Bernie Sanders is trying tried to divert attention from his bumbling performance in the recent Democratic Party presidential debate by making false and incendiary accusations that Exxon lied about global warming. Sanders claimed on national television that Exxon’s alleged lies likely broke the law and Exxon should be charged by the Obama administration with racketeering. Unfortunately for Sanders’s rush to create a convenient villain, there is no evidence to suggest Exxon lied about global warming.
[Full disclosure: Exxon was once a minor donor to The Heartland Institute, for whom I serve as a senior fellow. Exxon last donated to The Heartland Institute in 2006.]
The “Exxon lied” storyline began in July when the UK Guardianpublished an article titled, “Exxon knew of climate change in 1981, email says – but it funded deniers for 27 more years.” The article quoted a former Exxon employee saying Exxon employed a team of scientists to study the potential warming effects of carbon dioxide emissions. Some Exxon scientists believed global warming was a serious concern while others did not.
Ultimately, Exxon’s top management sided with those scientists concluding humans are not creating a global warming crisis. Nevertheless, Bernie Sanders and his left-leaning media allies are attempting to portray as a “cover up” Exxon’s scientific conclusion and subsequent decision to fund scientists and groups who similarly report a non-alarmist global warming narrative.
Exxon’s top management received differing opinions on global warming. No matter which way they decided the issue, they would be agreeing with some of their consulting scientists and disagreeing with others. To say that Exxon management covered up or lied about global warming because some of their scientists agreed with them and other disagreed is like saying the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is covering up and lying about global warming because some of IPCC’s own scientists disagree with the assertion of IPCC’s top brass that humans are causing a global warming crisis.
The Exxon experience appears to be the story of a corporation that decided to engage in due diligence on global warming issues and ultimately determined global warming activists were overstating global warming concerns. Exxon’s conclusion during the 1980s has subsequently been validated by real-world climate observations. For example, IPCC’s first assessment report, published in 1990, predicted 0.3 degrees Celsius of warming per decade, and perhaps as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius per decade. In the 25 years since 1990, however, temperatures have increased by just over 0.1 degrees Celsius per decade, or less than half the IPCC predictions. Also, IPCC predicted 6 centimeters of sea level rise per decade. In reality, sea level has risen at less than half that pace. IPCC reports predicted more frequent and severe extreme weather events, yet hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, and nearly all other extreme weather events have become less frequent and less severe as our planet continues is modest warming. IPCC predicted declining agricultural production, yet global crop production continues to set new records virtually every year. In short, Exxon made a judgment call that “skeptics” had a better handle on climate science than alarmists, and Mother Nature has proven Exxon correct.