Anti-energy activists on Twitter are circulating a letter-to-the-editor published in the journal Nature which claims to show that the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry trade group, was informed of the existence of climate change in 1965. 350.org’s Jamie Henn described the news as “criminal” and “immoral,” while Politico suggested the revelation may spawn a new front in the #ExxonKnew campaign: #APIKnew.
But in rushing to share this letter, activists and reporters forgot that they’ve tried this before – and failed spectacularly.
Déjà vu, all over again
In April 2016 the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) published a directory of industry documents as part of its support for the #ExxonKnew Campaign. According to CIEL, “In 1968, a report commissioned by the oil industry detailed rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and warned of potentially catastrophic climate risks.” CIEL would issue new press releases in May and July of that same year, though they were ultimately unable to attract much attention.
Now activists hope to make a bigger splash with a document from 1965, three years prior to their previously touted report. But the document they cite, API president Frank Ikard’s speech at the group’s 1965 annual meeting, is not a characterization of the energy industry’s internal understanding of climate change. No: Ikard was instead relaying the findings of President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee’s report, which had been published three days prior. Ikard, it would seem, was telling his members about something many of them had already likely seen reported on in the news. Imagine that!
As InsideClimate News wrote in 2016: “By the 1960s, the CO2 problem was gaining wider scientific recognition, especially as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s science advisers and leading experts brought it to the attention of the White House in 1965.” VICE News, in its reporting on CIEL’s 2016 announcement, wrote:
“Well before the [1968 report commissioned by API], popular media discussed the likely effects of carbon emissions in terms that will be familiar to today’s audience. In 1956, Time magazine noted that ‘in 50 years or so,’ a CO2 buildup ‘may have a violent effect on the earth’s climate.’ A 1958 science film produced by Bell Labs and Hollywood legend Frank Capra talked about possible melting of the polar ice caps if global temperatures rise ‘even a few degrees.’”
Author Has Ties to #ExxonKnew Campaign
The author of the letter in Nature, Benjamin Franta, has strong ties to the anti-fossil fuel activist campaign. The research supporting his letter was funded by the Center for Climate Integrity (CCI), which is a project of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD). CCI was launched in 2017 by activist Richard Wiles to support “meritorious climate cases aimed at holding fossil fuel companies and other climate polluters liable for the damages they have caused.” Richard Wiles is also the publisher of Climate Liability News, a dark-money “news” site launched in 2017 to promote those climate lawsuits.
In addition to funding Franta’s research, IGSD also recently published a podcast called Drilled, which invites listeners to join them as they “uncover” how the energy industry allegedly “created climate denial and made it viral.” CCI is also funding an activist campaign, Pay Up Climate Polluters, which is pressuring cities like Miami Beach and Houston to file climate liability lawsuits against the energy industry.
Benjamin Franta is no objective researcher, either. Earlier this year he flew to the United Kingdom to give a presentation as part of a panel on “Mobilization for and against fossil fuel development.” You’ll never guess which side of the debate he’s on:
“My name is Ben Franta and I’m from Stanford and I’m a PhD student in the history department there and I’m also a JD student at the law school there. I’m going to talk to you today about both of those things. So, I called it ‘Taking on Big Oil,’ but I really want to call it ‘Kicking Big Oil’s Ass’ – that’s what this talk is about and using history and law and lawsuits. Let’s get started.” (emphasis added)