Saturday, February 06, 2016

Oil Industry Group's Own Report Shows Early Knowledge of Climate Impacts

The oil industry knew its impact on climate change in the early '80s, an internal report shows. (Credit: Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
A Columbia University report commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute in 1982 cautioned that global warming "can have serious consequences for man's comfort and survival."  It is the latest indication that the oil industry learned of the possible threat it posed to the climate far earlier than previously known.

The report, "Climate Models and CO2 Warming, A Selective Review and Summary," was written by Alan Oppenheim and William L.  Donn of Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory for API's Climate and Energy task force, said James J. Nelson, the task force's former director.  From 1979 to 1983, API and the nation's largest oil companies convened the task force to monitor and share climate research, including their in-house efforts.  Exxon ran the most ambitious of the corporate programs, but other oil companies had their own projects, smaller than Exxon's and focused largely on climate modeling.

The task force commissioned the report to better understand the models being produced in the nascent field of climate science, Nelson said.  

"There was discussion in the committee about all the noise and information" around carbon dioxide, Nelson said.  "There were all sorts of numbers being thrown around.  We were not trying to find a model to hang our hats on.  It was more, 'If you see this model, this is how it’s built and these are its strengths and weaknesses.'"

Obtained from a university library by the Union of Concerned Scientists and made available to InsideClimate News, the report described in detail five models used at the time by climate scientists.  They ranged from simple to complex: the radiation balance model, energy balance, radiative-convective, thermodynamic, and general circulation model.  A table showed the predictions each model generated of the average increase in global temperature if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 doubled compared to pre-industrial times, from .6 degrees C per hemisphere under the thermodynamic model to 2 to 3.5 degrees C globally under the general circulation model.  The poles were expected to undergo even greater jumps in temperature.

The report did not focus on the forces behind the increase in CO2 concentrations, but it linked the phenomenon plainly to fossil fuel use.  Atmospheric CO2, it said, "is expected to double some time in the next century.  Just when depends on the particular estimate of the level of increasing energy use per year and the mix of carbon based fuels."

Read more at Oil Industry Group's Own Report Shows Early Knowledge of Climate Impacts

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