What did ExxonMobil Know and when did they know it? (Part 3, Exxon: The Fork Not Taken)

Guest post by David Middleton

Fork

This just keeps getting more hilarious…

Exxon Confirmed Global Warming Consensus in 1982 with In-House Climate Models

The company chairman would later mock climate models as unreliable while he campaigned to stop global action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Lisa Song, Neela Banerjee, David Hasemyer

Sep 22, 2015

Steve Knisely was an intern at Exxon Research and Engineering in the summer of 1979 when a vice president asked him to analyze how global warming might affect fuel use.

“I think this guy was looking for validation that the greenhouse effect should spur some investment in alternative energy that’s not bad for the environment,” Knisely, now 58 and a partner in a management consulting company, recalled in a recent interview.

Knisely projected that unless fossil fuel use was constrained, there would be “noticeable temperature changes” and 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air by 2010, up from about 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.

[…]

Through much of the 1980s, Exxon researchers worked alongside university and government scientists to generate objective climate models that yielded papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Their work confirmed the emerging scientific consensus on global warming’s risks.

Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions. Even as the models grew more powerful and reliable, Exxon publicly derided the type of work its own scientists had done. The company continued its involvement with climate research, but its reputation for objectivity began to erode as it campaigned internationally to cast doubt on the science.

[…]

Climate ‘Catastrophe’ Foreseen

By 1981, Exxon scientists were no longer questioning whether the buildup of CO2 would cause the world to heat up. Through their own studies and their participation in government-sponsored conferences, company researchers had concluded that rising CO2 levels could create catastrophic impacts within the first half of the 21st century if the burning of oil, gas and coal wasn’t contained.

[…]

Unanimous Agreement

“Over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged regarding the expected climatic effects of increased atmospheric CO2,” Cohen wrote to A.M. Natkin of Exxon Corporation’s Science and Technology Office in 1982. “The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of 3.0 ± 1.5°C.” (Equal to 5.4 ± 2.7°F).

“There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

Exxon’s own modeling research confirmed this and the company’s results were later published in at least three peer-reviewed science articles. Two of them were co-authored by Hoffert, and a third was written entirely by Flannery.

Exxon’s modeling experts also explained away the less-dire predictions of a 1979 study led by Reginald Newell, a prominent atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Newell’s model projected that the effects of climate change would not be as severe as most scientists were predicting.

Specifically, Newell and a co-author from the Air Force named Thomas Dopplick challenged the prevailing view that a doubling of the earth’s CO2 blanket would raise temperatures about 3°C (5°F)– a measure known as climate sensitivity. Instead, they said the earth’s true climate sensitivity was roughly less than 1°C (2°F).

[…]

http://insideclimatenews.org/news/18092015/exxon-confirmed-global-warming-consensus-in-1982-with-in-house-climate-models

I have yet to find any Exxon models… Much less any that confirmed a “Global Warming Consensus” or “Climate ‘Catastrophe'”.  What I have found are reports which cite other people’s models and quite a few “cartoons” derived from them.

Same as it ever was.

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” (Lawrence “Yogi” Berra)

Half wrong.

Exxon: The Fork Not Taken

It’s notable that Exxon was made aware of the so-called consensus…

“The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of 3.0 ± 1.5°C.”

And they were also made aware of reality…

“Newell and a co-author from the Air Force named Thomas Dopplick … said the earth’s true climate sensitivity was roughly less than 1°C.”

Inside Climate likes to make a big deal out of this…

Exxon’s former chairman and CEO, Lee Raymond, took an even tougher line against climate science. Speaking before the World Petroleum Congress in Beijing in 1997, Raymond mocked climate models in an effort to stop the imminent adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, an international accord to reduce emissions.

“They are notoriously inaccurate,” Raymond said. “1990’s models were predicting temperature increases of two to five degrees Celsius by the year 2100,” he said, without explaining the source of those numbers. “Last year’s models say one to three degrees. Where to next year?”

Mr. Raymond was correct. The models have been “notoriously inaccurate.” However, they have been very precise in their inaccuracies…

http://www.drroyspencer.com/2014/02/95-of-climate-models-agree-the-observations-must-be-wrong/

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55 thoughts on “What did ExxonMobil Know and when did they know it? (Part 3, Exxon: The Fork Not Taken)

    • I remember back in 1990, during the coldest winter I could remember at the time. I was building a printing plant and the temperatures were so low that you couldn’t get propane for temporary construction heat. I called Florida to see if I could get some shipped to Baltimore. They said there were restrictions in place prohibiting shipping it because there was such a shortage up and down the east coast
      Every evening when I left the jobsite, the same commercial played on the radio. “Have you noticed? It’s getting warmer.”
      Unbelievable.

    • “The consensus is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from its pre-industrial revolution value would result in an average global temperature rise of 3.0 ± 1.5°C.” (Equal to 5.4 ± 2.7°F).”
      If that was the consensus in 1982, then we have pretty good evidence 33 years later that the ‘consensus’ was wrong. It would seem to me that it’s the warmists who have something to explain, not Exxon.

    • The first I remember global warming in the news, was in the early part of the Hawke government (1983 to 1991. He had created a department called the “commission for the future”, which was doing the rounds of insurance companies, trying to hawk this new thing called “global warming” It was extremely new then, certainly not a consensus.

  1. Well, if you see a fork in the road, you really shouldn’t take it. You don’t know where it’s been.

    • Bruce
      It’s probably my grandfather’s fork.
      Between him, my father and myself, it’s had six new handles, and two new sets of tines, and was good as new – ’til I lost it in the road.
      Auto

  2. I’ve worked on a number of projects where interns were involved. Some of them were very smart, with good training. But I’ve never been aware of one that’s been directed to do anything of real consequence, you don’t rely on entry-level-temporary-trainee help for something that really matters. It just sounds just like Brian Williams, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and more, where there is some mis-remembering going on here.

      • Quite right Mark/Mike! I’m still trying to get my head around what kind of (computer) model such an intern would develop: how much code; what system; run time; debug time; etc. Not to mention access to the variables derived from data. It’s a fairy story!

    • “Modellers have an inbuilt bias towards forced climate change because the causes and effect are clear”
      My opinion is that the reason for this bias is because they know where their next grant cheque is coming from.

  3. Uhm, GUYS!
    Steve Knisely was an intern at Exxon Research and Engineering in the summer of 1979 when a vice president asked him to analyze how global warming might affect fuel use.
    “I think this guy was looking for validation that the greenhouse effect should spur some investment in alternative energy that’s not bad for the environment,” Knisely, now 58 and a partner in a management consulting company, recalled in a recent interview.”
    Note the dates! Stevey boy was what 23 year old INTERN! And a V.P. asking him to do “analyze how global warming might affect fuel use.”! This is 1979 what serious V.P. would hand off a make or break project to an intern. Delusions of grandeur? And who was this V.P.? The V.P. and general party secretary of rest rooms?
    michael.

    • For the most part, the only interaction a VP has with an intern, is when the intern brings coffee and donuts in the morning.

    • What’s being missed in this: They are having an intern look into it because it’s NOT THAT IMPORTANT to them, just looking at what others are doing and speculating on impact to Exxon. Nothing more.

  4. I have 100% confidence in the climate models.

    Abstract
    The Key Role of Heavy Precipitation Events in Climate Model Disagreements of Future Annual Precipitation Changes in California
    Climate model simulations disagree on whether future precipitation will increase or decrease over California, which has impeded efforts to anticipate and adapt to human-induced climate change……..Between these conflicting tendencies, 12 projections show drier annual conditions by the 2060s and 13 show wetter. These results are obtained from 16 global general circulation models downscaled with different combinations of dynamical methods…
    http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-12-00766.1

    Abstract – 1994
    Naomi Oreskes et al
    Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences
    Verification and validation of numerical models of natural systems is impossible. This is because natural systems are never closed and because model results are always non-unique. Models can be confirmed by the demonstration of agreement between observation and prediction, but confirmation is inherently partial. Complete confirmation is logically precluded by the fallacy of affirming the consequent and by incomplete access to natural phenomena. Models can only be evaluated in relative terms, and their predictive value is always open to question. The primary value of models is heuristic…….
    In some cases, the predictions generated by these models are considered as a basis for public policy decisions: Global circulation models are being used to predict the behavior of the Earth’s climate in response to increased CO2 concentrations;…….
    Finally, we must admit that
    a model may confirm our biases and support incorrect intuitions. Therefore, models are most useful when they are used to challenge existing formulations, rather than to validate or verify them. Any scientist who is asked to use a model to verify or validate a predetermined result should be suspicious.
    http://acmg.seas.harvard.edu/students/Oreskes_1994.pdf

    Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, et. al. – 2004
    Modellers have an inbuilt bias towards forced climate change because the causes and effect are clear.”
    http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~mann/shared/articles/Schmidtetal-QSR04.pdf

  5. I worked in a major oil co research lab during this time, it is not unusual to ask a bright young intern to look into things that the researchers did not have time for. There would be no expectation of meaningful results, nor would his results change any company strategy. In 1979 we were just getting our arms around plate tectonics, so believing that we could model the earths climate was just a joke.
    Mike

    • Mike, Okay I stand corrected. But an intern is a student, not a “company Scientist” Granted the task may not be a snip hunt- go find me the metric adjustable. Next for running models; on what pray tell? back then what was the cost for a Cray computer and the run time? If I remember there were only a few of them and did EXXON even have one?
      mchael

      • Mike
        BP certainly had a few – tape-reel – computers in 1979; Crays? – no idea, but bigger than a man. And a facsimile machine. At Britannic House, Moor Lane, London, EC2Y 9BR
        I know – ‘cos I was there.
        Auto

  6. If they knew anything, it’s what I think. I think it’s going to get cold. The CAGW people are making up a story in an effort to save Paris. Maybe it’s this solar cycle or maybe in a couple. It’s not an exact science but on a time scale that exceeds human life, certainty it will get cold and have profound changes. And colder is really bad for humanity.
    Exxon doesn’t care which energy business they are in. If there really was global warming, Exxon would be leading the way because there would be money to be made. But its not and there isn’t.
    Oh, because Exxon is such a large, powerful company, if we can persuade the sheep that they knew, they’ll follow. Is that their reasoning? Guess what? Exxon doesn’t pay me. And CAGW is still wrong.
    Retro, I knew yesterdays winning lotto numbers, so not winning is my own fault. Extreme desperate tactic.

  7. “There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere.”

    “significant changes” might be improvement as easily as catastrophic.

  8. Having lived through the era, isn’t it entirely possible the v.p. was hoping for analysis to indicate global cooling, thus indicating a rising need for Exxon’s products?

  9. I like these simple diagrams or “cartoons” — reminiscent of Akasofu’s ‘back of envelope’ diagram. The later IPCC model graphs represent fake precision.
    If the ‘Exxon: The Fork Not Taken’ HadCRUT4′ graph was more accurately scaled (that’s not a criticism), then the actual subsequent trend shown would, eyeballing, fall within the ‘Range of natural fluctuations (climate noise)’ envelope.
    https://debunkhouse.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/xom7.png

    • HadCRUT4 did remain in the range of natural variability before I shifted it up to tie the “observed past changes” on the cartoon.

  10. Yet starting in 1989, Exxon leaders went down a different road. They repeatedly argued that the uncertainty inherent in computer models makes them useless for important policy decisions.
    “They are notoriously inaccurate.” — Exxon’s former chairman and CEO, Lee Raymond

    I fail to see what Exxon got wrong. If anything, they were ahead of the curve in understanding how inaccurate and useless climate models are.

    • @Louis, going further, I would posit as per McKibben that Exxon “…knew all there was about global warming..” I would suggest de-funding further Climate Change research. After all, the science is SETTLED!

  11. Lee Raymond was a leader in the best sense of that word. He didn’t knuckle under to intense political pressure. A good example to everyone.

  12. The usual free admixture of historical periods. No “consensus” back then….also because people were still doing real science. I love it when people in casual conversation about these matters cite out-of-context history.

  13. At the start of the 80s warming was projected at 0.4C per decade (Exxon graphs). At the start of the 1990s warming was projected at 0.3C per decade (IPCC). At the start of the 2000s warming was projected at 0.2 per decade AR3+. And it’s still too high. If this was an investment you’d be suing the marketing department and demanding your money back.

  14. My apologies if I have missed the relevant comment in the previous posts , but I am surprised that no one has pointed out that the “what did you know and when did you know it” theme is a double edged weapon.
    Whatever the evidence concerning Exxon ,( which seems very weak) ,it can be applied without any doubt whatsoever to all the warmist organisations, politicians , money makers and journalists who ignore the deviation of the real world from models, as shown in the figures provided in the post above.
    It is clear that from 1998 onwards there has been a progressive deviation from the catastrophic projections that have brought fame and fortune to some , but increasing hardship to many . Yes , there has been some continued gradual warming and associated climate change (or “climate drift”) , but the proposed financial remedies are likely to bring more pain than gain.
    In the case of the UK , a country drowning in debt, the austerity cuts will affect the most vulnerable in the community , whilst at the same time the Govt is intending to agree to all the massive UN and EU demands for money , as well as being committed to the suicidal Climate Change Act.
    We should ask Cameron what does he know about the pause in global warming and when did he know it. If he knew , but carried on impoverishing his countrymen and women he will have a lot on his conscience- if he has one.

  15. There never was anything to see here, despite the breathless panting of the dogmatists. At the time we had the comprehensive Charney Report and the first NAS findings, all of which pointed to a sensitivity to doubling between 1.5 and 4.5 C, values, a range that has remained officially unchanged for 30 years despite untold billions in modeling $$. (See Fig 1 in http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/upload/climate-review-framing.pdf).The boys may salivate over a DOJ case a la tobacco but they will lose this one when the lawyers show up with the aforementioned reports that make it clear that there never was any secret, suppression of information or conspiracy here, much to their chagrin. Alas the regime will need to find another route to lynching their favorite villains.

  16. Exxon “knew” stuff? Didn’t Hansen testify he “knew” stuff in 1989? How much of the stuff either “knew” has happened?
    Exxon and RICO? No.
    Hansen (et al) and false advertising? At least.

  17. Again, the Green paranoids are completely misreading (or, criminally mis-representing) the typical inner workings of an energy monopoly. Exxon invests in research in both traditional and non-traditional energy sources. Got to cover all bases. No conspiracy other than the innate “conspiracy” of being a monopolist.

  18. Thought it might be interesting to see the kinds of technology Exxon Research And Engineering management was actually interested in over the years with their Engineers and Scientists. Think the executives were really focusing their energies on a summer intern project.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfiLjYc8n38

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