A longitudinal study developed by CSSN Scholar Benjamin Franta presents how industry-leading fossil fuel companies, such as Total and Exxon, have responded to developing climate science over the last 50 years.
Building upon recent work on other major fossil fuel companies, we report new archival research and primary source interviews describing how Total responded to evolving climate science and policy in the last 50 years. We show that Total personnel received warnings of the potential for catastrophic global warming from its products by 1971, became more fully informed of the issue in the 1980s, began promoting doubt regarding the scientific basis for global warming by the late 1980s, and ultimately settled on a position in the late 1990s of publicly accepting climate science while promoting policy delay or policies peripheral to fossil fuel control. Additionally, we find that Exxon, through the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA), coordinated an international campaign to dispute climate science and weaken international climate policy, beginning in the 1980s. This represents one of the first longitudinal studies of a major fossil fuel company’s responses to global warming to the present, describing historical stages of awareness, preparation, denial, and delay.