With more and more powerful storms slamming into coasts worldwide and sea levels rising, the consequences of climate change that scientists have been warning the world about for years are now starting to be felt. In case there’s still any doubt about the consequences of global warming, this week’s revelations should put them to bed — Shell Oil, one of the biggest producers of fossil fuels in the world, produced an internal report about global warming caused by man-made emissions that talks about some of the consequences we’re seeing today. But, an internal group at Shell didn’t produce that report anytime recently — they produced it in 1988.
The Correspondent, an investigative journalism site based in the Netherlands, published the documents, which detail exactly what Shell knew about their contributions to climate change and the possible consequences (you can read the documents here). The most newsworthy documents involve reports from 1988 and 1998, in which it becomes clear that Shell knew about their role in causing the problem, the extent of the problem, and even a rough timeline of the hazardous effects the world would start seeing as a result.
The 1988 report was the result of an internal investigation into the effects of fossil fuels. The research group concluded that rising concentrations of CO2 were indeed caused by fossil fuel emissions, going as far as to recommend immediate action to head off future environmental damage. At one point, the report says, “by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even to stabilize the situation.” While Shell has in recent years invested heavily in renewable energy, it’s manifestly true that the company, along with the rest of the energy industry, chose not to take adequate action when they had the knowledge to do so.
The 1998 report is in some ways even more damning, as it shows that not only did Shell know about the causes of global warming, they knew what kind of damage it would eventually cause. The report mentions the possibility of a superstorm hitting the east coast of the United States by 2010, which jibes with the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. That report also mentions the possibility of mass lawsuits against Shell and other fossil fuel companies for their role in environmental damage, another thing that is now coming to pass.
Shareholder action demanding similar disclosures from Exxon has also begun, prompting the company to drop its resistance to disclosing internal climate change knowledge as outrage grows over the fact that the problems many coastal areas the world over are facing now could have been prevented.