More than forty years ago, Exxon began researching the potential effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion on the climate. As far back as 1982, honest scientists doing respectable scientific work had realized that there was already a scientific consensus that a doubling of the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C. And they knew it would have significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and disturbances in the biosphere, accompanied by major economic consequences.
But then, after climate scientist James Hansen’s presentation to Congress in 1988, Exxon did an about-face. It spiked its own research and started working on climate denial. For the next 20 years its efforts were oriented around manufacturing doubt and lobbying to block federal action. Along with other companies in the fossil fuel lobby, Exxon spent considerable effort and money on a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public and policymakers about the risks of climate change.
Our guest in this episode is a veteran energy and environment journalist who, as part of an investigative team at Inside Climate News in 2015, pieced together the story of Exxon’s history of doing research on climate change, and then discrediting their own research in an effort to frustrate action on climate change and energy transition. If you’ve ever wondered why the public and certain elected officials continue to deny the reality of climate change, this episode is for you.
Neela Banerjee is a Washington-based reporter for Inside Climate News. She led the investigation into Exxon’s early climate research, which was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service reporting and the recipient of nearly a dozen other journalism awards. Before joining ICN, she spent four years as the energy and environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times’ Washington bureau. Banerjee covered global energy, the Iraq War and other issues with The New York Times. She also served as a Moscow correspondent with The Wall Street Journal.
On Twitter: @neelaeast
On the Web: Neela’s archive at Inside Climate News
Recording date: October 18, 2019
Air date: November 27, 2019
Geek rating: 2