Rahmstorf joins the Dork Side

PXL_20230105_142338298 There's yet another shot fired in the #exxonknew culture wars, with Assessing ExxonMobil’s global warming projections by the usual suspects of Supran and Oreskes, but - regrettably - adding new boy Rahmstorf endorsing this idiocy1. The material appears dull - these are the same kind of early dox we already know about - with the spin that they're assessing the projections. So, see Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil’s Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action? and friends for context.

To make sure you're in the mood, and to try their best to avoid you reading this stuff neutrally, the piece is sub-titled "Insider knowledge"; yes, that's right, those evil fossil fuel companies were secretly publishing their results in the scientific literature, which no-one reads. Cunning or what.

Otherwise, the contention is "in private and academic circles since the late 1970s and early 1980s, ExxonMobil predicted global warming correctly and skillfully" (my bold). Per Who knew what when?, I don't find that at all persuasive: by IPCC 1990, the scientific consensus was that models aren't good enough to produce reliable predictions, so there's no way the even crummier models of a decade earlier - and this was a time of rapid progress - could be know to be good enough to be useful, at the time.

There's also the mysterious 'Today, dozens of cities, counties, and states are suing oil and gas companies for their “longstanding internal scientific knowledge of the causes and consequences of climate change and public deception campaigns.”' That's a quote, a rather leading quote: but who is it a quote from? They carelessly don't say, but it appears to be from Massachusetts v Exxon. Suing someone for knowing things is totally weird, or rather it would be, but they've mangled the quote; the original makes sense. Anyway, presenting something like that, unsourced, when it is deliberately leading lawyer-shite in an article in Science... tells you how far Science has slipped. Weirdly, they find no space to mention Alsup, once the Great White Hope, now I presume consigned to the memory hole for having produced the Wrong Answer.


Nierenberg, concluded: Oreskes is wrong

* #exxonlied (2016)

Yet more Exxon drivel (2016)

Not, In Fact, So - Timmy, on another aspect, investment

* The Beeb does at least ask Exxon, who correctly say this is a re-tread: "This issue has come up several times in recent years and, in each case, our answer is the same: those who talk about how "Exxon Knew" are wrong in their conclusions," the company told BBC News. Meanwhile, Oreskes doubles down on the privileged information drivel.

* On being ripped off

The Need for Heroes and Heroism

The 7 Habits of Freedom Loving Academics (reminder: yes, Jordan Peterson is a tosser)

Good-Faith Reading vs. Adversarial Reading

* Bryan Caplan: AI Bet! FWIW, I bet on the AI

Early oil industry knowledge of CO2 and global warming?


1. On Twatter, SR goes as far as "Study shows ExxonMobil hiding knowledge of the threat of climate change..." which I think is complete drivel (arch). In case you're not thinking - see the comments for BL's reaction - it isn't even possible for Exxon to hide public knowledge.


David Appell said...

So do you think maybe these ExxonMobile models were just lucky?

William M. Connolley said...

Luck is unlikely, obvs. I don't think their accuracy is particularly relevant. Most likely, predicting about 0.2 oC per decade is easier than it seems. Notice also the spread.

If you think their predictions were good, do you think secret knowledge was responsible? Do you think the predictions were secret?

David Appell said...

I wasn't challenging you, just curious.

No, I don't think they used secret knowledge, of course. I honestly don't know if their information became public, or was published anywhere but internally, but likely it leaked out, and didn't surprise the climate scientists of the time.

Well, maybe it surprised Leonard Nimoy.

Phil said...

It's interesting to not only see what "Exxon" got right, but also what "Exxon" got wrong.


Example of mostly correct:
Colorado river flow decrease has caused a crisis, water use will decrease either before or after Lake Powell runs dry. Which might be next year. (Appendix A, 2 third item) Sure, a bit early at just 420ppm.

Under mostly wrong:
Notice the early peak in oil production, and the low and dropping fraction of methane, and the higher than obtained non-fossil share even in the unlimited CO2 case. (Figures 6 and 8)

While this was the work of an intern, many decades ago, this was a good paper, and worth a look at least for history background. Ignore the highlighting, the rest of the text is at least as interesting.

In 1979, hard data to support the "most common theory" was sparse at best.

Anonymous said...

Methinks your memory is failing you https://mastodon.nz/@bnlawrence/109688502298703048

William M. Connolley said...

Oh dear, are we going to have emeritus wars? It is odd that BL doesn't post here (you're not BL, O Anon, I presume?) because having a weird indirect conversation would be strange.

Let's try to re-unify things: BL sez: "Stoat has gone all “emeritus” as he used to say. Not only is his memory failing him (IPCC 1990 says “Nevertheless, for reasons given in the box below, we have substantial confidence that models can predict at least the broad-scale features of climate change.”) but he’s missed the point that it was Exxon’s own people and scientists, who they presumably trusted for everything else! They knew and had a duty to use that knowledge!".

BL is slectively reading IPCC '90. The quote he provides is for broad-scale features. IPCC '90 (as quoted by me says |"Global - mean surface air temperature has increased by 0 3°C to 0 6°C over the last 100 years... The size of this warming is broadly consistent with predictions of climate models, but it is also of the same magnitude as natural climate variability Thus the observed increase could be largely due to this natural variability, alternatively this variability and other human factors could have offset a still larger human-induced greenhouse warming". The idea that things were settled by then is not sensible.

As for it-was-their-own-folk: this is to miss the point. The point is not that Exxon knew: the point is that everyone knew. None of this was secret. It was publically available. What was publically available? The idea of climate change. That we might be able to predict it, should try to, but knew full well we weren't very good at it by then.

All of this breathless nonsense is people fooling themselves. Try looking back at the Alsup case: I've helpfully provided links. That had nice eager scientists desperately trying to argue the science for their spot in the limelight, only to find to their disappointment that it was all a waste of time, as the science wasn't at issue.

Phil said...

Recent climate history wasn't the only evidence in 1990.

1) Keeling curve, by the mid 1960's at the latest. This removed all realistic doubt that we could change the CO2 content of the atmosphere. There was realistic doubt on this point in 1956.

2) Vostok ice core, 1985. This removed all realistic doubt that CO2 and temperature were closely related. Sure, is a complex system with many feedbacks. Note that suggesting that temperature causes CO2 level changes doesn't negate the assertion that CO2 causes temperature changes. One way to tell who is losing a science debate is to see who is waving their hands the most.

This is classic decision making with incomplete information. Could put into fuzzy logic and try some decision thresholds, but no point. Historical interest only. Most will not understand the formalism. Real people usually don't think in fuzzy logic terms. Sure, you can design hardware systems that make better decisions, and formalizing real decisions might let you make better decisions, both of which are why fuzzy logic can be useful. My take is that before 1960, was mostly a plausible speculation. Before 1985, was just more likely than not. Beyond a reasonable doubt? Perhaps 1990, 1995, TAR? sure. Note that the costs of being wrong should lead to action before "beyond a reasonable doubt". Decision thresholds are not an easy design problem, even with a better understood problem.

Yet what to do about climate change in 1990 was a big question. Technically speaking: About the only realistic alternative energy source in 1990 was nuclear, with both a list of real issues (and fossil fuel money to hype those issues. Sorry for the politics). Solar and wind were far too expensive, practical fusion was at least 40 years away, and there wasn't a realistic path for energy storage, needed to make all of the non-fossil energy sources realistic. Converting transportation to non-fossil wasn't realistic, before the Lithium ion battery was usable, which was at least partly an Exxon invention. Technically was the "good news".

Politically speaking, a carbon tax would have been a complete non-starter. Even the relatively tiny subsidies for solar and wind were major battles. People don't turn off their heat in the winter by choice, even if that means disaster in 50 years. Politics wasn't bad news, it was hopeless.

Economics seems to be leading now. If solar/wind is cheaper than fuel cost, then building more solar/wind makes sense until there is more solar/wind than the load. If solar/wind plus storage is cheaper than peaking power plants, even more fossil power is replaced. Looks that this gets us to at least 60% to 90% renewable power. Electric cars are just nicer, cheaper to operate, and will soon be cheaper to buy. Looks like much of ground transportation is going to be electric, and electric is going to be cleaner.

Got an electric car yet?

Oh, and Timmy is wrong about solar subsidies. But we have come to expect that.

Bryan said...

Sorry for being anonymous, that was careless (mobiles and all that), but you know who I am, and as for indirect conversations, I wasn't really going for a conversation.

I think you are "selective quoting" as indeed I was, but yours was about whether or not the observations and modelling were unambiguous. The signal wasn't out of the noise then, so it's not relevant. Mine was about the "faith in broad scale model projections" point (i.e global mean temp) where IPCC 1990 was unambiguous, which is the relevant point but not how you framed it.

So I think we can agree that not much was settled in terms of obs 1990, but we did have faith that our models were likely telling us the right sorts of things.

The issue then is what did Exxon do? The best knowledge *they* had agreed with the knowledge *others* had. So they made a board level decision to bullshit about the state of knowledge, and they did that knowing their best scientists agreed with the state of the art. So it was a commercial decision to lie about what they knew (or thought). I think that does matter.

You clearly disagree, but I think your line of argument based on IPCC 1990 is rather emeritus :-)

Bryan said...

To put it another way, if their scientists had said "Oooh, this is all unsettled science, and we can't replicate it, or support it" then their decisions and actions would be acceptable (even if wrong). But they didn't say that, hence "Exxon knew".

William M. Connolley said...

> Keeling curve

This seems beside (my) point. We know what information was available then: all the public information. Exxon knew this, of course; it just had a different opinion as to what to do. Which is why all the breathless #exxonknew fuss is drivel: we already know what they knew.

> The issue then is what did Exxon do?

Well, they did things that you disagree with (as to some extent, so do I, as I've already said). But that's not what all this shouting is about. This stuff is about lying to people that "ExxonMobil hid[] knowledge of the threat of climate change", as SR put it. Which is obvious bullshit.

Everett F Sargent said...

So maybe the oil companies should be running and developing climate models because they are (or were) so good at it circa 1970's?

Or maybe more might get done if some people stopped blaming some other people?

William M. Connolley said...

> more might get done if

I think that would be good. All this froth is probably just froth: it makes little difference either way; with the exception that excessive legal threats, and threats of government banditry, just make people more secretive and less inclined to cooperate. The delusion that some have, that the EFFCs are a bottomless source of cash for is just a delusion. As is the other delusion, that all would be well but for the corrupting influence of EFFC money.

Phil said...

"We know what information was available then"

We also know what disinformation was being pushed, then and before then.

Disinformation makes getting things done much harder.

William M. Connolley said...

> We also know

Well yes. That's my point. We know. The "new" study tells us nothing of interest. See me in 2015 for example.

Phil said...

It is impossible to cooperate with a liar. Cooperation requires trust. Lying destroys trust.

If lying gains advantages, and there are no negative consequences of lying, why not lie?

Exxon lied and profited from lies.

Competition destroys the commons.

William M. Connolley said...

> Exxon lied and profited from lies.

Well, we're off the point here, but fine: did Exxon actually lie? Per ACX's The Media Very Rarely Lies I'm not sure there's much that actually a lie I would lay to Exxon. Consider for exam ple my quotes in What I said about Exxon: Exxon really were naughty and Lee Raymond really was doing his best to mislead people, probably without actively lying.

What statements from them would you put forward that were actually lies?

By contrast, I think SR's "ExxonMobil hiding knowledge" is a plain lie. But you don't care about that.

Phil said...

Clearly the most effective lie has verifiable truth in it.


"By contrast, I think SR's "ExxonMobil hiding knowledge" is a plain lie. But you don't care about that."

Hiding knowledge is not a problem. I don't have a problem with ExxonMobil hiding information on any topic that has a potential operational value. I expect that Exxon hid knowledge about drilling methods, and knowledge about engineering structures in permafrost areas with potential climate change. Or for that matter, for planning for future drilling and refinery operations and capacity and so on. I'd be surprised if they didn't hide information. I don't fault them for just hiding information. I mostly don't care about information hiding... As long as the company mostly stayed out of the public debate of this issue. Which of course ExxonMobil didn't.

I expect that ExxonMobil hides information all the time.

I'm not sure why you think saying they hid information was a lie.

There have clearly been some "environmentalist" lies as well. Much of the anti-nuclear power campaign, for example. A lot of NIMBY campaigns against power lines, housing developments and so on feature lies.

Likewise, saying something incorrect isn't a problem when you don't or can't know that is was wrong. Consensus was that the oceans would absorb almost all of the added CO2... in 1955 that is. Exxon (Standard Oil of New Jersey) Mobil (Standard Oil of New York) making a statement in 1955 that refers to this would have been incorrect, but not a lie.

Two things together are not always the same as the two things separated.

William M. Connolley said...

> I expect that ExxonMobil hides information all the time. I'm not sure why you think saying they hid information was a lie.

OK, I'm puzzled by what you said. The context for this is note 1, which reproduces SR's twat. This isn't about "drilling methods", as you ought to know. Please re-read note 1, if you haven't already, and tell me what climate-related information you think they hid, if any, or why - given that - SR's twat isn't just lying.

Phil said...

"For Authorized Company Use Only"


is a review article. No original research, just a concise and mostly correct review of the facts as known at the time, by an intern. Only thing that wasn't based on public information was Exxon's projection of future fossil fuel usage. Which was both incorrect and something that Exxon had every right to have kept hidden.

I don't recall ever seeing all of this (at least the public part) in one place at that time.

If you know of one, reference please.

Knowledge isn't just the facts, it is putting all the relevant facts together.

Exxon's public face was all disinformation. That is the main way that Exxon hid the facts.. at least from a huge majority people. The people that don't read "Nature" and "Science" and such.

wereatheist said...

Exxon's public face was all disinformation.
Exactly. The problem is not oil companies having seekrit information, but having them the best synopsis of available information ( Knowledge isn't just the facts, it is putting all the relevant facts together) and choosing to mislead the public by hiring professional liers, for decades.

William M. Connolley said...

> having them the best synopsis of available information

But they weren't. Why do you think they were?

wereatheist said...

Maybe I'm prejudiced about capitalism. I tend to believe that the boards of directors of powerful corporations are keen on, and capable of, getting "the best synopsis of available information" aka knowledge, to secure profits.
If I'm mistaken about that, my bad.

William M. Connolley said...

I misread your (slightly odd) grammar. I read "having them the best synopsis" as "having them" (the Evil Oil Companies) be-or-provide "the best synopsis" to the general public. But you mean, that they themselves would have made sure to obtain "the best synopsis" for themselves. It is likely that this is true; I'm certainly not saying it is false; just that it isn't really the point here; as I've said repeatedly, #exxonknew isn't false, just stupid, because #everyoneknew. Nor, as far as I know, have Exxon denied knowing.

wereatheist said...

I'm a Kraut, so odd grammar may occur.
Perhaps #exxonandtheirilkdeliberatelyandsuccessfullyinfluencedpoliticsbymisinformation is a better hashtag.

Phil said...


In 1979? Really?

Not even the case today. Exxon spent a lot of money to make sure that was the case.