Motu's Catherine Leining on climate change, energy Darwinism, fossil fuels, what the climate movements must learn from religion, whether extreme weather is the new normal & more

Motu's Catherine Leining on climate change, energy Darwinism, fossil fuels, what the climate movements must learn from religion, whether extreme weather is the new normal & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Catherine Leining, Policy Fellow at economic and public policy research institute Motu.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comment stream below or via email to david.chaston@interest.co.nz.

And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact gareth.vaughan@interest.co.nz.

See all previous Top 10s here.

1. Fossil fuel subsidies are trending down.

This is great to hear, especially because reducing fossil fuel subsidies helps reduce GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, although international government subsidies to fossil fuel companies still totalled between US$160-200 billion between 2010-2014. NZ’s Minister of Climate Change Issues and of Trade, Tim Groser, has played a key leadership role on this on NZ’s behalf. This doesn’t mean there isn’t more for us to do. NZ still subsidises fossil fuel research to the tune of $12 million a year and provides other support for oil and gas exploration. Perhaps the government should reconsider this commitment. Motu Senior Fellow Suzi Kerr addressed the different political dimensions around reducing production versus consumption subsidies for fossil fuels in this 2014 interview

2. International markets trading emissions.

So far, six nations, including NZ, are explicitly intending to use international markets to trade in order to meet their international commitments around climate change for the period through 2030 (their INDCs – or intended nationally determined contributions). The current dilemma is a lack of sellers and internationally agreed mechanisms that ensure the environmental integrity of trading. This is a great example of how NZ might be able to help innovate in finding more robust ways to structure international emissions trading so that mitigation investment can flow efficiently to the most cost-effective opportunities, allowing global mitigation ambition to increase at lower cost.One thing to note however is that the IEA (International Energy Agency) scenarios appear to cover energy CO2 only and don’t look at sinks or other sectors. Some of this reduction would happen through domestic effort under new policy.

3. Energy Darwinism.

This report by Citi Global Perspectives & Solutions (a division of Citi Group) assesses the economic costs and benefits of a low-carbon future, and finds that both the incremental costs and returns on investment appear reasonable. Citi forecasts that the sums of money to be spent on energy (both capital expenditure and fuel) over the next quarter century will be around $200 trillion. I can’t speak for the robustness of their results, but it’s great to see banks getting involved and exploring climate change solutions from a constructive financial perspective. 

4. Points to consider in the lead up to the Paris talks.

Pep Canadell from Australia’s CSIRO has some very sensible points to think about when looking at climate action. Targets are not just about numbers; we should also be looking at the long-term effectiveness of the actions underneath. He uses simple questions that elucidate answers clear answers for those making policy.

5. Climate change seen as top global threat.

I find it fascinating to look at what people in different countries are most afraid of, and how this is impacted by media. It interests me that climate change is seen as the biggest threat in Mexico, China, India and much of South America and Africa, but that ISIS tends to be of more concern to Western and Middle Eastern countries.

6. Fossil Fuels - necessity or lethal indulgence?

This is a great Radio NZ Insight Documentary that really gives a Kiwi perspective on the fossil fuel industry and how NZ should work to combat climate change. 

7. Point Carbon Market Survey.

Because I helped design the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme and continue to work on emissions trading, this vote of confidence for the use of emissions trading schemes in policy was an encouraging read. It’s interesting to look back with the vantage point of six months after this was released to see how we’re doing internationally now. I believe, however, that this post comparing trading schemes with a carbon tax on our Low Emissions Future Blog is still totally relevant.  

8 What the climate movement must learn from religion.

One of the most interesting reads this year was this piece in The Guardian about how those of us combating climate change can learn from Evangelical Christians. It talks about a transformative moment and how this is needed at an individual level to affect us globally. Sometimes it feels difficult to stay positive in the face of information about future climate impacts if we stick with business as usual, but I believe that we can make powerful strategic choices that will direct us down a brighter path towards a low-emissions future.

9. Is extreme weather the new normal?

Understanding NZ’s vulnerability to climate change and building our capacity to “adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate” are among the goals of the Deep South National Science Challenge which is underway. Deep South will improve researchers’ understanding of Antarctic and Southern Ocean systems, build our climate change modelling capability, and boost engagement to help make the findings from climate research more accessible to decision makers across sectors. Watch this space.  

10. Angry birds are now angry about climate change.

I love this. A sense of humour and lightness around climate change is sometimes hard to hold onto and a game that enables players to smash emissions is a great way to carry the message.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

45 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Huge amounts of methane are locked up in frozen soils in the tundra/Arctic regions. Scientists have predicted that warming (coupled with the retreat of ice) in these areas would lead to increasing methane release, which would in turn lead to increasing temperatures, leading to more methane release and so on - an extremely dangerous positive feedback loop.

Just as the scientists predicted, that methane release has begun:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2015GL065013/abstract

This is not the only positive feed back loop WRT global warming. Loss of sunlight reflecting snow is another. As any engineer knows, a system with positive feedback will experience a rapid and catastrophic change of state. When you consider the inertia of the world and speed of the changes we are witnessing, we seam to be well and truly started down this track. I am a bit worried that we are taking sea level rise far too lightly. We seem to be hung up on worrying about what the rise will be by the end of the century. Will it be 700 mm 1 meter. (successive estimates seem to be larger than the previous) When compared with what the ultimate rise will be if all the available ice melts and ocean warms, these figures are trivial. If as it appears, global warming goes down the positive feedback route, which will likely be irreversible, then the ultimate rise will be about 127 meters. Reference:-
https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=bMapD-7dJz0C&pg=PA6&lpg=PA6&dq=Dougl...

Relax Whiner - the methane chicken little scenario is looking pretty shaky.

I guess sometimes you need to do more than rely on biochemical model simulations.

"When permafrost thaws, wetlands are formed. Because typical wetland soils are water‐saturated and rich in organic carbon, they create a favorable environment for methanogens, the microorganisms that produce CH4. According to this conventional paradigm, the Arctic under global warming may act as a source of CH4 to the atmosphere. However, the carbon‐poor mineral soils studied by Lau et al. occupy five times the spatial area of carbon‐rich soils in the Arctic. Given that these mineral soils have now been shown to have the capacity to consume atmospheric CH4, large parts of the Arctic may actually act as CH4 sinks in the 21st century."

http://www.princeton.edu/geosciences/news/archive/?id=14884

Govt should divert its spending on climate change to AgResearch.

I wonder whether there is anyone still being serious about the subject.

Is this a (failed) attempt at humour or just plain ..(self censored expletive)?

The following articles will show you a more realistic viewpoint regarding climate change:

https://mises.org/library/skeptics-case

and a 12 min video about this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gDErDwXqhc

Perhaps we should be spending more on AgResearch as xingmowang suggests

Thanks. Never see the MSM run a contrary global warming point of view, for balance and for debate. Clearly the science is settled and more tax and social control is needed to fix this impending CO2 doom. Lets not worry about global debt, toxic pollution, over fishing, finite resources, social cohesion.. etc. No, what we really need is central control.

This is brilliant, Mis-Information Central: This seems to be funded by the almighty Koch empire:
http://www.desmogblog.com/directory/vocabulary/8549
The Institute is of the opinion that global warming is a money-making scheme perpetrated by scientists to get grant money.[3]

The Koch Empire was recently outed by DeSmogBlog as a key seed funder of the climate change denier think-tank, the Heartland Institute. Heartland's internal documents were recently leaked to DeSmogBlog (see “Heartland Exposed”).

What are you saying - climate change is not a money making scheme?

"Interest in climate change is becoming an increasingly powerful economic driver, so much so that some see it as an industry in itself whose growth is driven in large part by policymaking.

The $1.5 trillion global “climate change industry” grew at between 17 and 24 percent annually from 2005-2008, slowing to between 4 and 6 percent following the recession with the exception of 2011’s inexplicable 15 percent growth, according to Climate Change Business Journal."

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2015/07/30/377086.htm

Antonymouse: You have reliably and repeatedly supplied links of poor quality with no expertise in climate science. ie
According to his resume, Evans has not published any peer-reviewed research papers on the subject of climate change.

You supplied a link to suspicious observers, Ben has no climate credentials.
The Mises Institute: No credentials that I'm aware of, maybe you can correct me.

All in all nobody with any expertise!

This is not a peer reviewed scientific paper but an opinion from a libertarian organization. The very first few lines are simply incorrect, the models predict very well, and if anything tend to under-report as the feedbacks which tend to be unknown are looking worse/bigger.

What a horrible Top 10!!!!!

No 8 - learning from religion - REALLY !! Wasn't the whole concept of religion to brainwash the masses using a codified book? Salvation through rebirth can both keep a lie going but it can also expose the lie!!

For some, CC is already a religion, just as neoliberalism was for others :-). And the funny thing is that the neoliberal worshipers (in the main) criticise the CC followers of attempted indoctrination regarding a false premise. What could be more ironic?

You have shown the sarcasm Kate....now show me the science!

I don't think you read the guardian article the author was referring to, and was linked?
The article was talking about how to enter into dialogue with people who are sceptical about climate change, and people are sceptical for a whole raft of reasons, not just because they do not 'believe' the science.
From the article:

"Illumination? Conversion? Witness? Epiphany? These words never appear in the discussions of how we might engage people with climate change. Campaigners adopt some of the components – attending a march is a form of public commitment – but without understanding the entire package. Our websites and blogs proliferate, but we invest little in building a real-life community. We talk incessantly with each other but avoid looking beyond our own tribe.

Because environmentalists do not recognise conviction, we do not recognise despair or grief. We have contempt for doubt and no one is ever at hand to “walk through it together”. We expect people to deal with their hopes and fears in isolation, constrained by a socially policed silence and given no encouragement other than a few energy-saving consumer choices and the odd petition. Nor is there any discussion of forgiveness for ourselves or our forebears. As Hunter pointed out to me, we give people a heavy moral load of guilt, responsibility and blame, but no way out. The critics are right in this regard – if climate change really were a religion, it would be a wretched one, offering guilt, blame and fear but with no recourse to salvation or forgiveness.

Our understanding of climate change is built on scientific evidence, not faith. The faith displayed in the churches, mosques, and temples on every street is built on a deep understanding of human drives and emotions. Only when we put these different parts of our psyche together can we achieve change; to say to anyone who will listen: “I’ve heard the science, I’ve weighed up the evidence. Now I’m convinced. Join me.”
.

I think that's good advice.....

"We have contempt for doubt" it isnt "doubt" it is denial of science and math. "who will listen" many ppl have said this to those ppl. Certainly I have seen and had to listen to total denial by otherwise intelligent ppl because the plan they have for their future is destroyed by the imperative of Peak Oil and CC.

All more reason why we should look for different ways of convincing these people to change their ways.
.
Keep on bashing your head against the wall will not change the wall, it will only leave you with a massive headache.
The problem is that we need people's buy-in. We can't legislate against/for everything which is necessary to save our climate as it is (habitable for us and a whole range of other species.
People need to willingly change. Willingly.
So we need to communicate. talk with, not talk to.

And your reply is exactly what I mean about religion and brainwashing......CC is based on predictions and some people do not have the intellect to know the damn difference and then keep repeating their ignorance believing it to be the truth.

a) This is science, which like math and economics you obviously do not do.
b) The models predictions have actually been borne out.

Can we get a link to the report mentioned in #3?

never mind, the title is the link, thanks

#5 explains why not much has been done about climate change in the first world. We don't seem to be that bothered about it.
Maybe we should let people who live in places which will be hardest hit, decide how to tackle the problem on a global scale.

The problem is that we in the West who are most at ease about climate change are the ones who are primarily responsible. Even if the poorest 50% of the world's population cut their emissions by half they will make a negligible difference. Even if their population doubled they still would only contribute 14% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions.

"Take carbon dioxide emissions — a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world’s richest half-billion people — that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions."
http://e360.yale.edu/feature/consumption_dwarfs_population_as_main_envir...

Yes. Which is why I said: let them decide how we are to tackle this on a global scale.
.
I didn't mean people who will be/are hardest hit should only get their own house in order, only. Rather they should set the agenda on how the world should tackle the issue

Emission (Carbon)Trading Schemes and such are designed by a bunch of dreamers and civil servants. Immediately you could buy carbon credits from eastern europe and other dodgy places. Where their tree planting or whatever was of such unlimited capacity and at almost no cost.
Well, of course you would have been better to send money to that nice prince in Nigeria.
The shocking thing was the New Zealand companies who were happy to buy that fraudulent stuff, so they could wave a carbon certificate. Cheap for them, but really just NZ money being sent away for no return whatsoever.

11
up

#8. It's worrying enough that those who claim a scientific basis also use personalised abuse lines such as 'climate change denier'.
You can go scientific, or run a personalised arguement, but not both.
It's extraordinary to now hear that the climate change campaign should become 'evangelical'. Next step I suppose is that some poor lunk who isn't convinced about climate change will be burned at the stake as a heretic.

I see there's a move to prosecute those who deliberately sell doubt and mis-information in the US. If media coverage was a bit more savvy and stopped giving so much air time to the really dumb, like Monkton, NZCSC, Heartland Institute etc, and limited the con view to those who are truly skeptical, the general understanding of the science and the bits we're not so sure about would leap forward.
Obviously prosecution of these people carries its own risk, and would be difficult to prove.

The Koch Brothers won't let that happen.

Pureant to write this:
"the really dumb, like Monkton, NZCSC, Heartland Institute"
is a really cheap shot and not worth further comment!

You want something "scientific" and "truly skeptical" get your teeth into this:

Top 6 Climate Change Problems

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ew05sRDAcU

antonymouse, you've given the perfect example of mis-information.
Suspicious observers aka Ben Davidson is the consummate co-man. People assume because he sounds plausible he is. Watch this dismembering of him by an actual Solar Physicist. Ben is a Lawyer by the way.
This is an actual scientist taking on a conman, piece by piece.

Apart from KH in his feedback, the article and all the commentary makes absolutely no mention of the deforestation of the planet! If we plant lots of forests, stop the pillage of the amazon, stop the burning of the Indonesian jungles, work to restore much of the jungles and forests of the world, the use of fossil fuels will be no where near the problem it is.

Our Government (Labour?) changed the law requiring the replanting of forests years ago and there is no move to fix that faux pas. Much of that land has gone from being a carbon sink to GHG producing dairy farms. Our Government continues to support trucking companies while it says it will remove support for Kiwi Rail!!??? Carbon credit trading is a political solution that achieves nothing while it puts more money in the politicians pockets

"Plants are growing more quickly than people can cut them down, with fields and forests on the ­advance across the planet.

An Australian-led analysis of satellite data has found the amount of carbon sequestered in plants has risen by almost four billion tonnes since 2003, reflecting a surge in the biomass of global flora — possibly the first such ­increase since the Industrial Revolution.

The researchers found that natural growth in northern Australia and southern Africa had more than compensated for mass deforestation in hot spots such as the Amazon, Borneo and Sumatra.

The upsurge, reported this morning in the journal Nature Climate Change, was driven by higher rainfall in dry savanna areas.

Tree planting in China and natural reforestation of abandoned Soviet farmland had also contributed.

The findings reflect a virtuous cycle in the warming climate, with elevated concentrations of atmospheric CO2 speeding up photosynthesis and causing more carbon to be captured by plants."

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/health-science/forests-and-fields-i...

You dont get bio-diversity in fields, nor usually man made forests.

"virtuous cycle" is rubbish...

Err... you do get biodiversity in fields, steven. Check out what bio-diversity means.
https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Biodiversity.aspx

orangutans do well in palm oil plantations? think not.

maybe I should have chosen a better word for the pedantic....

Not pedantic - you made a generalisation that needed to be challenged. It's the difference between those of us who make our living off the land where we are required to be mindful of what biodiversity we have in our fields, and how it affects our livelihoods e.g. bees, flies, birds, etc and those whose livelihoods aren't quite so dependent on biodiversity.

Moa didn't do well with the arrival of humans either.

Climate change. Hmmh. Might be right but hard to tell amongst the near religious hysteria. Remember Year 2YK. That was a major industry for near five years. You couldn't open the newspaper without seeing an article. Then immediately after the non event silence. Lots of people who had bashed our ears never mentioned it again. That whole weird thing did not exist - never existed - apparently.
Remember your history. Y2K was less a story about science and more story about government as a soft funder, local government looking for a problem, and a bunch of opportunists spotting a gravy train.
Friend of mine, a city councilor spent new years eve waiting in a sewage pump station, trained to press the reset button if it tripped out.

...more rubbish from one who no doubt prefers haemeopothy over a GP. . The y2k issue was anticipated, acted upon and treated with urgency. Thus the mess that could have been, didn't. Contrast to climate where not nealry enough is being done.....instead we will see war..

Those weren't scientists who came up with Y2K. There's a difference between technology and science. About the wacky responses on here:
http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/scientists-earth-endanger...

CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH BY NASA EO/REX/FEATURES VIA AP
MINNEAPOLIS (The Borowitz Report) – Scientists have discovered a powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans who are threatening the ability of Earth to sustain life, a sobering new study reports.

The research, conducted by the University of Minnesota, identifies a virulent strain of humans who are virtually immune to any form of verifiable knowledge, leaving scientists at a loss as to how to combat them.

“These humans appear to have all the faculties necessary to receive and process information,” Davis Logsdon, one of the scientists who contributed to the study, said. “And yet, somehow, they have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”

More worryingly, Logsdon said, “As facts have multiplied, their defenses against those facts have only grown more powerful.”

While scientists have no clear understanding of the mechanisms that prevent the fact-resistant humans from absorbing data, they theorize that the strain may have developed the ability to intercept and discard information en route from the auditory nerve to the brain. “The normal functions of human consciousness have been completely nullified,” Logsdon said.

"While reaffirming the gloomy assessments of the study, Logsdon held out hope that the threat of fact-resistant humans could be mitigated in the future. “Our research is very preliminary, but it’s possible that they will become more receptive to facts once they are in an environment without food, water, or oxygen,” he said.

And a cooment from yesterday's NPR about the Pope's address on climate change:

" But conservatives have been ignoring every pope on this moral issue. Just like they ignore peer reviewed science. Because conservatives adhere to the "gospel of prosperity" which worships unsustainable growth, regardless of the environmental costs or costs to future generations. Conservatives are like the grasshopper in Aesop's Grasshopper and the Ant fable. You can see no further than the next fiscal quarter and you'll spend your lives fiddling and playing without regard to future consequences."

Conservatives should now be called nearsighted, short-term, self-absorbed Exploiters, descended from Landgrabbers.

Interesting that Exxon had good research on CO2 effects on climate in the late 70s until management entered the denial game:
"Exxon: The Road Not Taken
Exxon's Own Research Confirmed Fossil Fuels' Role in Global Warming Decades Ago
Top executives were warned of possible catastrophe from greenhouse effect, then led efforts to block solutions.
By Neela Banerjee, Lisa Song and David Hasemyer
Sep 21, 2015
Exxon Experiment
Exxon's Richard Werthamer (right) and Edward Garvey (left) are aboard the company's Esso Atlantic tanker working on a project to measure the carbon dioxide levels in the ocean and atmosphere. The project ran from 1979 to 1982. (Credit: Richard Werthamer)

At a meeting in Exxon Corporation's headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black addressed an audience of powerful oilmen. Speaking without a text as he flipped through detailed slides, Black delivered a sobering message: carbon dioxide from the world's use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

"In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels," Black told Exxon's Management Committee, according to a written version he recorded later.

It was July 1977 when Exxon's leaders received this blunt assessment, well before most of the world had heard of the looming climate crisis.

A year later, Black, a top technical expert in Exxon's Research & Engineering division, took an updated version of his presentation to a broader audience. He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and as much as 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

"Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed," Black said, in the written summary of his 1978 talk.

His presentations reflected uncertainty running through scientific circles about the details of climate change, such as the role the oceans played in absorbing emissions. Still, Black estimated quick action was needed. "Present thinking," he wrote in the 1978 summary, "holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical."

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon's ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company's understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

This untold chapter in Exxon's history, when one of the world's largest energy companies worked to understand the damage caused by fossil fuels, stems from an eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News. ICN's reporters interviewed former Exxon employees, scientists, and federal officials, and consulted hundreds of pages of internal Exxon documents, many of them written between 1977 and 1986, during the heyday of Exxon's innovative climate research program. ICN combed through thousands of documents from archives including those held at the University of Texas-Austin, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The documents record budget requests, research priorities, and debates over findings, and reveal the arc of Exxon's internal attitudes and work on climate and how much attention the results received.

Of particular significance was a project launched in August 1979, when the company outfitted a supertanker with custom-made instruments. The project's mission was to sample carbon dioxide in the air and ocean along a route from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf.

In 1980, Exxon assembled a team of climate modelers who investigated fundamental questions about the climate's sensitivity to the buildup of carbon dioxide in the air. Working with university scientists and the U.S. Department of Energy, Exxon strove to be on the cutting edge of inquiry into what was then called the greenhouse effect.

Exxon's early determination to understand rising carbon dioxide levels grew out of a corporate culture of farsightedness, former employees said. They described a company that continuously examined risks to its bottom line, including environmental factors. In the 1970s, Exxon modeled its research division after Bell Labs, staffing it with highly accomplished scientists and engineers.

In written responses to questions about the history of its research, ExxonMobil spokesman Richard D. Keil said that "from the time that climate change first emerged as a topic for scientific study and analysis in the late 1970s, ExxonMobil has committed itself to scientific, fact-based analysis of this important issue."

"At all times," he said, "the opinions and conclusions of our scientists and researchers on this topic have been solidly within the mainstream of the consensus scientific opinion of the day and our work has been guided by an overarching principle to follow where the science leads. The risk of climate change is real and warrants action."

At the outset of its climate investigations almost four decades ago, many Exxon executives, middle managers and scientists armed themselves with a sense of urgency and mission.

One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his "grandiose thoughts" about Exxon's potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: "This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind."

His sentiment was echoed by Henry Shaw, the scientist leading the company's nascent carbon dioxide research effort.

"Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation," Shaw wrote to his boss Edward E. David, the president of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1978. "This team must be recognized for its excellence in the scientific community, the government, and internally by Exxon management."

Irreversible and Catastrophic

Exxon budgeted more than $1 million over three years for the tanker project to measure how quickly the oceans were taking in CO2. It was a small fraction of Exxon Research's annual $300 million budget, but the question the scientists tackled was one of the biggest uncertainties in climate science: how quickly could the deep oceans absorb atmospheric CO2? If Exxon could pinpoint the answer, it would know how long it had before CO2 accumulation in the atmosphere could force a transition away from fossil fuels.

Exxon also hired scientists and mathematicians to develop better climate models and publish research results in peer-reviewed journals. By 1982, the company's own scientists, collaborating with outside researchers, created rigorous climate models – computer programs that simulate the workings of the climate to assess the impact of emissions on global temperatures. They confirmed an emerging scientific consensus that warming could be even worse than Black had warned five years earlier.

EssoAtlantic.jpg
Esso Atlantic
Between 1979 and 1982, Exxon researchers sampled carbon dioxide levels aboard the company's Esso Atlantic tanker (shown here).

Exxon's research laid the groundwork for a 1982 corporate primer on carbon dioxide and climate change prepared by its environmental affairs office. Marked "not to be distributed externally," it contained information that "has been given wide circulation to Exxon management." In it, the company recognized, despite the many lingering unknowns, that heading off global warming "would require major reductions in fossil fuel combustion."

Unless that happened, "there are some potentially catastrophic events that must be considered," the primer said, citing independent experts. "Once the effects are measurable, they might not be reversible."

The Certainty of Uncertainty

Like others in the scientific community, Exxon researchers acknowledged the uncertainties surrounding many aspects of climate science, especially in the area of forecasting models. But they saw those uncertainties as questions they wanted to address, not an excuse to dismiss what was increasingly understood.

"Models are controversial," Roger Cohen, head of theoretical sciences at Exxon Corporate Research Laboratories, and his colleague, Richard Werthamer, senior technology advisor at Exxon Corporation, wrote in a May 1980 status report on Exxon's climate modeling program. "Therefore, there are research opportunities for us."

When Exxon's researchers confirmed information the company might find troubling, they did not sweep it under the rug.

"Over the past several years a clear scientific consensus has emerged," Cohen wrote in September 1982, reporting on Exxon's own analysis of climate models. It was that a doubling of the carbon dioxide blanket in the atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C (equal to 5 degrees Fahrenheit plus or minus 1.7 degrees F).

"There is unanimous agreement in the scientific community that a temperature increase of this magnitude would bring about significant changes in the earth's climate," he wrote, "including rainfall distribution and alterations in the biosphere."

He warned that publication of the company's conclusions might attract media attention because of the "connection between Exxon's major business and the role of fossil fuel combustion in contributing to the increase of atmospheric CO2."

Nevertheless, he recommended publication.

Our "ethical responsibility is to permit the publication of our research in the scientific literature," Cohen wrote. "Indeed, to do otherwise would be a breach of Exxon's public position and ethical credo on honesty and integrity."

Exxon followed his advice. Between 1983 and 1984, its researchers published their results in at least three peer-reviewed papers in Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences and an American Geophysical Union monograph.

David, the head of Exxon Research, told a global warming conference financed by Exxon in October 1982 that "few people doubt that the world has entered an energy transition away from dependence upon fossil fuels and toward some mix of renewable resources that will not pose problems of CO2 accumulation." The only question, he said, was how fast this would happen.

But the challenge did not daunt him. "I'm generally upbeat about the chances of coming through this most adventurous of all human experiments with the ecosystem," David said.

Exxon considered itself unique among corporations for its carbon dioxide and climate research. The company boasted in a January 1981 report, "Scoping Study on CO2," that no other company appeared to be conducting similar in-house research into carbon dioxide, and it swiftly gained a reputation among outsiders for genuine expertise.

"We are very pleased with Exxon's research intentions related to the CO2 question. This represents very responsible action, which we hope will serve as a model for research contributions from the corporate sector," said David Slade, manager of the federal government's carbon dioxide research program at the Energy Department, in a May 1979 letter to Shaw. "This is truly a national and international service."

Business Imperatives

In the early 1980s Exxon researchers often repeated that unbiased science would give it legitimacy in helping shape climate-related laws that would affect its profitability.

Still, corporate executives remained cautious about what they told Exxon's shareholders about global warming and the role petroleum played in causing it, a review of federal filings shows. The company did not elaborate on the carbon problem in annual reports filed with securities regulators during the height of its CO2 research.

Nor did it mention in those filings that concern over CO2 was beginning to influence business decisions it was facing.

Throughout the 1980s, the company was worried about developing an enormous gas field off the coast of Indonesia because of the vast amount of CO2 the unusual reservoir would release.

Exxon was also concerned about reports that synthetic oil made from coal, tar sands and oil shales could significantly boost CO2 emissions. The company was banking on synfuels to meet growing demand for energy in the future, in a world it believed was running out of conventional oil.

In the mid-1980s, after an unexpected oil glut caused prices to collapse, Exxon cut its staff deeply to save money, including many working on climate. But the climate change problem remained, and it was becoming a more prominent part of the political landscape.

"Global Warming Has Begun, Expert Tells Senate," declared the headline of a June 1988 New York Times article describing the Congressional testimony of NASA's James Hansen, a leading climate expert. Hansen's statements compelled Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.) to declare during the hearing that "Congress must begin to consider how we are going to slow or halt that warming trend."

With alarm bells suddenly ringing, Exxon started financing efforts to amplify doubt about the state of climate science.

Exxon helped to found and lead the Global Climate Coalition, an alliance of some of the world's largest companies seeking to halt government efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions. Exxon used the American Petroleum Institute, right-wing think tanks, campaign contributions and its own lobbying to push a narrative that climate science was too uncertain to necessitate cuts in fossil fuel emissions.

RICO

USA and China agree to significant actions on CO2:
"Both countries signed a "joint vision" ahead of December's UN climate summit in Paris, and China committed to a domestic "cap and trade" carbon exchange. China will also set aside US$3.1 billion ($4.85 billion) to help developing countries fight climate change.

"If the world's two largest economies, energy consumers and carbon emitters come together like this, then there is no reason for other countries, whether developed or developing, to not do so as well," Obama said.

Except for NZ as 11% Grosser says we'll be dragging out feet as long as possible, meanwhile let's make everything "voluntary" becoming the world's laughing stock in Paris. Kiwi sheepies follow him and 47% Key,