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Exxon Mobil contributed to growing skepticism about the science behind climate change research, study shows. Photo: Flickr

Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, made “explicit factual misrepresentations” about the dangers of climate change for 40 years, while simultaneously acknowledging the risks behind closed doors, a new Harvard University study finds.

Two Harvard researchers analyzed nearly 200 documents from Exxon Mobil related to the company’s views on climate change for the peer-reviewed study, which was published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Our findings are clear: Exxon Mobil misled the public about the state of climate science and its implications,” study authors Naomi Oreskes and Geoffrey Supran wrote in a New York Times op-ed published this week. “Available documents show a systematic, quantifiable discrepancy between what Exxon Mobil’s scientists and executives discussed about climate change in private and in academic circles, and what it presented to the general public.”

The researchers found Exxon Mobil acknowledged that climate change is real and caused by humans in 83 percent of peer-reviewed papers and 80 percent of internal documents, yet 81 percent of ads the company ran in the New York Times from 1989 to 2004 questioned the clarity of climate change science.

 

Exxon Mobil called the research “inaccurate and preposterous” in a statement to CNN.

"The study was paid for, written and published by activists leading a five-year campaign against the company," the statement reads.

The Harvard report was funded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, which has funded other efforts to reveal discrepancies in what Exxon knew about climate change and what it publicly disclosed.

"The study claims that Exxon Mobil advertorials in the New York Times cast doubt on climate science, which is the researchers' opinion and not supported by fact," the company.

Researchers claim studies funded by Exxon Mobil acknowledged the “discernible human influence on global climate” and the “potentially catastrophic events” that could trigger melting Antarctic ice and the bleaching of coral reefs, the public face of the company continued to eschew blame.

A March 2000 advertorial by Exxon said, "Knowing that weather forecasts are reliable for a few days at best, we should recognize the enormous challenge facing scientists seeking to predict climate change and its impact over the next century."

Supran and Oreskes said they said they were inspired to study what Exxon Mobil knew about climate change following investigations by Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times that alleged the company could be to blame for widespread skepticism about climate science.

"We conclude that ExxonMobil contributed to advancing climate science — by way of its scientists' academic publications — but promoted doubt about it in advertorials. Given this discrepancy, we conclude that Exxon Mobil misled the public," the researchers wrote.