What I Learned about What Exxon Knew

Pat Frank

In which “Exxon Knew” is found to be not about knowledge

Accusatory polemics disguised as climate science news is a commonplace these days. Perhaps you, dear reader, have written an email to some science reporter expressing dismay at their unthinking IPCC bias, or offered some correction to purported science. I have done, too, and many times. Typically, there is no reply.

Recently, and above general character, a science reporter constructively replied when I emailed about an article on “climate denial” and “the coal-funded attack on clean energy.” Named climate deniers included John Droz, Steve Milloy — royalty among climate deniers, apparently — and Donald Trump.

Long story short, the reporter sent my comments to Emeritus Prof. Martin Hoffert (New York University), a long-time climate modeler with some impressive early theoretical work. He replied.

This essay is the nuclear fallout emergent from that small spark.

I. Entering the Slough of the Despond.

In 2019, Prof. Hoffert had testified before the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. The subject considered was “Examining the Oil Industry’s Efforts to Suppress the Truth about Climate Change.” The list of evidence-givers included Prof. Naomi Oreskes.

Prof. Hoffert had worked under contract with Exxon climate scientists in the 1980s. In his House Subcommittee testimony, Prof. Hoffert expressed considerable respect for their professionalism and talent. However, his testimony (pdf) included, “… Exxon’s outward facing disinformation and funding of climate change deniers even as our in-house research was predicting just the opposite. They are, as Naomi Oreskes calls them, “Merchants of Doubt” who capitalize on the fact that more people watch TV ads than read scientific literature.

Along with his critical reply to my reporter interlocutor, Prof. Hoffert sent his Congressional testimony and a copy of (2023) Supran, Rahmstorf, and Oreskes (S-R-O), which declaims proof-positive that, “Exxon Knew.”

The S-R-O (2023) story is that by 1980 Exxon scientists knew as an absolute surety that fossil fuel CO2 emissions would warm the climate, also that by then the scientists had so-informed Exxon management, and also that Exxon management had gone on cynically and with all malign deliberation to lie to the public for the next 40+ years. All for the sake of profits, and the future their own children be damned.

The accusatory center of S-R-O (2023) is their Figure 2; here Figure 1 below, left.

Figure 1, left, compiles the Exxon in-house and published air temperature projections produced by sundry 1970s-2000s-vintage climate models, working on speculative scenarios of future CO2 emissions. The red line is the observed air temperature record, for comparison.

Figure 1, right, shows how the same projections would appear if plotted with all the uncertainty bars that result from the errors in simulated cloud fraction climate models make when simulating the terrestrial climate.

The combination of the entirety of projections with the entirety of their uncertainty bars will ring midnight down on the entirety of the graphic.

Clouds govern the thermal energy flux in the atmosphere. Thermal energy flux governs air temperature. Get the clouds wrong, get the air temperature wrong.

Figure 1: Left, Figure 2 from (2023) Supran-Rahmstorf-Oreskes. The original legend is: “Summary of all global warming projections (nominal scenarios) reported by ExxonMobil scientists in internal documents and peer-reviewed publications (gray lines), superimposed on historically observed temperature change (red).” The projections date from 1977 to 2003. Right: S-R-O (2023) Figure 2 with all the projection uncertainty bars expressing model cloud calibration error added in and plotted together.

Over the entire 1977-2003 time-frame, the lower limit of detection for climate models was >100× larger than the annual perturbation of greenhouse gas emissions. S-R-O (2023) claims that climate models can reveal something that is totally invisible to climate models. This is equivalent to declaiming, ‘Bacterium!‘ on turning a 4× Jeweler’s loupe onto a water droplet.

S-R-O (2023) claim they know now, and in 1977 Exxon scientists and Exxon management knew then, the climate impact of a perturbation that is more than 100-times smaller than the smallest perturbation the climate model can possibly resolve.

A complete inventory of climate model simulation error is very much larger. Also here and here. The climate information transmitted by those Exxon air temperature projections is zero.

Exxon could not have known then and neither could anyone else. Exxon doesn’t know now, either, and neither does anyone else because the total ignorance of 1977 still reigns today.

The S-R-O (2023) graphic in Figure 1, left, also lacks the uncertainty bars of known systematic field measurement error which would stretch the projection black-out curtain back over the observed temperatures. S-R-O (2023) Figure 2 would then correctly display the climate information actually available.

II. In which Exxon reveals what it knew.

The Exxon documents on which S-R-O (2023) rely are conveniently collected at the Climate Files site created and maintained by the Climate Investigations Center. Reading them, one is struck by the professional caution of the Exxon scientists. They wrote plainly about the contemporaneous lack of knowledge. About the ignorance (in 1977) of whether increasing atmospheric CO2 is due to fossil fuel emissions or to forest clearing. About climate models that needed lots of work and were unable to predict the effect of our CO2 emissions on the climate.

A 29 January 1980 internal letter from Walter Eckelmann, Exxon’s Deputy Manager of the Exxon Science and Engineering Department, to Morey O’Loughlin on the Exxon board, noted that, “Science & Technology feels that the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a potentially serious problem requiring the results of a huge world-wide research effort before quantitative predictions can be reached on the probabilities and timing of world climate changes.

“Potentially” and “huge worldwide research effort,” capture the significance. They didn’t know and much needed doing to find out.

Despite banal partisan avowals to the contrary, no one precociously knows future knowledge.

Mr. Eckelmann went on to say that the effort is beyond the resources of any one company (i.e., Exxon]. He further stated that Exxon had an on-going annual $600k research program dedicated to the CO2-climate problem, and was also funding CO2-climate work at the Marine Biological Lab at Woods Hole and the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), at $20k each per year.

M.B. Glaser was the manager of Exxon’s Environmental Affairs Program. His 1982, “The CO2 “Greenhouse” Effect” (pdf) summarized the situation in an eminently sensible way: “Making significant changes in energy consumption patterns now to deal with this potential problem and all the scientific uncertainties would be premature in view of the severe impact such moves could have on the world’s economies and societies.

And this: The participants of a AAAS-DOE workshop on the societal and institutional responses to an increase in CO2, “felt that society can adapt to a CO2 increase within economic constraints that will be existing at the time. Some adaptive measures that were tested would not consume more than a few percent of the gross national Product estimated in the middle of the next century.

In his 1984 report about the Exxon corporate research program on climate and CO2, A. J. Callegeri wrote that,

“·  Models are being used to explore physical effects (scenarios) and as a predictive tool.

-Carbon cycle modeling to determine fate of fossil-fuel CO2 emissions.

·  Validity of models not established.

-Complexity of carbon cycle and climate system require many approximations and parameterizations.

-Geological and historical data are inadequate for validation of models.”

Sound familiar? Callegeri’s points are still completely true today, nearly 40 years later.

In December 2000 Exxon climate scientist Brian Flannery wrote to Lloyd Keigwin (pdf), of 1996 Sargasso Sea fame, in dismay at the misrepresentation of both his position and of Exxon’s support of climate science. The letter is well worth reading. The negation of Naomi Oreske’s Exxon Knew accusations could not be more explicit.

In short, the plain evidence is that Exxon did not know and was making a good-faith effort to find out.

The entire claim that ‘Exxon Knew’ is completely reliant upon the unspoken, wrong, and utterly fatuous embrace of climate models — even their 1977 incarnations — as truth-machines. God’s lips to their terminals-become-flat-screens.

Exxon knew that they didn’t know and that nobody else knew, either (and still don’t).

III. In which Supran, Rahmstorf, and Oreskes reveal what they did not know in 2023.

Reading S-R-O (2023), I became curious about their Figure 1b (below). The black part of Figure 1b dates back to 1977. In July that year it was vugraph #11 in a presentation made by J. F. Black to the Exxon Corporation Management committee. J. F. Black was a science advisor to Exxon.

J. F. Black gave his presentation 5 years before Neftel, et al., published the first ice-core CO218O record. So I was curious about the origin of the Figure 1b 150,000-year temperature record. And how were deep-time air temperatures assigned in 1977?

Figure 2: S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b. The black line and axes, complete with smudging, are J. F. Black’s 1977 vugraph #11. The red line is a smoothed, “Earth system model simulation (Ganopolski and Brovkin (2017)) of the last 150,000 years driven by orbital forcing only, with an appended moderate anthropogenic emissions scenario.” S-R-O (2023) Supporting Information (pdf).

So, how were the Figure 1b Fahrenheit temperatures (left ordinate) assigned in 1977? S-R-O cites Figure 1b to J. J. M. Mitchell, Carbon dioxide and future climate. Environmental Data Service (March): 3–9 (1977), but the S-R-O link is to a Department of Energy abstract, not to the paper.

After some effort I found the EDS journal archive (42 MB pdf). Mitchell’s article appears in the March 1977 issue, pp. 3-9. S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b started life as Figure 5 in Mitchell (1977).

But Mitchell did not provide a citation for his Figure 5, either. Nor did he say how the temperature scale was assigned. Where did all that come from?

Long story short, I searched the literature for a proxy that might have provided data for Mitchell in 1977. That quest led to J. D. Hays, et al., (1976)Variations in the Earth’s Orbit: Pacemaker of the Ice Ages.”

Hays (1976) reported foraminiferal δ18O from two deep sea sediment cores obtained from the southern Indian Ocean, (near 45° S latitude; 85° E longitude). Hays (1976) also used radiolarian assemblages to estimate summer subantarctic sea surface temperatures (SST ±3 C; 95% CI) at the core sites.

Hays (1976) would have been the best knowledge available in 1977 when Mitchell wrote his paper and when Black made his 1977 presentation to Exxon.

But it gets complicated. Figure 3 shows that the Mitchell (1977) temperature graphic looks very much like stage 1-6  of the Hays (1976) Figure 9A foraminiferal δ18O series.

Figure 3: Extract of the first 150 kYr Before the Present of the d18O series from Figure 9A of Hays, et al., (1976). The abscissa is reversed relative to S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b.

In fact, Mitchell Figure 5 appears to be a hand-drawn reproduction of Hays (1976) Figure 9A..

Figure 4 below is S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b and the Hays (1976) foraminiferal δ18O over the same time range and with scaled abscissas. The vertical red lines position the two graphics. The year ticks all line up nicely. The vertical green lines centered on the Hays (1976) δ18O features line up well with Mitchell (1977).

Figure 4: S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b lined up with my digitized version of Hays (1976) foraminiferal δ18O. The vertical green lines traverse the centers of the Mitchell (1977) features in black and line up well with Hays δ18O. The features of the simulation used by S-R-O (2023) (red) do not align with Mitchell, 1977 or Hays (1976) at -130 kyr and “Today”.

Hays (1976) also included an equally extensive SST series, but Mitchell (1977) Figure 5 does not match it. Figure 5 below is S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b and the Hays (1976) radiolarian SST series, over the same annual range and with the abscissas in registry. The vertical green lines indicate good time-registry between the radiolarian SSTs and the simulation used in S-R-O (2023) (red).

However, the shapes and intensities of the Hays (1976) SSTs do not match the Mitchell (1977) features. The S-R-O (2023) simulation matches the timing of the Hays (1976) SST series, but between 25-105 kYr bp the shapes and intensities are a mismatch.

Figure 5: The S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b aligns well with the time sequence of the Hays (1976) radiolarian SST series. The vertical green lines traverse the centers of the SST features. Mitchell (1977) aligns positionally with Hays (1976) between -105 kYBP and -20kYB, but the intensities and structures are disparate. S-R-O (2023) (red) aligns with the Hays (1976) SST time series, but not with the shapes or intensities. Far right, bottom is the first 150 kYr of the published Hays (1976) foraminiferal δ18O series. The similarity of both S-R-O (2023) and Mitchell (1977) with Hays (1976) δ18O, but not with Hays (1976) SST is obvious by inspection.

Both Mitchell (1977) and S-R-O (2023) obviously correspond much more closely with the shape of the Hays (1976) δ18O series, than with the Hays SST series.

It seems neither Supran, Rahmstorf, nor Oreskes did any careful source-check of Mitchell (1977). S-R-O evidently didn’t realize in 2023 that Mitchell (1977) had re-purposed Hays (1976) 150 kYr Indian Ocean δ18O series to use as a global air temperature series.

It also seems likely that S-R-O did not know that Mitchell (1977) Figure 5 is, by every indication, a hand-drawn cartoon of the Hays (1976) δ18O curve.


IV. In which the temperature bug bites.

So, how did Mitchell assign temperatures to his Figure 5? Mitchell had clearly read Hays (1976). Hays (1976) in turn estimated the glacial temperature to be about 6±1.5 C colder than now, which equates to -10.8±2.7 °F.

Very likely Mitchell (1977) got the temperature scale on his re-purposed δ18O Figure 5 series from the glacial estimate in Hays (1976).

In this light, Mitchell converted the Hays (1976) Celsius into Fahrenheit, estimated the present global mean temperature to be 60 F (15.6 C), and used the Hays (1976) estimate to get the glacial minimum. Mitchell’s 60 °F modern period is the dashed line, and the last glacial minimum at -25k years is about 9 °F colder. The Mitchell Fahrenheit range is about 49-65 °F. The Fahrenheit scale is just the linear interpolation.

The Hays (1976) radiolarian proxy temperature has a very wide statistical uncertainty (95% CI = ±3 C). Hays (1976) estimated the SST of the southern Indian Ocean where the sedimentary cores were drilled. It was not a global average of SST. 

Mitchell apparently assigned the re-purposed the Hays (1976) δ18O series to indicate global average air temperature. We don’t know why. Perhaps he thought it reasonable. Regardless, his assignment was uncritically accepted by S-R-O (2023) when they did the work for Figure 1b.

The emergent mystery is how Stefan Rahmstorf and his applied Earth System Model air temperature simulation exactly reproduced a hand-drawn cartoon of 150,000 years of Indian Ocean δ18O re-branded as a speculative global air temperature. 

Repeat: Stefan Rahmstorf applied the Earth System Model simulation to hand-drawn cartoon wiggles of an Indian Ocean δ18O doppelganger as though they were physically real global air temperatures.

V. In which the benthic despond is revealed.

It gets worse. S-R-O (2023) represented that their Figure 1b (red) Earth System Model simulation was published in(Ganopolski and Brovkin (2017)) (see the legend to Figure 2 above). But that paper includes no air temperature simulations. The S-R-O (2023) simulation is actually found in Figure 1 of Ganopolski and Calov, 2011, who used the same CLIMBER 2 Earth System model.

Ganopolski and Calov (G-C) (2011) simulated 800,000 years of Antarctic and Greenland air temperature anomalies. S-R-O (2023) used the Antarctic simulation in their Figure 1b overlay of Mitchell (1977) Figure 5.

Figure 6 below compares the Antarctic simulation of G-C (2011) with Figure 1b of S-R-O (2023). The comparison is a bit cluttered, but reveals a depth of unscientific benthos that either escaped the notice of, or perhaps was sailed over by, Profs. Supran, Rahmstorf, and Oreskes.

Figure 6: Top, Figure 1b of Supran, Rahmstorf and Oreskes (2023), with selected features annotated. Bottom, Figure 1e Ganopolski and Calov, 2011, first 150kYr of the “Antarctic temperature anomaly,” simulation selectively annotated and with an added 150 kYr bp tick. The top and bottom abscissas are in registry. The red vertical lines fix the comparison at the paleo-minimum and the modern maximum. The vertical green lines traverse the centers of major G-C (2011) features. The horizontal purple lines mark out features that have been temperature-annotated.

The selected temperatures were extracted from using mm ruler measurements. Their precision is not better than ±0.2 C. Figure 6 shows good correspondence between the G-O (2011) Antarctic simulation and the S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b overlay. The G-O (2011) Greenland temperature anomaly series is structurally similar but much colder (Table 1).

Table 1: Non-Identical Temperatures of the Identical G-C (2011) Ant. and S-R-O 2023 simulations.

kYr bpTemp. (C) G-C (2011) Ant.Temp. (C) S-R-O (2023)Temp. (C) G-C (2011) Grnld
Ant. is Antarctic. Grnld is Greenland

S-R-O (2023) Supporting Information described the simulation in Figure 1b, absent the technicalese, as: “The observations in panel 1b of Fig. 1 reflect a smoothed (LOWESS) Earth system model simulation of the last 150,000 years driven by orbital forcing only, with an appended moderate anthropogenic emissions scenario.

S-R-O (2023) itself described Figure 1b as, “a smoothed Earth system model simulation of the last 150,000 years.” and, “a smoothed Earth system model simulation of the last 150,000 years driven by orbital forcing only, with an appended moderate anthropogenic emissions scenario.

And the S-R-O (2023) extended description: “Panel 1b of Fig. 1 is a graph of the global warming “effect of CO2 on an interglacial scale” originally published by climate scientist J. Murray Mitchell Jr. in March 1977 and reproduced by Exxon scientist James Black in a private briefing to the Exxon Corporation Management Committee 4 months later. … [O]verlaying the original graph with the temperatures simulated by a modern Earth system model (in red) shows that Exxon scientists were accurate in warning their superiors of the prospect of a “carbon dioxide induced ‘super-interglacial,’” as Mitchell Jr. termed it, that would render Earth hotter than at any time in at least 150,000 years.”

The language of S-R-O (2023) directly implies that the Mitchell (1977) Figure 5 graphic represented a global air temperature record.

However, Hays (1976) described the re-purposed δ18O series (p. 1122) as, “Down-core variations in δ18O reflect changes in oceanic isotopic composition, caused primarily by the waxing and waning of Northern Hemisphere ice sheets. Thus, the δ18O in our subantarctic cores is a Northern Hemisphere climatic record.

In other words, the δ18O series reflects large-scale swings in the climate over geological time. Not global air temperature.

Foraminiferal δ18O remains problematic today for use as an SST proxy. Waelbroeck, et al., (2005) state, “The large discrepancy between δ18O values of living and recent fossil foraminifera highlights the difficulty in reconstructing past surface conditions based on fossil planktonic foraminifera δ18O.

VI. In which the Mariana Trench of Despond is plumbed.

Given that the S-R-O (2023) and G-C (2011) Antarctic anomaly simulations are reported to be identical, one should expect identical anomaly temperatures. But Figure 6 and Table 1 show that the anomaly temperatures that should be identical are in fact very different. The S-R-O (2023) temperatures are all smaller than the G-C (2011) homologues, except at 0 kYr bp. How did that happen?

Stefan Rahmstorf is the climate modeler of the group. He has likely walked into quicksand. But I want to be very careful with my language here.

The only reasonable explanation for the smaller temperature differences within the S-R-O (2023) Figure 1b overlay relative to the G-C (2011) simulation, is that the G-C simulation was compressed into artificial correspondence with the Mitchell (1977) hand-drawn, low-precision, thermally speculative, physically ambiguated, version of the Hays (1976) southern Indian Ocean foraminiferal δ18O series.

The Figure 1b red overlay is not an accurate reproduction of the G-O (2017)(sic) simulation as it was represented to be. From G-C (2011} (the evident source), the red overlay has been compressed into correspondence, rendering false physical meaning to a speculative cartoon and lending an entirely spurious analytical credit to Mitchell (1977). It is very hard to imagine how this misconstruction was inadvertent.

Figure 1b does not show that Exxon knew (which we already know to a certainty that it did not and indeed could not). Exxon has been indicted on spurious evidence.

The Figure 1b overlay instead shows that S-R-O did not know the speculative standing of Mitchell (1977) Figure 5. They were careless. They did not track Mitchell (1977) Figure 5 back to its origin. They were evidently uncurious about its provenance. And they employed it to their purpose despite all.

Perhaps Profs. Supran, Rahmstorf, and Oreskes should be asked how that happened.

Figure 1b is paradigmatic of the entire corpus of AGW-related consensus climatology.

VII. In which a summary finding of Exxon-Knewism is rendered.

  • Exxon’s climate models did not foretell future temperature.
  • Exxon’s scientists knew Exxon’s climate models did not foretell future temperature.
  • Exxon’s managers knew Exxon’s scientists knew Exxon’s climate models did not foretell future temperature.
  • Exxon corporately made a good-faith effort to understand CO2-climate connections.
  • Exxon management funded independent research into CO2-climate connections.
  • Exxon didn’t know.
  • Exxon managers and scientists knew that Exxon didn’t know.
  • Geoffrey Supran, Stefan Rahmstorf and Naomi Oreskes view all climate models as truth-machines.
  • No matter the plain evidence, Geoffrey Supran, Stefan Rahmstorf and Naomi Oreskes do not know that Exxon did not know. At best.
  • Supran, Rahmstorf, Oreskes (2023) is wrong in every important particular.

VIII. In which judgments are made and conclusions are drawn.

  1. Supran, Rahmstorf, Oreskes (2023) Figure 1b is minimally a soaring monument to careless tendency.
  2. The S-R-O (2023) Exxon Knew indictment dismally failed its evidentiary hearing.
  3. Supran, Rahmstorf, Oreskes (2023) passed the conscious muster with editors and reviewers of Science Magazine.
  4. S-R-O (2023) is akin to a journalistic show-trial.
  5. Science Magazine, in prosecuting the indictment, is administratively akin to Andrey Vyshinsky.
  6. Such is the culture now in possession of establishment journals.

IX. In which my hat is off to the indomitable Russell Cook and may this work find some utility.

5 33 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
May 17, 2023 6:20 am

The show trials are the hallmark of the oppressor just as Hitler oppressed the Jews while the modern SRO as part of the warmist/alarmist cabal chose people and organizations to oppress today to defend their unsupportable paradigm by employing misdirection and bald-faced lies.

William Howard
Reply to  Sunsettommy
May 17, 2023 7:32 am

CO2 is a tiny percentage of the atmosphere – something less than 4 one hundredths of 1% and the vast majority of it is naturally occurring – so the net zero (if it could in fact be achieved) would not meaningfully change the composition of the atmosphere – until I see a report that empirically shows that a tiny amount of CO2 in the atmosphere somehow magically controls the climate I will proudly remain a deplorable denier who maintains at least modicum of common sense.

May 17, 2023 6:26 am

A tour de force.
Great writeup – unfortunately I fear we are far, far past the point where reality and fact matters.

Ron Long
May 17, 2023 6:27 am

A good report by Pat Frank of the two sides of a complex issue. One side is a large, stockholder-owned, natural resource company, trying to achieve profitability by correctly interpreting complex data (mostly geological and geophysical data), and the other side is avowed environmentalists, who are simultaneously saving the planet and soliciting funding to employ them to achieve their objective. EXXON needs to generate and interpret data that allows them to drill productive wells, whereas the other side only needs to generate a saleable narrative. Guess which side has the strongest incentive to utilize truth and reality?

William Howard
Reply to  Ron Long
May 17, 2023 7:35 am

uh – that would be Exxon – when the former head of the IPCC states that the environmental movement is more about the destruction of capitalism than the environment who are you going to trust. so the real question is which group wants to preserve our standard of living and which group wants to destroy it

More Soylent Green!
Reply to  Ron Long
May 17, 2023 7:50 am

Exxon has the strongest incentive to utilize truth and reality. They are accountable to their shareholders and must answer to an unknown number of regulators all over the world.

The climate activists have zero incentive for truth and reality. Their ideology says no lie, no distortion, no half-truth is too much. They believe they are justified in saying or doing anything for their cause.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Ron Long
May 17, 2023 8:58 am

Ron, in Roger Cohen’s 1982 memo to Mr. A. M. Natkin summarizing their “findings of our research in climate modeling and place our results in the context of knowledge of the CO₂ greenhouse effect” Dr Cohen finished up in this way:

As we discussed in the August 24 meeting, there is the potential for our research to attract attention fo the popular news media because of the connection between Exxon’s major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2.

“Despite the fact that our results are in accord with those of most researfhers in the field and are subject to the same uncertainties it was reconized that it is possible for these results to be distorted for blown out of proportion.

“Nevertheless the consensus position was that Exxon should continue to conduct scientific research in this are because of its pontential importance in affecting fuure energy scenarios and to provide Exxon with the credentials required to speak with authority in this area.

Furthermore our ethical responsibility is to permit publication of our research in the scientific literature; indeed to do so otherwise would be a breach of Exxon’s public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity.” (my bold and underlining)

I’ve not read all of Naomi Oreske’s work, but I doubt anyone will find that last paragraph anywhere in it.

Roger Cohen was Exxon’s Director of Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences Department. Mr Natkin was Director of the Office of Science and Technology.

Everything I read indicated that Exxon acted in good faith.

May 17, 2023 7:10 am

The peer review process at its finest. How did the S-R-O paper ever see the light of day?

Pat Frank
Reply to  starzmom
May 17, 2023 2:22 pm

Publication of S-R-O (2023) is also a statement about the degraded state of the editors and reviewers of Science, starzmom. The fall of a once great journal.

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 3:09 pm

Yes. I have been arguing this for over 10 years, at times to a university professor. She ridiculed my skepticism. It’s not just Science either.
Thank you for your excellent analysis.

Last edited 20 days ago by starzmom
May 17, 2023 7:16 am

You can read the Exxon 1982 report here:


If that link doesn’t work it is here – about halfway down the page:


Look at about page 13 .If I were an Exxon board member in 1982 and read that the best US scientists said the Antarctic ice melt might raise the sea level 5 metres – but that it would take from several hundred to a thousand years. I would say we should wait until the data becomes more reliable.

Reply to  altipueri
May 17, 2023 2:12 pm

“If I were an Exxon board member in 1982…”
Why would I want a climate essay worried about earth after 2000?
I’d be amazed that someone remembered my name 43 years later, in 2023?
I’d probably not be among the living?
I’d probably not be writing this?
I’d hope my grandkids are enjoying the trust fund?
I’d wonder who spent company money to write a climate essay?

But true: The biggest problem has always been insufficient (trustworthy) data.

May 17, 2023 7:18 am

Very nice essay.

I have sometimes come across the argument: they predicted it, it happened, therefore when they predicted it, they knew.

Complete logical fallacy of course. I bet on a 100:1 long shot, he wins. But this does not show I knew he was going to win. If I had known, I’d have behaved a lot differently, bet more. Cf also stock prices. I buy some, believing the shares will double, and they do. Doesn’t show I knew they would.

I predicted he would recover, and he did….

Danley B. Wolfe
May 17, 2023 7:47 am

It is a conspiracy, when the leftist Climate Change pushers/supporters write biased reports with unsupported claims, rope in developing nations with the bribe of them receiving funds from climate reparations from the major countries, e.g., United States, Euro nations, developed Asia (Japan, Korea) etc. Then write reports that have unsupported conclusions. The list of pushers/supporters etc. includes the Bidens of the world who see this as a means to consolidate power in order to tell us how to conduct their lives. It will go on so long as climate changes whether or not it is dangerous or hazardous to health / prosperity.

Reply to  Danley B. Wolfe
May 17, 2023 2:02 pm

consolidate power in order to tell us how to conduct their lives
us-them issues

Dave Fair
Reply to  Danley B. Wolfe
May 17, 2023 2:46 pm

Jonathan Edwards “Sunshine”

‘He can’t even run his own life

Be damned if he’ll run mine’

Last edited 20 days ago by Dave Fair
More Soylent Green!
May 17, 2023 7:58 am

Exxon “knew” based on some unverified, scientifically dubious climate models? Funny, the IPCC insists on calling the output of their models “scenarios.” Even they don’t claim their models make predictions.

Climate models do not output facts or data. There is no evidence the models correctly model the earth’s climate. Just because somebody builds a model that says “add more X and Y results? doesn’t make it true. For argument’s sake, let’s pretend the modelers are sincerely trying to model the climate accurately.

There is no evidence the modelers correctly understand how our climate works. There is, however, a prodigious amount of evidence the data input into the models are junk.

Reply to  More Soylent Green!
May 17, 2023 1:59 pm

Climate models do not output facts or data.

Everything MSG! writes makes perfect sense to me when I replace my own meanings for words with the ones that make statements like the above plainly and obviously unassailable.

Rud Istvan
May 17, 2023 8:19 am

Short summary. Oreskes didn’t know that EXXON knew it didn’t know. And 40 years later, still doesn’t.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Rud Istvan
May 17, 2023 9:09 am

Rud, given Exxon’s memos, it’s hard to credit that Naomi Oreskes still doesn’t know.

The very accomplished British historian Eric Hobsbawn comes to mind.

Hobsbawn was a Communist, and once observed that if it took a few million murders to usher in the socialist utopia then it will have been worth it.

I suspect that Naomi Oreskes is of a similar persuasion. What are a few lies and slanders in the great cause of saving the planet?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 1:30 pm

The role of the Disinterested Observer, striving to be objective, has been replaced by religious crusaders out to save the world, aka Gaia. With a mission as important as saving the world, any transgression of objectivity or logic can be rationalized as necessary and proper. They can even convince themselves that their interpretation of ‘facts’ is true. Thus, they can convince themselves that any means is justified by the end, and sleep well.

Chuck Wiese
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 11:20 am

IMO, Naomi Oreskes is a lousy historian on the subject of atmospheric science history. She fails to mention anywhere in her writings that the works of Arrhenius were superseded from the founding work in this discipline by Walter Elsasser and Robert Emden that used first derived graphical models that demonstrated atmospheric CO2 has no ability to control the nocturnal IR flux in the presence of the Earth’s hydrological cycle. None of this work has been disproven and it remains valid today.

This important founding work was ignored by Oreskes or she just found it too inconvenient for her inconvenient BS about CO2 and climate. This is a nasty and dishonest habit by those that promote climate hysteria like she does. Just ignore or throw any valid data out that disagrees with your failing hypothesis.

Good work again, Pat Frank. I regularly use your original paper that demonstrates well how error propagation accumulates in running a GCM that cannot be avoided. Climate models are the only thing standing between these founding principles from atmospheric science and we see clearly that the models are overrated heaps of junk that are worthless artifacts of true science and have no skill to predict any part of the climate system.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Chuck Wiese
May 18, 2023 3:58 pm

Chuck, do you have links to the works of Walter Elsasser and Robert Emden? I’d like to get copies.

Thanks very much for your kind words of encouragement. As you can imagine, I sweated bullets to get that paper right. Your knowledgeable and critical agreement means a lot.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 4:01 pm

By the way, if you like, an attractive pdf version of the What I Learned about What Exxon Knew is available at Researchgate.

Chuck Wiese
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 7:20 pm

Here is a link to Elsasser’s work in IR radiative transfer from Harvard. The radiation nomogram he created is very instructive as to how water vapors IR absorption is the only constituent that controls the IR radiative flux of the troposphere. There is seldom if any amount of water vapor optical depth that absorbs as little as atmospheric CO2 does, so unless you create fictitious positive feedback on water vapor, CO2 cannot control the IR flux to space. It is always constrained by water vapor, and with the true negative feedbacks to increasing CO2, water vapor is the only constraining factor. This is exactly why we continue to experience breaking low temperature records of over 100 years when atmospheric CO2 was 49% lower in the atmosphere than it is today.

Heat transfer by infrared radiation in the atmosphere : Elsasser, Walter M. : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Emden also demonstrated that the Earth’s troposphere can never be in a true radiative equilibrium with water vapor alone. The radiative absorption is so intense from water vapor alone (excluding CO2) that the resulting vertical temperature gradient in the atmosphere is not permitted by Earth hydrostatics and the ensuing convective overturn creates a hydrological cycle which would then involve all wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation excluding those at or shorter than X-rays because now you are blocking incoming solar shortwave with clouds. This is the convective equilibrium demanded by the physics of the hydrostatics and ultimately controls the IR flux to space.

If the water vapor feedbacks were positive (which is what is claimed by those promoting AGW from CO2) then they cannot adequately explain what would stop a runaway climate warming and the data does not support this contention.

Chuck Wiese
Reply to  Chuck Wiese
May 18, 2023 7:44 pm

BTW, I can’t find the specific papers by Emden, but his work was published in many atmospheric science textbooks that I still possess. One that I like was written by Haltiner and Martin, “Dynamical and Physical Meteorology”, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 57-8005, Chapter 10, pages 142-157.

These founding principles were taught at every major university that offered atmospheric science degrees until the modelers showed up and supplanted it all without ever showing where any of these first principles were wrong. IMO, this is disgraceful.

Last edited 19 days ago by Chuck Wiese
Pat Frank
Reply to  Chuck Wiese
May 18, 2023 10:48 pm

Thanks, Chuck. I’ve gotten Elsasser’s Harvard book. I couldn’t fine Emden’s work either.

John Hultquist
May 17, 2023 8:23 am

Thank you, Pat Frank, for this report and the work required to form it.

Future historians of science will use such reports to document the great controversies.
Three names, and there are many more:  Copernicus, Bretz, Marshall & Warren

Pat Frank
Reply to  John Hultquist
May 17, 2023 5:14 pm

Thanks, John.

David Dibbell
May 17, 2023 8:27 am

Thank you for this penetrating analysis, Pat Frank!
Very interesting.

Consider the wider chorus of claims that “scientists have KNOWN” to expect warming down here since the 19th century.

Back in 1938, Brunt and Simpson commented that Callendar’s attribution of reported warming to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide was fundamentally unsound because the dynamic operation of the atmosphere obscures any attempt to determine that the energy involved in the static warming effect should accumulate down here (my paraphrase.)

As you have established formally, no one “knows.”

Last edited 20 days ago by David Dibbell
Pat Frank
Reply to  David Dibbell
May 17, 2023 9:27 am

Thanks very much for that link David.

I missed it previously and am very happy to get Callendar’s paper. You’re dead right — the comments are very thoughtful and perceptive. A perspective that somehow has been lost in modern times.

I’ve found the same thing reading the papers of 19th and early 20th century meteorologists. They were far more careful in their thinking than is the modern set of record compilers.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 2:55 pm

The earlier meteorologists weren’t paid to reflect a particular political narrative.

Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 8:42 am

Thank-you Anthony and thank-you Charles so much for posting my work.

I don’t know what we’d (I’d) do without you.

Ron Long
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 9:15 am

Good comment, Pat Frank, thanking Anthony and Charles. Us scientists, and other thoughtful readers, are thrilled to have the leadership of Anthony Watts. OK, Charles is a good guy and provides great assistance to the cause, but he SNIPPED me twice, more-or-less with reason, but I think he enjoyed it. Just saying.

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 11:24 am

Reproducing the appearance of table 1 was a pain, but YW.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Charles Rotter
May 17, 2023 1:09 pm

Thanks for your hard work Charles.

What format do you prefer?

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 6:41 am

Exactly as delivered. Some things just require manual help.

May 17, 2023 9:13 am

The bizarre thing is that it is a “study” and research. “Peer Reviewed” like it means something. Paid for by the Rockefeller Foundation.

May 17, 2023 9:55 am

Blimey; I wonder if anyone bothered to read all that.

Russell Cook
Reply to  Ian_e
May 17, 2023 10:50 am

On our side of the issue, there are people who absorb this kind of material like a sponge, plus Pat Frank can always be called upon to summarize it. The irony is how the mobsters on that other side hope nobody reads all the way through their material, or attempts to fact-check any part of it. Case in point is Naomi Oreskes, who tells a compelling tale (two, actually, mutually exclusive) of the sequence of events that landed her into the climate issue. I initially caught one of her tales back in 2008, and it was a mystery to me why she was involved in the issue at all. But the more I gathered on her – her faulty narratives and her dicey ‘discovery odyssey stories’ – the more I saw that her overall personal details were never going to line up right. Myself, I don’t see any way for her to dig herself out of the appearance that her stories about becoming involved aren’t a total fabrication.

When the right congressional leadership is in place to hold these mobsters accountable, and when the right energy company defendants in the assortment of “Exxon Knew” lawsuits grow a spine to show that ‘Exxon knew no such thing about the certainty of CAGW,’ that’s when the whole Clima-Change™ will begin its final crackup.

(Indebted to Pat Frank for the mention of my work at the very end of his guest post here in section IX.)

Last edited 20 days ago by Russell Cook
Joseph Zorzin
May 17, 2023 10:00 am

“The S-R-O (2023) story is that by 1980 Exxon scientists knew as an absolute surety that fossil fuel CO2 emissions would warm the climate….”

So, doesn’t that qualify as slander?

Pat Frank
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 17, 2023 1:13 pm

Certainly as a willful misrepresentation.

The internal documents clearly show that Exxon scientists knew the models were unreliable, full of approximations of poorly known parameters, and could not make reliable predictions.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 17, 2023 1:36 pm

Libel — but it takes great fortitude and usually deep pockets to pursue that route with the risk that despite any facts, the judge might decide that being public figures, they are immune from being sued.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
May 17, 2023 1:59 pm

but given the fact that”

dozens of cities, counties, and states are suing oil and gas companies for their “longstanding internal scientific knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change and public deception campaigns.”

it would seem that Exxon ought to be fighting back beginning with this libel issue

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
May 18, 2023 4:02 am

Better yet, they should be putting the “climate” non-crisis on trial and stop allowing the notion that humanity is responsible for any measurable, much less “catastrophic,” change to the climate because of our relative pittance of CO2 emissions to be entered into “evidence” as if it were factual.

There’s no way that should be permitted. All of its warts, uncertainties, assumptions, etc. should be dragged out of the shadows into cleansing sunlight of open inquiry because there is no way it will stand up to scrutiny.

Smart Rock
May 17, 2023 10:28 am

Saddens me to think that Oreskes once actually did science. See Hitzman, Oreskes & Einaudi (1992)

She’s definitely not doing it now. OK, the 1992 paper was a review, but it did require reading papers, digesting them and coming up with theories that are still valid today.

Thanks to Pat for a very deep dive into what is now almost ancient history.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Smart Rock
May 17, 2023 1:14 pm

Ancient history dating to 2023.

May 17, 2023 10:53 am

Making significant changes in energy consumption patterns now to deal with this potential problem and all the scientific uncertainties would be premature in view of the severe impact such moves could have on the world’s economies and societies.




Pat Frank
Reply to  Redge
May 17, 2023 1:16 pm

Exxon knew, “all the scientific uncertainties.”

What’s the point of forcing poverty, misery and early death (severe impacts of world economies and societies) for no obvious reason?

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 17, 2023 9:31 pm

Pat, I was taking the piss out of the #ExxonKnew idiots

All the best

Pat Frank
Reply to  Redge
May 18, 2023 5:48 am

Thanks, Redge. I realized that a bit later. 🙂

Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 9:47 am


AGW is Not Science
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 4:06 am

Indeed, especially when the supposed harms are purely speculative AND 180 degrees wrong.

Biggest lie they’re selling is the ridiculous notion that a warmer climate is worse. A warmer climate is BETTER. The “Little Ice Age” from which an increase in temperature is being trumpeted as a “catastrophe” was a period of MISERY AND SUFFERING for humanity, not a paradise.

May 17, 2023 11:01 am

Great essay Pat, thanks.

Pat Frank
Reply to  Andy May
May 17, 2023 1:17 pm

Thanks, Andy. 🙂 It was an interesting journey.

May 17, 2023 11:33 am

I find what Exxon’s scientists knew to be a joke, just like the “climate scientists” of the time predicting doom and gloom. It is no secret that the data used was flawed and continues to be flawed. Garbage In, Garbage Out. The Margin of Error has been replaced with “confidence.” Well, I am 99.997% confident that the 2023 hurricane season will have between 0 and 100 named storms. Prove me wrong.

Have you ever noticed that not one climate research paper ever states that all equipment used in the study is properly placed, maintained, and regularly calibrated? Not one that I have read.

A March 2009 study titled “Is the US Surface Temperature Record Reliable?” found 89% of NOAA stations had heat-bias issues. The 2022 follow-up study, the “Corrupted Climate Stations: The Official US Surface Temperature Record Remains Fatally Flawed,” found approximately 96% of US temperature stations used to measure climate change fail to meet what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) considers to be “acceptable” and uncorrupted placement by its own published standards. – Heartland

NASA cannot keep 3,000+ earth-based weather monitoring stations maintained, calibrated, and certified. Still, that equipment is used to proclaim the “hottest years” – with a whopping 38% certainty, 12% less than a coin toss. This is the same NASA that claimed in Jan 2015 that they were only 38% sure 2014 was the hottest year on record because NASA’s 3,000+ monitoring stations do not produce accurate data. – UK Daily Mail

NOAA’s 2017 5-year sea level prediction report was so bad that the 2022 5-year report LOWERED Florida’s sea level rise estimate by 35.3%. The reason for the difference, as stated by NOAA, is that the data is now “better.” – Miami Herald 

May 17, 2023 11:47 am

Once you know that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, you know that adding it to the atmosphere will cause the atmosphere to warm.
The question then becomes, by how much.

The climate activists love to jump to the conclusion that if one acknowledges that CO2 can warm the atmosphere, you have agreed with them that their worst case scenarios are inevitable.

Some on our side jump to the conclusion that we must deny what the science tells us about greenhouse gases. However if ignoring the science is bad when they do it, it is equally bad when we do it.

Reply to  MarkW
May 17, 2023 1:11 pm

The question also includes where will the atmosphere warm. Since the “fingerprint” of global warming as predicted by theory is the tropical tropospherical hotspot, its elusive nature of being detected let alone measurable does not align with any scenario.

Pat Frank
Reply to  MarkW
May 17, 2023 1:21 pm

Terrestrial air temperature is controlled by dynamic hydrology, Mark.

CO₂ puts kinetic energy into the atmosphere. What the climate does in response is anyone’s guess. The static warming model is certainly wrong.

Reply to  MarkW
May 17, 2023 2:35 pm

I’m good then Mark because I don’t know that CO2 is a green house gas. In fact I say it cools

Reply to  MarkW
May 17, 2023 3:24 pm

The same can be said for any atmospheric gas. Add molecular weight, increase air pressure, increase surface temperature.

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  MarkW
May 18, 2023 4:11 am

Sorry, but you “know” no such thing. Because until you have complete knowledge of all reactions and feedbacks that will result, an assumption of a temperature effect is nothing but hypothetical bullshit, since the foundational assumption that leads to the conclusion of a temperature effect is “all other things held equal.”

AGW is Not Science
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
May 18, 2023 4:42 am

P.S. See David Dibbell’s post above; Brunt and Simpson hit the nail on the head.

Pat Frank
Reply to  AGW is Not Science
May 18, 2023 5:58 am

Fritz Möller made the similar point in 1963 in his debate with Gilbert Plass.

Somehow the idea of a dynamically self-regulating climate never breaks through to some people.

Instead we get storm-turtles all the way down. 🙂

David did us all a real service posting that link. Every generation has its quota of determinedly sane people.

David Dibbell
Reply to  Pat Frank
May 18, 2023 6:58 am

Thanks for saying this, and yes – “…the idea of a dynamically self-regulating climate…” reminds me of a major reason I became a regular reader here at WUWT. It was Willis Eschenbach’s observation-based conceptualization of “emergent climate phenomena.”

Mike Maguire
May 17, 2023 11:49 am

Thanks very much, Pat Frank for this wonderful evidence based essay.

The only thing that Exon knew for sure was that CO2 is a beneficial gas that would green up the planet and massively increase world food production as it’s well mixed in the global atmosphere.

They, like other scientists using authentic science and applying photosynthesis all know this, the most important impact which CO2 is having on the planet.

CO2 emissions from Exon products are fertilizing the crops in every country with double digit increases in production at no cost to the farmers.

Maybe, they should be charged with hiding what Exon knew about photosynthesis from the farmers, who were caught off guard, resulting in them being unprepared…….. not having bins big enough to store all of it (-:

Exon should be held liable and compensate for the cost of additional storage for these bin busting crops!

That actually makes more sense than the current absurd discussion on “Exon Knew”!

Russell Cook
May 17, 2023 12:07 pm

…. The Exxon documents on which S-R-O (2023) rely are conveniently collected at the Climate Files site created and maintained by the Climate Investigations Center. ….

Or as I like to say at my GelbspanFiles blog, that Climate Files site and that Climate Investigations Center, run by a guy who dates back to the old Ozone Action group which was the first to give major media traction to the “industry corrupted skeptic climate scientists” accusation circa 1995-’96. That guy and his boss back then still don’t like Exxon very much these days. Where’s the real political disinformation theater apparently seen in the Clima-Change™ issue? With that guy and good ol’ Naomi Oreskes. These folks are quite predictable when you dig deep into the accusation angles ….

May 17, 2023 12:51 pm

Despite banal partisan avowals to the contrary, no one precociously knows future knowledge.”

That says it all. The greats of epistemology Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Bacons, Kant, Hume etc., figured that out long ago. There is no is about the future. Only maybes. But they need their whipping boys to get the troops worked up into a frenzy. It worked. Every liberal has learned the meme by heart and will repeat it on command and recite it in their sleep.

May 17, 2023 12:56 pm

The only thing worse than claiming that you are able to predict the future is other people claiming you were able to predict the future and suing you for that.

Ronald Havelock
May 17, 2023 2:04 pm

So, why doesn’t EXXON speak up?
Why do they continue to play dumb on an issue which so profoundly affects their future bottom line? It is not just EXXON, of course, it is all the oil companies and the auto manufacturers who play nice to environmental hokum and outright lies.
When will they wake up? When?

May 17, 2023 2:31 pm

What Exxon knew and knows is Co2 is not pollution. End of story. F*ck leftards and their lies.

Jim Karlock
May 17, 2023 7:51 pm

Here is something that was known at the time:

5000 years ago, there was the Egyptian 1st Unified Kingdom warm period  
4400 years ago, there was the Egyptian old kingdom warm period.
3000 years ago, there was the Minoan Warm period. It was warmer than now WITHOUT fossil fuels.
Then 1000 years later, there was the Roman warm period. It was warmer than now WITHOUT fossil fuels.
Then 1000 years later, there was the Medieval warm period. It was warmer than now WITHOUT fossil fuels.
1000 years later, came our current warm period. 
Climate alarmists are claiming that whatever caused those earlier warm periods suddenly quit causing warm periods, only to be replaced by man’s CO2, perfectly in time for the cycle of warmth every 1000 years to stay on schedule. Not very believable.
The entire climate scam crumbles on this one observation because it shows that there is nothing unusual about today’s temperature and thus CO2 is not causing warming or any unusual climate effects that are frequently blamed on warming.
Evidence that those warm periods actually occurred:   
Evidence that the Roman & Medieval warm periods were global: 

May 17, 2023 11:34 pm

Hi Pat,
Again, you show the need for and the value of attention to detail to allow a correct result.
Sadly, some who disagree with your conclusions want no detail when a blind swipe with a 4 inch brush on cartoon paper can be used to sway the public, many politicians and policy makers.
Thank you for another careful, informative essay.
Geoff S

Pat Frank
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
May 18, 2023 3:49 pm

Hi Geoff — thanks for your note of critical approval. You have long experience in experimental analysis. I’m sure if there was a mistake, you’d find it and say so.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights