Big oil’s big deception: Exxon hid truth of climate change from 1981

Big Oil's Big Deception

Courtesy of: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015

Exxon executives knew in 1981 that carbon dioxide emissions caused climate change, seven years before it was public knowledge, yet funded deniers for 27 more years – and possibly even longer.


The news comes in an email from ExxonMobil’s former climate expert, revealed as part of research from the Union of Concerned Scientists highlighting decades of disinformation by fossil fuel majors on climate change.

It shows the company knew earlier than anyone else about the dangers of climate change, and decided not to exploit a major Indonesian gas field due to the emissions it would cause.

Yet is also shows that despite being aware of the impacts of continued carbon exploration, it continued to pump millions of dollars into climate change denial efforts for years, ignoring calls from shareholders and members of its founding family, the Rockefellers, to change its ways.

Even today the company is still pushing for highly polluting fossil fuel projects against a ticking clock.


Bringing together a collection of internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests, the new report  shows how far the oil majors went to prevent carbon curbing action that would hurt their profit margins.

UCS president Ken Kimmell, said:

Many fossil fuel companies haven’t been honest about the harms they have caused by extracting and selling products that place our climate in grave danger. Instead of taking responsibility, they have either directly—or indirectly through trade and industry groups—sown doubt about the science of climate change and fought efforts to cut emissions.

The research clearly shows that fossil fuel companies have intentionally spread climate disinformation for decades; that they knew that their products were harmful to people and the planet but still chose to actively deny this harm; and that the campaign of deception continues today.


Tactics used by fossil fuel companies, such as the likes of ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell, Peabody Energy, includes funding “independent” researchers to dispute established climate science, forging letters to US Congress and faking “grassroots” organisations.

But with the big energy players’ tactics out in the open, institutions from churches to universities getting rid of their fossil fuel assets, leaders – including those from politics, business and the faith community – calling for an end to dirty energy and major countries thinking big in their climate action plans, Exxon and its brethren are in a race against time to find another revenue stream or watch their fortunes crumble.

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