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‘ExxonKnew’: More Correction

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- September 18, 2023

Ed Note: The erroneous, agenda-laden ExxonKnew narrative was again in evidence in last weekend’s WSJ News Exclusive, “Inside Exxon’s Strategy to Downplay Climate Change.” For other rebuttals involving the author, (see here).

“Exxon doesn’t ‘know’ anything. It’s a collection of people and just like any other organization with many people, there are many views and understandings on almost every topic imaginable. I worked with Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Libertarians.” – Glen Lyons, former employee (below)

A sober look at the “ExxonKnew” campaign reveals an anti-fossil-fuel agenda inspiring a myopic view of the company’s old investigations into carbon dioxide (CO2).

There are many corrections to this leaky narrative. First, note that the company assigned the CO2 studies to individuals with their own personal motivations and did not partake in studies on the offsets to CO2 (from sulfur dioxide) or the benefits of CO2 (plant growth and resiliency, global greening, warmer winters). Or the advantages of fossil fuels over the dilute, intermittent alternative energies.

The problems of the day were different to Exxon (later ExxonMobil). There was scare about global cooling and a new Ice Age. And there was concern about Peak Oil and Peak Natural Gas.

Second, note that the studies certainly did not represent the existing views of the company but an expedition into embryonic, unsettled science. James Hansen, the father of the climate alarm (in 1988), stated in 1993:

Climate is always changing. Climate would fluctuate without any change of climate forcings. The chaotic aspect of climate is an innate characteristic of the coupled fundamental equations describing climate system dynamics.

And in 1998:

The forcings that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change.

Gerald North, head of the climatology department at Texas A&M, and a corporate consultant to climate-alarmist Enron (another story), said the same thing in a different way. “There is a good reason for a lack of consensus on the science,” he stated in 1998. “It is simply too early. The problem is difficult, and there are pitifully few ways to test climate models.” The same can be said today.

These points and other are developed in the following posts:

And not surprisingly, continuing takes on Exxon and climate (such as in the Wall Street Journal ‘expose’ focusing on Rex Tillerson) continue to present a narrative way out of context.

Another “ExxonKnew” Take

A far better take than that of the anti-fossil-fuel lobby was provided to the present author by longtime Exxon/Exxon Mobil employee Glen Lyons. He stated (in its entirety).

Here’s my two cents on the general concept of “What Exxon Knew” as a retired employee with more than 36 years of experience there. 

First, Exxon doesn’t “know” anything. It’s a collection of people and just like any other organization with many people, there are many views and understandings on almost every topic imaginable. I worked with Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, and Libertarians. 

I worked with people who believed 25 years ago that climate change was a concern and I worked with people who still don’t believe that climate change is a concern. One of the great features about working at ExxonMobil is that it gives employees a fair amount of latitude to think “outside the box” by studying and proposing ideas that their management may not agree with. 

I did plenty of that during my career, and sometimes it was well received by my management and sometimes not. Just because I made a presentation on a particular topic of my choosing doesn’t mean that my management was fully aligned on the front end or after the fact.

One thing is very true about ExxonMobil – the company has a long history of hiring brilliant people who are original and creative thinkers. Sometimes the output of these people finds broad support among management and sometimes it doesn’t. No one who knows ExxonMobil is surprised to learn that some employees were studying the link between CO2 emissions and global temperatures. However, that does NOT mean that his/her management agreed with the findings.

ExxonMobil senior management, while brilliant in their own right, are still people and subject to changing their views on issues as they collect more data. The fact that ExxonMobil’s corporate position has evolved over time shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s a testament to the openness and thoughtfulness of the ExxonMobil culture.

As a career employee, I’m very proud that ExxonMobil has had employees studying CO2 emissions and climate change for years and that they made the papers publicly available to help advance the science.  We should not try to tear down ExxonMobil. We should instead praise it.


Appendix: Legal Peril?

Let a fair judge and jury hear both sides and decide. And let the plaintiffs pay for their own court costs (and note who is paying the bills of the legal strategy in the first place).

The Climate Reality Project, referencing a Guardian article (“Exxon’s predictions about the climate crisis may have increased its legal peril”) stated:

After years of turning a profit off of the world’s suffering, states are taking Exxon-Mobil to court. The discovery of their latest lies is adding even more (fossil) fuel to the fire.

I commented:

” … After years of turning a profit off of the world’s suffering,”

Huh? James Hansen: “Let’s be clear: the frequent comparison of the fossil fuel and tobacco industries is nonsense. Fossil fuels are a valuable energy source that has done yeomen service for humankind.” – James Hansen, June 1, 2021…

One Comment for “‘ExxonKnew’: More Correction”

  1. John W. Garrett  

    The complaint will (and should) be laughed out of court.

    It is hilarious. The legal system in the U.S. has apparently gotten so godawful that the ambulance chasers now feel empowered to sue a deep pocket for bad weather.


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