As Exxon Mobil responded to news reports in 2015 that said that the company had spread doubt about the risks of climate change despite its own extensive research in the field, it urged the public to “read the documents” for themselves.
Now two Harvard researchers have done just that, reviewing nearly 200 documents representing Exxon’s research and its public statements and concluding that the company “misled the public” about climate change even as its own scientists were recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a risk to the planet.
The Harvard researchers — Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science whose work has focused on the energy and tobacco industries, and Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow — published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday. They also published their findings in an Opinion article in Wednesday’s New York Times.
They found that Exxon’s climate change studies, published from 1977 to 2014, were in line with the scientific thinking of the time. Some 80 percent of the company’s research and internal communications acknowledged that climate change was real and was caused by humans.
But 80 percent of Exxon’s statements to the broader public, which reached a much larger audience, expressed doubt about climate change.
“We stress that the question is not whether Exxon Mobil ‘suppressed climate change research,’ but rather how they communicated about it,” Dr. Oreskes and Dr. Supran wrote. “Exxon Mobil contributed quietly to the science and loudly to raising doubts about it.”
A spokesman for Exxon Mobil, Scott Silvestri, dismissed the new study as part of a long activist campaign against the company, calling the paper “inaccurate and preposterous.” He said the study represented a shift in activists’ strategy, away from alleging that the company had suppressed science and toward “extracting money from our shareholders and attacking the company’s reputation.”
He cited two examples of so-called advertorial essays that Exxon had placed in newspapers…