New Documents Reveal Oil Industry Knew of Climate Risks Decades Earlier Than Suspected; Suggest Coordinated Efforts to Foster Skepticism

For Immediate Release


Carroll Muffett, President:, 202.742.5772
Amanda Kistler, Communications Manager:, 202.742.5832

New Documents Reveal Oil Industry Knew of Climate Risks Decades Earlier Than Suspected; Suggest Coordinated Efforts to Foster Skepticism

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of documents uncovered by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) push back the record of oil industry knowledge on climate change by decades.

The research demonstrates that the oil industry was explicitly warned of climate risks in the 1960s. Significantly, much of this research was carried out as part of a broader industry effort—dating from the 1940s—to use industry-funded research to spur public skepticism of pollution science and environmental regulations.

“We began with three simple, related questions,” says Carroll Muffett, President of CIEL. “What did they know? When did they know it? And what did they do about it? What we found is that they knew a great deal, and they knew it much earlier and with greater certainty than anyone has recognized or that the industry has admitted.”

In 1968, a report commissioned by the oil industry detailed rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and warned of potentially catastrophic climate risks. It warned of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, impacts to fisheries and agriculture, and potentially serious degradation of the environment on a worldwide scale.

According to Muffett, ”CIEL’s findings add to the growing body of evidence that the oil industry worked to actively undermine public confidence in climate science and in the need for climate action even as its own knowledge of climate risks was growing.”

Through industry histories and other documents, CIEL traced the genesis of the industry’s collective climate research to a meeting of oil and gas industry executives in Los Angeles in late 1946. Faced with growing public concern about air pollution, the industry embarked on what would become a well-funded, carefully coordinated, multi-decade enterprise of funding scientific research into air pollution issues. Through its aptly-named Smoke and Fumes Committee, the industry not only funded research, but used it to promote public skepticism of environmental science and environmental regulations the industry considered hasty, costly, and potentially unnecessary.

In the decades that followed, the Smoke and Fumes Committee funded massive levels of research into an array of air pollution issues, often conducted by institutes fostered and governed by the oil companies themselves. By the mid-1950s at the very latest, climate change was one of those issues.

The documents also show how Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil) scientists actively engaged on climate science in the company’s name beginning in the 1950s, even as they actively funded and published research into alternate theories of global warming.

“These documents are the tip of an evidentiary iceberg that demands further investigation,” says Muffett. “Oil companies had an early opportunity to acknowledge climate science and climate risks, and to enable consumers to make informed choices. They chose a different path. The public deserves to know why.”

To view the research and document excerpts visit:


Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has worked to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

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