What Exxon Knew

Clearly, there's going to be an impact so I'm not disputing that increasing CO2 emissions in the atmosphere is going to have an impact. It'll have a warming impact. How large it is, is very hard for anyone to predict and depending on how large it is then projects how dire the consequences are. In the fall of 2015, an investigation by the Pulitzer Prize winning Inside Climate News as well as the Los Angeles Times and the Colombia School of Journalism revealed a trove of documents from scientists inside oil giant ExxonMobil, showing that Exxon scientists understood the mechanisms and consequences of human caused climate change as early as the late 1970s and early 1980s. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently subpoenaed oil giant ExxonMobil, apparently seeking documents that might show the company had downplayed the risks to profits and therefore to investors of stronger regulations on burning fossil fuels. The documents show Exxon understood a clear scientific consensus existed on the greenhouse effect, that the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could become a serious problem and mentioned the distinct possibility of effects that could be catastrophic for a substantial fraction of the Earth's population.

Exxon scientists stated their research was in accord with the scientific consensus on the effect of increased atmospheric CO2 on climate. Multiple documents mentioned potential adverse impacts such as flooding of coastal land masses due to the melting Antarctica sheets. Our view of this very complex subject over the years, over the decades, has mirrored that of the broader scientific community. In the early 1980s, the scientific community was just beginning to sound the alarm about increasing buildup of gases like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Researchers say increasingly large amounts of CO2 are accumulating in the atmosphere. They fear the earth will gradually become warmer, causing as yet uncertain but possibly disruptive changes in the Earth's climate 50 to 70 years from now. The discussions that have taken place inside our company among our scientists mirror the discussions that have been taking place in the work that's been taking place by the broader scientific community.

That's what the facts show. Scientists and a few politicians are beginning to worry that global energy planning does not take the greenhouse effect seriously enough. Those same computer models correctly predict the past climate of the Earth. They correctly predict the present climate of the Earth. It is reasonable that they are correctly predicting the future climate on the Earth, given the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that were pouring into the atmosphere. Internal briefing documents for Exxon executives showed a science effort that was on the very cutting edge for its time. Graphs showed projections of temperature rise derived from increasingly complex atmospheric models, much like temperatures that have now been observed in the real world. Using global climate models developed by NASA, Exxon scientists agreed with the mainstream projections of approximately 3 degrees global average temperature rise for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide with a rise of more than 10 degrees projected for polar regions, a phenomenon called polar amplification, which has now been actually observed. Exxon state-of-the-art climate modeling predicted a pattern of planetary warming, projecting the lower atmosphere to warm, while the upper atmosphere cooled, a telltale fingerprint of human-caused warming that has now also been observed in the real world.

This table from 1982 predicts conditions looking well into the future including the current year of 2015 where Exxon predicted atmospheric carbon levels for our time to within nine parts per million and a temperature rise to within a few tenths of degree of the best current observations. But in the following years, something happened at Exxon. The company seem to have forgotten the findings of its own experts. Proponents of the global warming theory say that higher levels of greenhouse gases are causing world temperatures to rise and the burning fossil fuels is the reason. The scientific evidence remains inconclusive as to whether human activities affect global climate. You know, there was no doubt that fossil fuels were the main driver of higher CO2 emissions and that CO2 emissions will lead to the climate change, right.

What Exxon was trying to figure out in the 70s and 80s was, when is it gonna hit and how bad is it gonna be but they knew it was gonna be bad like they admitted it is going to be bad, they used the word 'catastrophic' over and over again in documents. Fifteen years later, as the science became more certain, Exxon backed away from that and Lee Raymond talked about that. Many scientists agree there's ample time to better understand climate systems and considered policy options so there's simply no reason to take drastic action now. It's a pretty startling walk back from what, you know, the scientists said 15 years earlier. What he's concerned about and wants to know, is whether Exxon was using one set of scientific models to do its work in the Arctic, for example, where Exxon has been engaged in drilling and on the other hand, telling the public, telling its shareholders a very different set of facts about the state of climate change.

When you're making public disclosures to investors and when you're making public disclosures to government officials, there are laws regulating whether or not that's something that you really need to stand by so if there's evidence demonstrating purposeful concealment and it's too early to say then it really could be a big cloud over the company site. Exxon has funded a number of organizations that he said have been openly climate change deniers, he mentioned the American Enterprise Institute… Take for example, this hold 97% of scientists agree on global warming. That is an utterly fraudulent number. Has Exxon been funding these organizations? Well, the answer is yes, and I'll let those organizations respond for themselves. They're basically saying you and your industry are hiding the risks of climate change just like the tobacco companies hid the risks of smoking.

.. and then using tactics that are very similar to what the cigarette industry or tobacco industry used for many years even though the overwhelming scientific consensus was that smoking cigarettes is bad for you, they would find a few scientists that would disagree and then they would say, look, scientists disagree so that's essentially how they would try to trick the public into thinking that smoking is not that bad. There are allegations that ExxonMobil also funded research from somebody for example at the Smithsonian Institution without disclosing and without that person disclosing that he was going on a certain path whereby there were other scientists within ExxonMobil that might have had beliefs to the contrary. You have received over a million dollars and funds from coal and oil interests. The last grant you received from a funder with no ties to the energy industry was in 2002. That's over a decade ago. In recent weeks, ExxonMobil has accused Columbia School of Journalism of ethical misconduct in reporting this story. In response, Steve Coll, the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, has refuted those allegations in a detailed letter since published in The New York Times.

Meanwhile, 2015 will soon go down in history as the hottest year globally in the modern record with indications that 2016 will be even warmer. We can't be a 100% sure, but which is more prudent? Which is wiser? …to do nothing and hope that a mistake has been made, or to take these predictions seriously even if there's a chance the precautions you will take will be unnecessary..

The Fern That Cooled the Planet

Let’s talk about climate change, and I don’t mean the kind that’s happening right now. I mean the massive shift in climate that happened about 50 million years back, when Earth went from toasty warm to ice age. And that huge change may have mostly been caused by … a fern. Alright, so Earth was really hot 50 million years ago. I’m talking like, total greenhouse planet, lots of CO2 in the air, palm trees and alligators living near the poles. That kind of hot. Then something happened. The planet started to slowly cool, and all those poor gators had to relocate as the poles eventually formed ice caps, and the climate eventually shifted into cycles of hundred-thousand-year ice ages with shorter breaks in between them. In 2004, an Arctic Coring Expedition started poking around the North Pole looking for clues about what might have tipped the scales toward that global cooling so long ago.

When they pulled up sediment core samples from under the Arctic Ocean, they found a series of sediment layers that reached back nearly 80 million years. And sure enough, the scientists noticed something unusual right around the 50 million year mark. A column of tiny fossilized ferns that was almost 10 meters deep. That was …. surprising. The ferns were a type of Azolla, a genus of dime-sized, moss-like aquatic ferns that grow floating on the surface of water. Specifically though, fresh water. But if these ferns grow in fresh water, what were they doing in the arctic ocean? Well, you gotta keep in mind that the Earth’s geography was very different back then. The Arctic ocean was essentially landlocked, and researchers think that runoff from rivers formed a layer of fresh water over the saltwater. Which made it a cozy, nutrient-rich environment that Azolla ferns would have loved. Like, really loved.

The little plant flourished for nearly a million years, erupting in blooms that covered millions of square kilometers. Eventually, though, shifting landmasses reopened a connection to other oceans, causing a deadly influx of saltwater. That’s when the Azolla died and sank to the bottom of the ocean, forming the layers of sediment that we’d pull up millions of years later. But what does all this have to do with Earth cooling down? Well, as you probably know, long-term climate cycles have a lot to do with the atmospheric tug of war between various gases. Extra carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases, for example, can trap heat and warm the planet. And Azolla may have helped remove a lot of those gases in a few ways. First, there’s the fern’s relationship with a type of cyanobacteria called Anabaena The bacteria pass between ferns through their reproductive spores, and live within their leaves. Anabaena is great at taking in nitrogen from the atmosphere, and using it to provide the fern with fertilizer. This fertilizing process is so effective that under the right conditions, Azolla can double its mass in just a couple of days. It also would have helped absorb lots and lots of nitrogen from the atmosphere.

There’s also the fact that Azolla, like all photosynthesizing plants, is really good at eating up carbon dioxide. In fact, researchers estimate that over the course of those million years or so, Azolla blooms might have gobbled up about half of all atmospheric CO2 — reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from an estimated 2500 – 3500 parts per million down to like 1500 parts per million, and kicking off a cooling trend in the climate. When the Arctic eventually opened up again, those huge blooms sank deep into the ocean, where a lack of oxygen kept them from decaying, effectively keeping all of that carbon dioxide locked up, and out of the atmosphere. Azolla is still around today, and there are at least six known living species, and there’s enough of the stuff that it’s considered a weed in some places. It can be used as fertilizer, food for livestock, and has shown some promise in wastewater treatment. There’s also a crowdfunded research project that’s currently working on expanding our knowledge of the plant’s evolution and ecology by sequencing the Azolla genome.

Because the question on a lot of minds right now is… can Azolla help cool the planet again? With more research, we might just find out. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, you can go to patreon.com/scishow. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow and subscribe!.

How Global Warming Works in Under 5 Minutes

You may have heard of global climate change, which is often called "global warming." Whether or not people accept that humans are causing global warming, most folks have an opinion about it. But how much do regular people understand the science of climate change? If you were asked to explain how global warming works, could you? Take a moment to try to explain to yourself how virtually all climate scientists think the Earth is warming. What is the physical or chemical mechanism? Don't feel bad; if you're anything like the people we've surveyed in our studies, you probably struggled to come up with an explanation. In fact, in one study we asked almost 300 adults in the U.S.– and not a single person could accurately explain the mechanism a global warming at a pretty basic level. This is consistent with larger surveys that have shown that people often lack knowledge about climate change.

But how can we make informed decisions without understanding the issues we're debating? Allow us to give you a short explanation of how global warming works: First, here is how Earth's temperature works without considering how humans influence it. The Earth absorbs light from the Sun, which is mostly visible light. To release that light-energy, Earth also emits light. But, because the Earth is cooler than the sun, it emits lower-energy infrared light. So, Earth's surface essentially transforms most to the visible light it gets from the sun into infrared light. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as methane and carbon dioxide, let visible light passed through, but absorb infrared light–causing the atmosphere to retain heat. This energy can be absorbed and emitted by the atmosphere many times before it eventually returns to outer space. The added time this energy hangs around has helped keep earth warm enough to support life as we know it.

Without this greenhouse effect–caused by these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere– the Earth's average surface temperature would be about 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, which is well below the freezing point for ice! So, how have humans change things? Since the dawn of the industrial age, around the year 1750, atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 40%– and methane has almost tripled. These increases cause extra infrared light absorption, meaning an extra greenhouse effect, which has caused Earth to heat above its typical temperature range. In other words, energy that gets to Earth has an even harder time leaving it, causing Earth's average temperature to increase– thus producing global climate change. In case you're wondering about what makes greenhouse gases special, here are two sentences of slightly technical information: Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide absorb infrared light because their molecules can vibrate to produce asymmetric distributions of electric charge, which match the energy levels of various infrared wavelengths.

In contrast, non-greenhouse gases such as oxygen–that is, 02–don't absorb infrared light, because they have symmetric charge distributions even while vibrating. To wrap, up we'll quickly summarize the mechanism global climate change: Earth transforms sunlight's visible energy into infrared light, and infrared energy leaves Earth slowly because it's absorbed by greenhouse gases. As people produce more greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowly– raising Earth's temperature even more than it has already gone up. That's how global warming happens! This wasn't so hard to understand, right? In these few minutes you've hopefully become one of the few people who understand the mechanism of global climate change. Please share this video with others so you can help them understand how global warming works, too.

Thanks for listening!.

‘Revolutionary’ CO2 maps zoom in on greenhouse gas sources

We’ll also be showing those emissions transported through the atmosphere using an atmospheric transport model. Many people have contributed to the Vulcan Project, including researchers at Purdue University, Colorado State University, and Lawrence Berkeley National Labs. We would also like to thank our sponsors for this work, NASA and the Department of Energy. The first image you see in this video is one sector of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the United States, that being emissions from power plants. The next image are industrial sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. The third image are the mobile sources of carbon dioxide in the United States placed directly onto US roadways. We can take these inventories and combine them with our other inventories, including residential and commercial, and create a total map of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the United States. This has been placed onto a ten-kilometer regular grid in order to facilitate atmospheric transport modeling.

The next sequence is a video showing transport of those fossil fuels CO2 emissions into the air over the United States. This is the lowest layer of air in the RAMS atmospheric transport model. It is in units of parts per million or mixing ratio relative to the initial conditions in this model. A few items to note are the day and night cycle, with larger emissions of fossil fuel CO2 during the day, smaller emissions during the night. Also noticeable are the spatial patterns across the United States, including population centers on the West Coast, East Coast, Gulf industrial and manufacturing sectors, manufacturing and industry in the Midwest and upper Midwest, and population centers along the front range of Colorado and the Salt Lake City area in Utah.

Transport features to note, of course, are the broad west to east transport and filaments of CO2 moving off the continental United States over the North Atlantic. The next sequence is a sequence that shows the contrast between morning CO2 concentrations and evening CO2 concentrations, with greater concentrations in the morning both due to the initiation of fossil fuel CO2 emissions and the trapping of CO2 due to reduced boundary layer heights in the early morning hours. The next video sequence represents a three-dimensional view of CO2 concentration over the United States. This shows an isosurface of CO2 roughly two PPM above the initial conditions. Again, you see the broad spatial patterns, the diurnal cycle, and then a number of additional features that can be seen with the 3D representation. Most importantly are the elevated CO2-enriched air merging from the surface through the boundary layer, probably due to strong thunderstorm and vertical convective activity. You see frontal systems, as represented by large, wedge-shaped features over the middle United States.

You also notice, again, the broad transport of CO2-enriched air moving from the continental United States over the North Atlantic. And finally, you notice transport off of the West Coast, southern West Coast United States out over tropical Pacific and Mexico. The next video sequence shows vertical profiles of CO2 over two cities in the United States, Los Angeles and Chicago. Each one of these lines represents a single grid cell over the urban landscape in each of those cities. By taking all of the grid cells in an urban area, you can create a series of vertical profiles, and that’s what’s shown in each one of these images. The motion, of course again, is due to the diurnal cycle from day and night, and of course, the spread of concentrations near the surface represents the gradient, or spatial difference, from the center of the city, for example, out towards the edge where concentrations are less. Both cities, of course, show a broad decline in CO2 concentration as you move away from the surface, both because of sources being at the surface and the impact of atmospheric transport on mixing those concentrations through the larger atmosphere.

Thank you for watching this video of the Vulcan Project. If you have questions or comments, please contact Kevin Gurney at kgurney@purdue.edu..