Giant U.S. automakers General Motors and Ford “knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change,” but spent decades lobbying against international action to reduce emissions and U.S. regulations requiring cleaner vehicles, E&E News revealed last week in an exclusive report.
“Researchers at both automakers found strong evidence in the 1960s and ’70s that human activity was warming the Earth,” and “a primary culprit was the burning of fossil fuels,” E&E writes. “A GM scientist presented her findings to at least three high-level executives at the company, including a former chairman and CEO.”
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But for decades after that, “both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs. At the same time, the two carmakers privately donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups that cast doubt on the scientific consensus on global warming.”
More than 50 years later, “the transportation sector is the leading source of planet-warming pollution in the United States. Cars and trucks account for the bulk of those emissions.”
In the course of her nearly five-month investigation, E&E reporter Maxine Joselow conducted more than two dozen interviews, gathered hundreds of pages of documents, and found “striking parallels between two of the country’s biggest automakers and Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas companies,” she writes. #ExxonKnew became a common hashtag after InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times revealed in 2015 that the colossal fossil understood the science of climate change in the late 1970s, but chose to promote climate denial rather than action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The E&E investigation shows that GM and Ford were “deeply and actively engaged” in understanding their vehicles’ impacts on the climate, said Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, which provided some of the documentation in Joselow’s investigation. “We also know that certainly by the 1980s and 1990s, the auto industry was involved in efforts to undermine climate science and stop progress to address climate change,” he added, even though “a different path was available.”
Ford and GM both responded to E&E’s explosive reporting by pointing to the steps they’re taking today to electrify their fleets and reduce emissions. “There is nothing we can say about events that happened one or two generations ago since they are irrelevant to the company’s positions and strategy today,” a GM spokesperson said.
Read the first part of E&E’s two-part exposé here. Then click through for the sequel.
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