These days the oil industry is charged of being one of the main causes of global warming. Now it turns out that this fact had already been detected by some scientists but had been ignored. Benjamin Franta wrote it in a post (Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming) published in the prestigious magazine Nature Climate Change. The post makes reference to another article published in 1960 by the Tellus magazine, where, another scientist, Charles Keeling reported that the CO2 concentration at the North Pole was growing considerably. His measurements – started in 1957 – allowed him to start building the famous Keeling curve (NDR – The Keeling curve is the most concrete way of determining the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the years.) This concentration, which is constantly increasing, is mainly due to fossil fuel combustion. But there is more. Oil industry managers already knew that their products were increasing the air concentration of CO2 to a dangerous degree. So when the Scientific Advisory Committee informed the by then US President Lyndon Johnson, the API (American Petrolium Institute), an association of oil companies, warned its members (but not ordinary people) of the danger. Also other researchers carried out accurate research on the subject. For example the Geochemist Harrison Brown of the Californian Institute of Technology, who presented a research proposal to the API entitled “Determination of the variations and causes variations of the isotopic composition of carbon in nature”. The research team had already done preliminary work indicating that fossil fuels had caused an increase in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere of around 5% over the last century. Of course, not all the CO2 increase (10% in total) was due to fossil fuels, the rest was due to deforestation and land use changes. The API paid attention to this information and in 1955 proposed to Caltech to undertake a new research called Project 53. Thus, in 1959, the Physicist Edward Teller presented an organic document that warned about the increased danger of CO2 accumulation, global temperature growth and sea level rise. What had been anticipated in previous years was now definitively confirmed and supported by a great deal of scientific data. When this danger was brought to the attention of the US President Lyndon Johnson the oil industry recognised it as well. The same API Manager, Frank Icard, agreed that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere caused by the combustion of coal, oil and natural gases was occurring at such a rate that the heat balance would be modified to the extent of inducing climate changes. Despite his professional role, Icard did not contest the link between fossil fuels, CO2 and global warming, but he optimistically stated that there was still time to save the world from the catastrophic consequences of pollution. However, he added that time was running out. We’d like to stress that these statements were made in the mid-sixties. In summary, there is no doubt about the fact that the situation was already well known at top levels, however, it does not seem that the necessary measures were taken and above all that the public opinion was duly informed of the impending risks.
21 May 2019