The American oil industry was first warned about the dangers of carbon dioxide emissions as far back as November 1959, when high-profile nuclear physicist Edward Teller gave a talk in New York City, according to Benjamin Franta, a PhD student in the history of science at Stanford University.
The years that followed saw a persistent “conspiracy of silence, deceit, and obstruction,” writes The Guardian.
Teller had been invited to speak about “energy in the future” at the quaintly-titled Energy and Man symposium in New York, where he issued a stark caution about a “strange property” of carbon dioxide.
“Its presence in the atmosphere causes a greenhouse effect,” Teller said. “It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10% increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. All the coastal cities would be covered, and since a considerable percentage of the human race lives in coastal regions, I think that this chemical contamination is more serious than most people tend to believe.”
“And so, at its hundredth birthday party,” Franta noted, “American oil was warned of its civilization-destroying potential.”
Nearly a decade later, in 1968, “the American Petroleum Institute quietly received a report on air pollution it had commissioned from the Stanford Research Institute,” he added. “Significant temperature changes are almost certain to occur by the year 2000, and these could bring about climatic changes,” it warned. “Pollutants which we generally ignore because they have little local effect, CO2 and submicron particles, may be the cause of serious world-wide environmental changes.”
So it was with full and decades-old knowledge of climate science that American fossils spent the next 50 years “attacking the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and fighting climate policies wherever they arose,” Franta writes. “This is a history of choices made, paths not taken, and the fall from grace of one of the greatest enterprises…ever to tread the earth. Whether it’s also a history of redemption, however partial, remains to be seen.”