Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming?

evil The world is clearly desperate for information on this topic, because a minor and rather unimportant letter on the subject makes Nurture (to me via Twitter; actually maybe it's only NatureClimateChange, possibly in lower case, I find it hard to keep up). The author, one Franta, came to my attention with similar stuff earlier: On its hundredth birthday in 1959, Edward Teller warned the oil industry about global warming? I find this disturbing, because I think people are jumping on this rather foolish bandwagon under a kind of group illusion that because other people publish drivel, they should too (and this isn't free; it distracts from reality); see-also The oil industry knew about climate change long before the American public did? You can hear the salivating in These archival discoveries add to the growing body of information regarding  fossil fuel producers’ knowledge of climate science over time12. Such information  may assist in understanding the history of climate policy efforts and assessing  the responsibilities of fossil fuel  producers today. FFS, that ref 12 is not to any scholarly article, it's to Exxon: the road not taken by InsideClimateNews. Terribly nice people I'm sure, but their entire series was broken, as I may have mentioned more than once before.


UN environment chief Erik Solheim quits amid expenses row.


Russell Seitz said...

If they keep digging, they may fall asleep before the jury does


CapitalistImperialistPig said...

The accusation is not just that the oil industry knew of CO2 and global warming, it's that in response it undertook a large scale and highly successful disinformation campaign. I find it interesting that you seemingly always neglect to include this important point. I don't find much space between you and the hard core denialists.

William Connolley said...

> in response it undertook a large scale and highly successful disinformation campaign

That doesn't seem terribly relevant to today's news. AFAIK all this stuff predates any of that. As to the more general point, I'm not convinced. As I've said before, the disinformation campaign succeeded because those it was addressed to wanted an excuse; I rather doubt things would have been all that different without it.

> I don't find much space between you and the hard core denialists.

Now you're being stupid and unthinking.

Phil Hays said...

Large scale and highly successful disinformation campaign is terribly relevant. Still active, read today's news.


Or Timmy, for that matter. He wants to replace the things we are doing that have at least a chance of working with a almost completely symbolic carbon tax far too small to have any real impact on people's actions. And far too small to equal the likely damage of the CO2 released.

Subsidizing small scale production of solar power has the potential of changing the way we produce power. When solar was ~0.1% of the market, a subsidy had 1000 times the impact of a tax. Taxes make more sense when alternatives are similar in size to the old way.

Or similar with electric cars. Current market share in the USA is about 2%, so a subsidy is about 50 times more efficient than a carbon tax in changing people's car buying behavior.

A tax isn't a bad idea, just not efficient at the current technological mix.

William Connolley said...

As you know, I don't believe your assertion that a carbon tax (and / or at the level that Timmy suggests, which I notice you don't specify) would be largely symbolic. I also think that subsidising "small scale" solar - at this stage certainly - is a bad idea.

> a subsidy had 1000 times the impact of a tax

I don't think you've thought that through. It just doesn't make sense, considering the economy as a whole.

Russell Seitz said...

William , my link above linketh not. For you to fix it woud be cause for Thanksgiving

Everett F Sargent said...

"Large scale and highly successful disinformation campaign is terribly relevant."

Define "so called" large scale in terms of GDP.
Define "so called" highly successful in terms of GDP.

Or there other real underlying reasons that we will continue to be predominately FF drug users? I think there is at least one real reason and that reason is called procrastination.

I would suggest that you impose RCP 2.6 circa 1970 (or circa 1960 or circa 1950 as that would appear to cover the FF interests doing the "so called" old switcheroo). I'm thinking something worst then the "so called" Great Depression> But you do need to run those numbers, not I.

Funny thing is, I don't remember either a "so called" large scale or "so called" highly successful anything from FF interests in the 1750-2018 era. Saying something is so does not make that something so, it is called finger pointing or the blame game, people blaming people. You are as much to blame as any other human that has ever walked this Earth. You all really do need to get over that basic fact ASAP. But in the meantime finding stuff like the FF Bible does make for some really good conspiracy theories.

Wait, what, you haven't found the FF Bible (e. g. Dead Sea Scrolls) yet? I have a copy and it is a 1st edition dated 1950, its FF New Testament was added by API that year.

I do remember the FF drug users as being incredibly lazy though. I do expect their continued laziness at least through 2100. The FF drug users still build their houses 10X larger than similar 3rd world housing. The FF drug users still buy transportation 10X larger than similar 3rd world transportation.

The 3rd world aspires to be lazy too. Whodathunk?

William Connolley said...

> Thanksgiving

Yeah, you need to get out of the steampunk era :-). I can't edit comments here, but happily I've already linked to your post in the "refs".

Phil Hays said...

Think it through? Good idea. Do so.

Let us agree on where we are going:
Minimize the size and cost of government as a goal.
Convert the economy to an energy source that doesn't destroy the civilization over the very long term as the requirement.

Potential alternative technology list is short. Solar, nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Wind has climate change problems of its own when installed at a high enough level to power a large fraction of the economy, biomass is far too limited in quantity, hydro is nice but very limited in quantity, tidal, OTEC etc etc. Did I miss any?

Nuclear fission has it's own problems. A road I'm not going to discuss.

Nuclear fusion is a research project.

So looks like the only likely realistic alternative is solar. Sure, we can fiddle on the margins with converting coal power to more efficient and cheaper natural gas power and such what...


If Swanson's law can not reduce the cost of solar below the total cost of fossil fuels, then the best alternative is to enjoy civilization as for long as it lasts. Enjoy civilization while we burn fossil fuels, the burning ending only when civilization ends. Perhaps with a carbon tax to increase the time available. Sad, eh?

Making the assumption that Swanson's law will eventually reduce the cost of solar below the real cost of fossil fuels, then the best alternative is to convert to solar.

Other technologies are also needed, and they have a similar cost curve vs production rate. Batteries for electric cars, boats and planes. Hydrogen for rockets. Flow batteries for seasonal storage. All needed, and more.


A carbon tax does not provide for the incentives to develop technologies that will not be profitable for decades even with the carbon tax. Cue up past objection that Amazon isn't profitable and investors love it. Amazon is building a monopoly position in Internet retailing, and is spending profits at the rate generated in growth to that end. Solar cell manufacturing isn't a likely monopoly and could not be profitable without subsidies in the past, and perhaps even with a realistic carbon tax at the current time. Unlike Amazon, which could have been a very profitable Internet book company starting twenty years ago.

What tax rate would be needed to move solar from 1 MW installed to 405 GW (2017's total) installed? Any tax rate below that needed to cause a change is symbolic. The needed subsidies, as a fraction of GNP are far lower in economic cost. And yes, turning down the thermostat is mostly symbolic. How big would the government need to be, as a fraction of GNP to collect and distribute that much tax revenue?

The future is not the same as the past. Once solar power becomes a large fraction power installed, then carbon taxes become more efficient. You are not wrong, only too early. Another decade of subsidies for solar, assuming continuing explosive growth, than I'll switch to suggesting carbon markets or carbon taxes. Subsidies for other technologies might have shorter or longer switch dates...

Timmy has suggested "$80 per tonne CO2-e" or about $20 per tonne carbon. Mostly symbolic. Would be about correct Pigovian tax, if we mostly stop burning fossil fuels sometime next week, unlikely. $100 per tonne carbon would be more realistic, with optimistic assumptions, such as warming limited to 2 C. Pessimist assumptions lead to as high as $2000 per tonne. Most existing carbon prices are below $20 per tonne carbon. $20 per tonne carbon might be politically realistic. Maybe. Political realism of $2000 per tonne? Not unless the vast majority of the economy has already stopped using fossil fuels.

William Connolley said...

> The needed subsidies, as a fraction of GNP are far lower in economic cost.

Whoa. It was all going great until you slipped that in, without the slightest attempt to justify it. Never mind, new post coming...

Phil Hays said...

> without the slightest attempt to justify it.

Other than this suggestion, which you seem to have skipped over.

> What tax rate would be needed to move solar from 1 MW installed to 405 GW (2017's total) installed?

Which might answer Timmy's question as well.

Let's look through some of the possibilities:

{1}The historical case, where the demand from subsidized use of solar cells drives rapid reduction in cost. Documented lots of places.

{2}Solar cells, without any subsidy, might have slowly increased in volume and decreased in price.

There is some overlap with the computer chip business, so even without investment or subsidies, the discarded wafers from chip manufacturing would have been recycled into solar cells at a steadily increasing volume and thus a steadily reducing cost. There are applications that make sense with $100 per watt solar cells: remote powered installations and such. As the cost decreases, the application space increases, yet the supply is limited to the size of the waste stream. Reducing costs, increasing demand and a limitation of supply might have eventually driven investment into improving technology. So there is at least a change that without any carbon taxes or subsidies, the solar cell business might have exploded in volume, much as in case 1. Just later, and slower.

{3}Solar cells without any subsidy might have hit a limit. At the level of production, there might have been a limiting point where there just wasn't enough demand at the current cost to justify any investment in improving technology. Solar cells might have stayed as just recycled computer waste. We will never know if this would have happened.

{4}A carbon tax rather than subsidy was implemented in 1974. With any realistic tax rate, this would look almost exactly like cases 2 and 3 above until the tax and subsidy per unit of energy produced are roughly equal. You might, of course, think about the tax rate needed to have a similar impact to subsidies say back in the 1970s when subsidies of alternative energy in the USA got started...Hint.

The taxes would be collected from everyone but the solar producers, and the subsidies are paid only to the solar producers. Note that solar is currently roughly 1% of the world's energy. The size of a carbon tax needed to match the market impact of current subsidies would be about the same as the ratio of solar to fossil energy: about 100 times higher. You want a 100 times larger government involvement? Notice I say "about" rather than exactly. Carbon price (from a tax or a market) is more efficient than a subsidy. Just not 100 times more efficient. The impact ratio between subsidies and taxes was far higher in the past, as both production volume of solar cells was orders of magnitude lower and production cost of solar cells was orders of magnitude higher.

The future, of course, is different.

William Connolley said...

> What tax rate

Are you talking about starting from now, or from some point in the past? If from now, I think the answer is "not much". Maybe $20 / tonne. Certainly the $80 rate which you consider symbolic should do it.

Your part (1) conclusion contradicts the results of this paper (if, as I read it, your conclusion is that the vast majority of the "drive" comes from subsidised use). So adding refs would make it more convincing. I'm not convinced by your (4) and don't understand why you find it so convincing or obvious.

I don't think your calculation of ~100 factor in the carbon tax rate needed makes sense.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

WC - As I've said before, the disinformation campaign succeeded because those it was addressed to wanted an excuse; I rather doubt things would have been all that different without it.

As you have done before, you ignore how important those public "excuses" are to actions. A case where there is more confirmatory data is the ascendancy of Trump, and the corresponding rise of neo-Nazis and related hate crimes. Keynes noted that "the madman raving on the street corner" distills his fury from the writings of some defunct economist. The policy pronouncements of the Heritage Foundation and its oil funded ilk are similarly read like the Bible by the kind of ardent denialists who populate the letters columns of local newspapers.

You judge me stupid and unthinking (for seeing a resemblance between you and denial central). I have a slightly more nuanced view of you: systematically blind to facts that don't fit your narrative. That, in my opinion, is exactly the problem of the many clever denialists I have debated.

William Connolley said...

> You judge me stupid and unthinking

Except you didn't say "resemblance". You said "I don't find much space between...". That was unthinking. I can point to many, that should be bleedin' obvious even to you (starting with them being unable to write things like this). As to blind; I doubt it. I can see these "facts" (in this case, it isn't clear what "facts" you are referring to) I just don't agree with you.

I think you give too much importance to Trump; he is a symptom, not a cause. Just as with the oil companies, the USAnian people are not a bunch of children lead astray by evildoers; they are entirely complicit; don't make excuses for them.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Of course Americans (like Brits, and others everywhere) are a bunch of children led astray, whether by evildoers (like Exxonmobil) or others equally astray. I think that you are led astray by some sort of "rational animal" delusion. Most people are less capable of understanding the reasoning and evidence for AGW than the average fifth grader.

If you care, what I meant by my not "much space" remark is that you, like the denialists that I know, spend a lot of time and effort denigrating those who warn about the consequences of climate change, or, as in this case, trace the ways that so many have been led to believe that AGW is a scientifically controversial topic.

Phil Hays said...

A $80 per tonne doesn't have a large impact on the purchase of a higher end car, and the higher end of the market is mostly where electric cars compete most evenly today.

By this paper did you mean (thanks to cce)


If so, I'd say that this paper supports my conclusions. "Market-stimulating policies have played a central role in driving down the costs of PV modules," quoted from that paper, nicely covers it.

Sole role? Fishy, as in red herring.

A central role. Not minor, not sole.

$20 or $80 tonne of carbon, carefully not per tonne of carbon dioxide as Timmy likes to say, would have a smaller impact than the existing subsidies for electric cars, and would have a much larger impact on the size of government revenue and spending than the existing subsidies.

Fuel cost isn't a huge decider for what people drive, and wouldn't be even if the USA taxed gasoline at European levels. For USA average of 15,000 miles per year, at 20 miles per gallon, about 750 gallons is used. Total cost of ownership of a 2018 Chevrolet Suburban LS would be around $12,000 per year. For a carbon tax to be more than a rounding error in the cost, it would need to be comparable to the total cost of ownership. Total cost divided by the amount of fuel used is about $16 per gallon. Adding $0.18 or $0.72, same as $20 or $80 per tonne wouldn't be enough for people to notice and change. 4.5% at most?


A tax rebate for electric cars, however was politically possible, and is still in place. Less in total cost, as electric cars are only 2% of sales this year, and only doubling every couple of years.

Current US Federal $7,500 tax credit for purchase of an electric car narrows the difference in total cost of ownership.


And of course this isn't an exact apples to apples comparison... Feel free to change as per your taste. And there are also state rebates, tax credits and other actions like lane access.

How high would the fuel tax need to be to make the same economic impact as the US federal rebate? I work out about 4166 gallons of gasoline for the Suburban over 5 years, tax of $1.80 per gallon same as $200 per tonne of carbon same dollar impact as $7500 rebate. Ignores second order stuff like the impact of tax on deprecation and probably a few other things.

Total cost of the rebate is $7500 per electric car sold, roughly 2% of the total market of 11 million cars. $1.6 billion. Still a rounding error on the Federal budget, and close to the peak value as Tesla and GM are getting close to running out of available rebates.

Total collected by a $200 per tonne carbon tax on gasoline would be 143 billion gallons of motor gasoline times $1.80 per gallon would be $257 billion, still a small fraction of the $4.4 trillion dollar Federal budget.

$257 billion is more than one hundred times $1.6 billion.

Phil Hays said...

Oh, and interesting. The CBO in 2012 seemed to think that a total of about 270,000 electric cars would sell between 2012 and 2020.


And this year so far, how many sales of electric cars?


Amusing, eh?

Phil Hays said...

Oh, and my rough calculation of carbon tax on gasoline failed to include the ethanol included. Also didn't consider diesel.


Phil Hays said...

Also, my rough calculation as to number of electric cars sold might have been right a few months ago.


Total cost this year is likely to be closer to 2.4 billion.

$257 billion is close to one hundred times $2.4 billion.

Anonymous said...

So on an at best shoestring budget decades ago, oil company climate science departments 'knew' what today's massive state-funded climate science suspects ? That is deep faith.