Where global warming’s paper trail leads

(Eco Business, 14 Sep 2018) Confidential reports dating back to the 1980s show that climate change was predicted decades ago by the very companies responsible for causing it. Who has the right to foresee such damage and then choose to fulfill the prophecy, asks Benjamin Franta.

One day in 1961, an American economist named Daniel Ellsberg stumbled across a piece of paper with apocalyptic implications. Ellsberg, who was advising the US government on its secret nuclear-war plans, had discovered a document that contained an official estimate of the death toll in a preemptive “first strike” on China and the Soviet Union: approximately 300 million in those countries, and double that globally.

Ellsberg was troubled that such a plan existed; years later, he tried to leak the details of nuclear annihilation to the public. Although this attempt failed, Ellsberg would later become famous for leaking what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers—the US government’s secret history of its military intervention in Vietnam.

America’s amoral military planning during the Cold War echoes the hubris exhibited by another cast of characters gambling with the fate of humanity. Recently, secret documents have been unearthed detailing what the energy industry knew about the links between their products and global warming. But, unlike the government’s nuclear plans, what the industry detailed was put into action.

In the 1980s, oil companies like Exxon and Shell carried out internal assessments of the carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels, and forecast the planetary consequences of these emissions. In 1982, for example, Exxon predicted that by about 2090, CO2 levels would double relative to the 1800s, and that this, according to the best science at the time, would push the planet’s average temperatures up by about 3°C.

Later that decade, in 1988, an internal report by Shell projected similar effects, but also found that CO2 could double even earlier, by 2030. Privately, these companies did not dispute the links between their products, global warming, and ecological calamity. On the contrary, their research confirmed the connections.

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Eco Business, 14 Sep 2018: Where global warming’s paper trail leads