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New evidence reveals that the fossil fuel industry was aware of the dangers of climate change as far back as 1954, solidifying their culpability.
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New evidence reveals that the fossil fuel industry was aware of the dangers of climate change as far back as 1954, solidifying their culpability.

Newly discovered records have revealed that the fossil fuel sector provided financial support for key climate science studies as far back as 1954. This included the pioneering work of Charles Keeling, who is renowned for developing the “Keeling curve” that tracks the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s atmosphere.

A group consisting of oil and car companies donated $13,814 (equivalent to approximately $158,000 in today’s currency) in December 1954 to support Keeling’s initial research on monitoring CO2 levels in the western United States, according to revealed documents.

Keeling later pioneered the ongoing monitoring of worldwide CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. Known as the “Keeling curve,” this graph has documented the gradual rise of atmospheric carbon, a major contributor to the urgent issue of climate change. It has been recognized as a significant achievement in modern science.

The fossil fuel interests backed a group, known as the Air Pollution Foundation, that issued funding to Keeling to measure CO2 alongside a related effort to research the smog that regularly blighted Los Angeles at the time. This is earlier than any previously known climate research funded by oil companies.

According to a research proposal found by Rebecca John from the Climate Investigations Center and published on the DeSmog climate website, Samuel Epstein, the research director at Keeling, discussed a novel carbon isotope analysis that has the potential to detect shifts in the atmosphere resulting from the combustion of coal and petroleum.

In November 1954, Epstein, a researcher at Caltech, wrote to the group about the potential impact of fluctuating levels of CO2 in the atmosphere on climate, photosynthesis, and the equilibrium of carbonate in oceans. These consequences could have significant implications for civilization.

According to experts, the records indicate that the fossil fuel industry played a significant role in the development of contemporary climate science, including its predictions of the catastrophic effects of climate change. However, they have since publicly denied this science for many years and have financially supported ongoing attempts to postpone action on the urgent issue of climate change.

According to Geoffrey Supran, an expert in historic climate disinformation at the University of Miami, these documents provide undeniable evidence that as early as 1954, the fossil fuel industry was aware of the potential for their products to cause significant disruption to Earth’s climate and human civilization.

These results are a shocking verification that the major oil companies have been closely monitoring academic studies on climate for 70 years – twice as long as my own lifetime – and serve as a reminder that this practice continues today. They expose the hypocrisy of the oil industry’s rejection of fundamental climate science, even decades later.

Earlier studies of both public and private documents have revealed that large oil corporations spent many years conducting their own studies on the effects of burning their fuel. These studies were found to be remarkably precise – a recent report discovered that Exxon scientists made astoundingly accurate forecasts about the impact of global warming during the 1970s and 1980s.

Recently uncovered records reveal that the industry was aware of the potential climate consequences of CO2 as far back as 1954. Interestingly, this knowledge was brought to light by Charles Keeling, a young scientist at Caltech who was studying CO2 levels in California and the Pacific Ocean at the time. There is no indication that his research was influenced by funding from oil and gas companies.

The results of this study prompted American scientists to conduct additional experiments on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii. These experiments aimed to continuously monitor the world’s rapidly increasing levels of carbon dioxide.

Keeling died in 2005 but his seminal work lives on. Currently, the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 level is 422 parts per million, which is nearly a third higher than the first reading taken in 1958, and a 50% jump on pre-industrial levels.

The crucial monitoring of the main gas responsible for trapping heat and causing global temperatures to rise to unprecedented levels in human history is a result of support from the Air Pollution Foundation.

The foundation received monetary contributions from 18 automotive companies, such as Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. Additional funding was also provided by other groups, including banks and retailers.

In a 1959 memorandum, it was revealed that the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the Western Oil and Gas Association, currently known as the Western States Petroleum Association, were significant donors to the Air Pollution Foundation. It is uncertain when API began providing funds to the foundation, but they did have a representative on a research committee starting in mid-1955.

In 1955, the Air Pollution Foundation released a policy statement addressing the issue of air pollution, which is primarily caused by emissions from cars, trucks, and industrial facilities. The statement describes this problem as one of the most pressing challenges faced by urban areas in California and beyond. The foundation pledges to combat this issue through thorough and truthful research and by implementing wise and effective solutions.

The recently discovered records originate from various sources such as the Caltech archives, the US National Archives, and newspapers from the 1950s in both San Diego and Los Angeles. These documents may be the earliest evidence of the fossil fuel industry being aware of the potential negative effects of their operations.

According to Carroll Muffett, CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, the oil and gas sector initially focused on studying smog and other air pollutants, but later expanded to include the effects of climate change.

“He mentioned the constant return to the oil and gas industry, as they have been ever-present in this field. The industry has been fully aware of the potential impact of its products on the climate for nearly 70 years.”

According to Muffett, the papers provide more motivation for attempts in different areas to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the harm caused by the climate emergency.

The papers discuss the consequences of carbon dioxide emissions on a global level. According to the speaker, this industry recognized very early on that burning fossil fuels had a significant impact on the planet.

The oil and gas industry has been deceiving the public and regulators about the climate impact of their product for 70 years, which is supported by strong evidence. It would be unwise to rely on them to help solve the issue. We are now in a time where they must be held accountable.

The documents were requested for comment from both API and Ralph Keeling, who is a scientist and also happens to be Charles’s son. However, they did not provide a response.

Source: theguardian.com