American utilities were warned as far back as 1968 that fossil fuel emissions were warming the planet, according to a report this week by the U.S. Energy & Policy Institute.
The report “contains dozens of internal documents unearthed from the archives of utility industry associations that initially funded research into climate change, but later opposed efforts to stop it,” Huffington Post notes. “The research paints a picture of how the utility sector transformed from financier to foe of climate science at a critical point when carbon emissions could have been addressed.”
Institute researcher Dave Anderson pointed to “striking parallels” between utilities’ behaviour and revelations that Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell were aware of the climate impacts of their operations in 1977, but chose climate denial over climate action. “We can now show utilities knew about climate change as far back as the oil industry did,” he told HuffPost.
“By the 1970s and ’80s, the Edison Electric Institute and the industry-backed Electric Power Research Institute had sponsored cutting-edge climate research looking at the surge of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the rise in global temperatures, and the risk that melting polar ice caps would flood coastal cities,” notes HuffPost business and environment reporter Alexander C. Kaufman. “In 1988, the two organizations co-sponsored research into ‘the potential effects of climate change on electric utilities,’” with EPRI concluding that April that “climate changes possible over the next 30 years may significantly affect the electric utility industry.”
But the next year, investor-owned utilities signed on to the Global Climate Coalition, a successful industry effort that pressured then-president George W. Bush to withdraw the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol.
“The evidence suggests they were very much involved in the deliberate deception going on at that time,” said Anderson, who previously worked on Greenpeace’s #ExxonKnew campaign.
Kaufman leads his report with a 1968 citation from a presentation by Donald F. Hornig, a senior science advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson, to the Edison Electric Institute’s annual meeting. “Carbon dioxide is not toxic, but it is the chief heat-absorbing component of the atmosphere,” the Institute newsletter stated. “Such a change in the carbon dioxide level might, therefore, produce major consequences on the climate―possibly even triggering catastrophic effects such as have occurred from time to time in the past.”