U.S. Fossil Lobbyist Says ‘Time is Running Out’ on Climate Action—in 1965
The journal Nature is carrying excerpts of a speech by the president of the American Petroleum Institute (API), warning that “time is running out” to “save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution”—as of 1965.
“This report unquestionably will fan emotions, raise fears, and bring demand for action,” Frank Ikard told an oil industry conference, referring to Restoring the Quality of Our Environment, a report by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee.
Like this story? Subscribe to The Energy Mix and never miss an edition of our free e-digest.
“The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out,” Ikard said. “One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the Earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts.”
Nature says the government report was “based in part on information that was known to the oil industry trade group for over a decade—including research that was directly funded by the API,” DeSmog Blog reports. The early evidence included:
- A 1954 estimate by a California Institute of Technology geochemist that fossil fuel burning had already boosted atmospheric carbon dioxide levels 5% since 1854—in a research proposal the API accepted and agreed to fund;
- Nuclear physicist Edward Teller’s warning in 1959 that the presence of atmospheric carbon dioxide would cause a “greenhouse effect”;
- Research by Humble Oil, a precursor of today’s ExxonMobil, that validated the unpublished Caltech results against a study of carbon isotopes in tree rings;
- Charles Keeling’s publication of his famous “Keeling curve” in 1960, showing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 315 parts per million and rising. (Most recently, they’ve been measured at 405.5 ppm.)
Three decades later, DeSmog notes, a leaked API communications plan took a decidedly different tack. “It’s not known for sure whether (a) climate change actually is occurring, or (b) if it is, whether humans really have any influence on it,” the fossil lobby group wrote.
“It’s worth noting that since 1965, the science connecting climate change to fossil fuels has grown stronger and more robust. A scientific consensus around the hazards of climate change and the role that fossil fuels play in causing it has formed,” DeSmog notes. But “today, the API continues to call for further research on climate change—and expanding the use of fossil fuels in the meantime.”
When the DeSmog story hit (virtual) press time last Tuesday, the API had not responded to a request for comment.