This is a story about how the world’s most powerful industry used science, communications, and consumer psychology to shape the public debate over climate change. And it begins earlier—decades earlier—than anyone suspected.
Explore our documents and discover what they knew, when they knew it, and how they collaborated to confuse the public, promote scientific theories that contradicted their own best information, and block action on the most important challenge of our time.
WHAT THEY KNEW AND WHEN
When do we hold someone responsible for a harm? What if the harm is climate change?
In determining responsibility for a harm, courts are likely to ask: Did they have the capacity to foresee the harm? And, did they have the opportunity to avoid or reduce it? For example, by warning others.
Growing public evidence demonstrates that Exxon and other oil companies understood climate risks by the 1980s, yet spent millions to sow uncertainty and misinformation about climate science.
The documents that follow—industry histories, scientific articles, oral testimonies, patents—span more than half a century of industry research and industry action. They offer compelling evidence that oil executives were actively debating climate science in the 1950s, and were explicitly warned about climate risks a decade later. Just as importantly, they offer glimpses into why the industry undertook this research, and how it used the results to sow scientific uncertainty and public skepticism.