Concerns over Vintage Climate Change Video Ignore Current Science

#ExxonKnew is an advocacy-journalism campaign claiming Exxon hid the risks of climate change from the public since the late 1970s, and thereby “robbed humanity of a generation’s time to reverse climate change.”

As a campaign to delegitimize ExxonMobil and, more broadly, the fossil-fuel industry and climate catastrophe skeptics, #ExxonKnew has not worked. It certainly failed to stop the Senate from confirming ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State.

Last week, however, the campaign trained its guns on Shell Oil following the discovery of a video, “Climate of Concern,” produced by the company in 1991. Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times interviews several experts about the video and its policy significance (or lack thereof).

The video reports “a small but significant warming trend over the century with a marked increase in the 1980s.” Ah yes, that was the springtime of climate alarm. Most or all of the scientists consulted for the film apparently viewed climate change much as NASA scientist James Hansen did.

But the Shell video and the many Exxon documents posted by the journalists do not reveal what the companies knew about the state of the climate. Rather, those archival materials reveal what the companies knew about the state of climatology—a field dominated then even more than now by non-validated climate models. Exxon and Shell “knew” in the 1980s pretty much what Hansen knew—that fossil-fuel emissions could cause twice as much warming as would actually occur (h/t David Middleton).

Climate science in its formative years was full of alarming speculation unconstrained by empirical data. In the intervening years, predictions of rapid warming rates and increases in hurricanes, floods, droughts, and climate-related deaths and damages did not materialize.

Besides, the critical stumbling block to the “beyond petroleum” future that climate campaigners seek is not ExxonMobil or Shell but the deficiencies of the usual suite of climate “solutions,” which range from costly exercises in futility to “cures” worse than the alleged disease.

The Paris Climate Treaty is a prime case in point. It could cost $2.5 trillion in green energy subsidies over the next 25 years, yet avert only 0.05°C of global warming. On the other hand, if the climate is as “sensitive” as today’s errant climate models assume, actually meeting the Agreement’s 2°C global warming limit would require energy-poor countries to drastically reduce their current consumption of fossil fuels.

Putting energy-starved nations on an energy diet is neither humane nor sustainable. Isn’t that more newsworthy than an obscure climate change documentary produced a quarter century ago?