Before Exxon merged with Mobil, Exxon had its own inconvenient truth. Inside Climate News (ICN) reported that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Exxon scientists conducted pioneering research on climate change.
According to ICN, in July 1977, one of Exxon's senior scientists gave a sobering report. From a written version he recorded later, James Black said: "In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels."
ICN reported that in 1982 Exxon presented a primer on the issue. The primer stated that despite the many lingering unknowns, heading off global warming "would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion." Unless that happened, "there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered," the primer said, citing independent experts. "Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible."
Exxon continued with its climate change research until the late 1980s, and its scientists published at least three peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. In the late 1980s, Exxon shifted tactics and began stressing the uncertainty of research into the greenhouse effect. This change in position was not based on any research challenging its previous findings.
Since then, Exxon and climate-change deniers have been successful in preventing effective action. As a result, there is a lost 20 to 25 years when steps could have been taken. Every additional year of delay means that future actions will have to be much more draconian or the effects of climate change will be far worse.
Unsurprisingly, just as in most previous climate change meetings, the current talks in Paris appear to offer more hype than substantive action reflecting the power of the fossil fuel industry. Distressingly, the U.S. is pushing for voluntary national reductions with no enforcement mechanism for the commitments.
Perversely, climate change impacts will initially be experienced by those nations that had little to do with causing the looming disaster. The U.S., a key contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases, will generally initially suffer lesser impacts.
As a result of inaction, coming generations — including young children and grandchildren of today — will face the greatest suffering. The one bright spot is that young people are becoming involved in the struggle, including the divestment movement at CU-Boulder and other college campuses across the nation.
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.