In Their Zeal to Go after Exxon, Warmists Erase Scientists’ Early Caution on Global Warming


As ExxonMobil better at climate science than the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? This is the bizarre position now being adopted by climate activists such as Harvard’s Naomi Oreskes and’s Bill McKibben. As early as 1977, Exxon researchers “knew that its main product would heat up the planet disastrously,” McKibben claimed in the New Yorker last month. “Present thinking,” an Exxon researcher wrote in a 1978 summary, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Contrary to what Oreskes and McKibben believe, unearthing the thoughts of Exxon scientists from the late 1970s and 1980s illustrates a tendency among some scientists — even those in the pay of an oil company — to be prone to alarmism and to overstate what is known. Predictably, Oreskes and McKibben draw a different conclusion, one entirely unsupported by the evidence.

Even this assertion about tobacco smoking is historically inaccurate. Medical researchers in Britain and then America had first found the link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer in 1949 and 1950; researchers in Nazi Germany had made the association before them. Notoriously, American tobacco companies in the 1950s had run campaigns claiming that their customers’ health was their overriding concern, a patently dishonest statement that subsequently put them in legal jeopardy. But smoking prevalence peaked and began its long decline shortly after the surgeon general’s first report in 1964 warned of the dangers of smoking.

Scientists were able to prove the threat to health from smoking because there is a very strong statistical relationship between smoking and lung cancer. The strength of those initial findings was further validated by passing a tough predictive test. In 1953, Richard Doll, one of the first researchers to have found the link, predicted that in 1973 there would be 25,000 lung-cancer deaths in Britain. In fact, there were 26,000. By contrast, climate models have been systematically over-forecasting temperature rises this century, demonstrating that climate scientists know much less about the climate system than they would have us believe. In the New York Times, Oreskes complains that climate scientists are ridiculed for predicting catastrophic climate change. If climate scientists’ predictions had been more accurate, they might be taken seriously


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