Investigative journalists have found evidence that the oil industry has been aware since the late 1970s of the potential for its fossil fuel products to cause global warming with severe environmental consequences by 2050. Additional documents revealed that significant US oil and gas trade associations, the coal industry, electric utilities, oil companies, GM, and Ford had known about this since the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Scholars and journalists have extensively analyzed these documents, providing qualitative accounts of how fossil fuel interests understood climate science and its implications. 

Investigations reveal that Shell accurately predicted global warming in private and academic circles since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Exxon's internal documents and peer-reviewed studies by oil company scientists overwhelmingly recognized climate change as accurate and human-caused.

The oil industry didn't just have a vague understanding of global warming decades ago—they were as knowledgeable as academic and government scientists. However, while scientists worked to communicate their findings, oil executives worked to deny them. They exaggerated uncertainties, undermined climate models, promoted the myth of global cooling, pretended to be ignorant about human-caused warming, and ignored the possibility of stranded fossil fuel assets in a carbon-constrained world.

Internal documents reveal that Shell chose not to address the risks they internally recognized, instead embracing uncertainty in science. Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy and chief climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated that Shell's solution was to advocate for more oil and gas rather than investing in alternative forms of energy as suggested by the internal documents. 1

1. E&E News & Waldman, S. (2018, April 5). Shell Grappled with Climate Change 20 Years Ago, Documents Show, Scientific American.
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