Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

For Immediate Release

Contact

Cate Bonacini, Center for International Environmental Law, cbonacini (at) ciel.org, +1-(202)-742-5847

Press Release

Ford & GM Knew, Too: New Documents Show Major Car Companies Understood the Link Fossil Fuels Could Affect Climate a Half-Century Ago

WASHINGTON -

A new investigative report published today in Energy & Environment News reveals that leading US auto companies were on notice of links between climate change and fossil fuels by the late 1950s and actively conducting climate-relevant research nearly a half-century ago. The report couples research and interviews by journalist Maxine Joselow with historical documents unearthed by E&E and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and Climate Investigations Center.

“The investigation demonstrates auto companies were aware of emerging climate science and on notice of potential climate risks decades earlier than was previously recognized,” said CIEL President Carroll Muffett.

  • In a 1956 letter, Ford scientist Gilbert Plass rejected the idea that excess warming from burning fossil fuels poses “little danger to the Earth,” observing that burning known reserves of fossil fuels would raise global temperatures by 7⁰C.
  • In multiple articles written while at Ford, Plass detailed the science linking fossil fuel combustion to the planetary “greenhouse effect.”
  • Ford continued an active program of climate-relevant research into the 1970s and beyond.
  • General Motors employed its own climate scientists from the early 1970s, with a research focus on establishing competing theories of global warming.
  • In testimony to Congress in 1967, a Ford executive argued against federal investments in electric vehicle research, arguing that industry was actively developing EV technology and would be ready to bring electric cars to market within a decade.

“Like the oil industry, leading car companies had early notice that the carbon dioxide emitted by their automotive products posed potential risks for the climate at a planetary scale,” said Muffett. “Ford and GM had both the opportunity and the responsibility to design products that would reduce emissions, and warn the public of risks that couldn’t be eliminated. Instead, they spent decades denying climate science and obstructing climate action.”

Research into auto industry awareness is at an early stage compared to the extensive evidence regarding oil companies. But one essential element of the story is now clear, Muffett noted.

“Like the major oil and gas companies, leading car companies took a calculated risk that they--and the world--could delay action to address the drivers of climate change.  We are all paying for that gamble.”

###

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.

'We Need Action': Biden, Democrats Urged to Protect Abortion Access in Post-Roe US

"The Supreme Court doesn't get the final say on abortion," Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith wrote in a new op-ed.

Kenny Stancil ·


Motorist 'Tried to Murder' Abortion Rights Advocates at Iowa Protest, Witnesses Say

Although one witness said the driver went "out of his way" to hit pro-choice protestors in the street, Cedar Rapids police declined to make an arrest.

Kenny Stancil ·


'A Hate Crime': Oslo Pride Parade Canceled After Deadly Shooting at Gay Bar

A 42-year-old gunman has been charged with terrorism following what Norway's prime minister called a "terrible and deeply shocking attack on innocent people."

Kenny Stancil ·


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·


80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo