climate change, evil. It is the only company mentioned in Alyssa’s e-mail, even though, in my opinion, it is far more ethical that many other large corporations.
Having spent twenty years working for Exxon and ten working for Mobil, I know that much of that ethical behavior comes from a business calculation that it is cheaper in the long run to be ethical than unethical. Safety is the clearest example of this. ExxonMobil knows all too well the cost of poor safety practices. The Exxon Valdez is the most public, but far from the only, example of the high cost of unsafe operations. The value of good environmental practices are more subtle, but a facility that does a good job of controlling emission and waste is a well run facility, that is probably maximizing profit. All major companies will tell you that they are trying to minimize their internal CO2 emissions. Mostly, they are doing this by improving energy efficiency and reducing cost. The same is true for internal recycling, again a practice most companies follow. Its [sic] just good engineering.

Nick Stern: Shell is asking us to bet against the world on climate change

Oil giant is wrong on climate policy and on the progress that will be made in renewables over next 20-30 years, says influential economist Nick Stern

Shell is asking investors to bet against the world taking action on climate change or in renewables displacing fossil fuels, says influential economist Nick Stern.
Speaking at a Guardian debate on divestment last night, Lord Stern said Shell and other hydrocarbon companies were getting it wrong on the potential of renewables technology and that people will insist on policies to hold global warming to 2C.
“They do not believe the world will be wise enough to follow policies that can hold the world to 2C and are asking us to bet against the world ... telling us that we won’t do what we’ve set out to do and that it is a safe bet to bet that we won’t.
“We have to try to show them that they are wrong and that we can get the world’s people to insist that we must follow those policies. We must try to build pressure to try to make that 2C assumption correct and the forecast of the energy companies wrong.”
Stern’s intervention comes after Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the Guardian that his company would continue to look for new reserves of oil and did not believe its assets were overvalued or unusable as a result of current or reasonably foreseeable future legislation concerning carbon. He also said renewables would become important for Shell after 2050.
Speaking at the Guardian event, David Blood, co-founder of Generation Investment Management with Al Gore, said Shell and other fossil fuel companies had got their forecasting wrong on climate policy and renewables.
“They are completely missing what is happening in their industries, which is that the alternatives to hydrocarbon-based energy is becoming extremely competitive. For them to say that for the next 20-30 years we do not believe wind, solar and energy efficiency will be sufficient to displace hydrocarbons is a really very silly thing to be saying given all the technological advances we have witnessed in the last 10-20 years.”
Stern said most effective divestment strategy did not just look to divest from fossil fuel companies, but to positively keep stocks or invest in companies that were taking responsible action on climate change.
Ecotricity founder Dale Vince went further in urging consumers to not only divest away from fossil fuels, but also boycott them in their daily lives. “Simply selling shares in a fossil fuel company does not undermine its business plan. The problem is that we are all demanding fossil fuels and that is what underpins the business plan.
“Alongside a divestment campaign we need a boycott campaign. We all need to stop buying fossil fuels, which is a lot easier than it has ever been with green electricity, gas and electric cars.”
Stern agreed and said the best way to undermine demand for fossil fuels would be to expose people to the proper price through taxing carbon and ending subsidies.
Others at the debate were cautious about the impact a solely UK or US divestment or boycott strategy could have on fossil fuel companies. “When we’re talking to extractive industries they don’t really care about the demand in the UK or Europe,” said Meryam Omi, head of sustainability at Legal & General investment management. “It’s going to go down anyway because of efficiency measures.
“They are talking about India and China, and particularly India, where they are right at the point of deciding what kind of energy system they want. They have ambitious targets for solar, but ones that will require a lot of investment now while coal is cheap,” said Omi.
This article was updated on 29th May 2015 to clarify Shell’s position on renewables. It says it is exploring investment opportunities in the sector and is currently one of the world’s largest producers of biofuels.