Exxon: The Road Not Taken

Cast of Characters

James F. Black

(Credit: Family of James Black)

Black (1919-1988) was the Scientific Advisor in the Products Research Division of Exxon Research & Engineering, and one of the top technical people at Exxon Research & Engineering until his retirement in 1983. In 1977, Black told Exxon's management committee of top executives that emerging science showed that carbon dioxide levels were rising, likely driven by fossil fuel use, and such increases would boost global temperatures, leading to widespread damage.

Andrew Callegari

After joining Exxon in 1980, Callegari took over the company's CO2 research efforts in 1981 and oversaw its climate modeling program. He served as Brian Flannery's boss and recruited New York University's Martin Hoffert as a consultant to help with the company's climate research. Callegari spent more than two decades at the oil company, where he worked across divisions from Exxon Research and Engineering to Exxon Mobil Corporation. Since 2007, he has worked as an energy consultant. In an interview with InsideClimate News, Hoffert described Callegari and Flannery as "very legitimate research guys."

Edward E. David

(Credit: CSTPR / University of Colorado-Boulder)

David served as president of Exxon Research and Engineering (ER&E) in Florham Park, NJ from 1977 to 1986, when Exxon launched its own research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and its effects on the global climate. From 1950 to 1970, he worked at Bell Laboratories, eventually becoming executive director of research. He served as the White House science advisor to President Richard M. Nixon from 1970 to 1973. David signed off on a groundbreaking Exxon project that used one of its oil tankers to gather atmospheric and oceanic carbon dioxide samples, beginning in 1979. He also oversaw the transition Exxon made to greater climate modeling. David kept Exxon upper management apprised of ER&E's carbon dioxide research. After retiring, David became a climate change denier. David was one of the 16 co-authors of an opinion piece deriding global warming that ran in the Wall Street Journal in 2012.

Clifton Garvin

Clifton Garvin

(Credit: Virginia Tech)

Garvin was Exxon's chairman and chief executive in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the company was launching its ambitious climate-related tanker and modeling efforts. In a 1984 speech he made at Vanderbilt University, Garvin said the then-called "greenhouse effect" would "presumably lead to an increase in global temperatures with attendent consequences." Garvin worked at the oil company for nearly four decades. After retiring in 1986, he has held many roles from serving on the board of several major companies to participating on President Ronald Reagan's National Productivity Advisory Committee.

Mike MacCracken

(Credit: Mike MacCracken)

MacCracken was the scientific director for the climate unit of the U. S. Department of Energy's Carbon Dioxide Research and Assessment Program from 1979 to 1990. In that capacity, MacCracken helped coordinate various studies in the early 1980s by scientists from academia, government and the industry, primarily Exxon, into the potential climatic effects of increasing carbon dioxide. He is now Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute, a non-governmental organization based in Washington D.C. that promotes national and international efforts to understand, adapt to and mitigate climatic change.

George T. Piercy

Piercy (1915-2000) was an Exxon senior vice president in the late 1970s until his retirement in 1981. He was among the top executives regularly updated about the company's climate-related research. In the early 1970s, he served as the company's chief representative in negotiations with Middle Eastern countries during the Arab oil embargo and he oversaw the diversification of Exxon Enterprises. After Exxon, he worked as the chairman of the Education Broadcasting Corporation in New York and served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations.

Henry Shaw

(Credit: Family of Henry Shaw)

As manager of the Environmental Area in Exxon Research & Engineering's Technology Feasibility Center, Shaw (1934-2003) was one of the earliest employees to advocate for company research into atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. Shaw's family fled France in 1940 when the Nazis invaded. They eventually arrived in Brooklyn when Shaw was an adolescent. He joined Exxon in 1967. Shaw established a collaboration with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, with which he developed the idea of outfitting a company oil tanker with special equipment to sample carbon dioxide concentrations in the air and water. Shaw left Exxon in 1986, to become a professor of chemical engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology.

N. Richard Werthamer

(Credit: Frontline)

Werthamer worked at Exxon from 1978 to 1983, where he helped oversee the tanker research program. From 1980 to 1981, he was a manager at Exxon Research & Engineering and the boss of scientist Henry Shaw. Werthamer told InsideClimate News, "The whole idea was to do a really clean, really defensible research project, and that would be the key to open the door to whole [climate change] debate. It was for the company not to be the bad guy. Obviously later, the Exxon chairman and senior executives were climate deniers. That was not the case then." After leaving the company in 1983, he wrote a book on blackjack and served as executive director of the Becton, Dickinson and Company.

Wallace Broecker

Wallace Broecker

(Credit: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory)

As a Columbia University scientist, Broecker collaborated with Exxon on its climate research starting in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. Working with Exxon's Henry Shaw, Broecker and his colleague Taro Takahashi helped analyze the carbon dioxide data collected from the company's tanker project. Nicknamed the "Grandfather of Climate Science," Broecker has received numerous awards for his research focused on the ocean's role in climate change, including the National Medal of Science in 1996. Broecker is a scientist with Columbia's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, where he's been since 1959. He is also the Newberry Professor of Geology at Columbia.

Roger Cohen

As a scientist at Exxon, Cohen spent the 1980s contributing to the company's climate research. During that time, he once described the predicted future impacts of climate change as "catastrophic" for most people on Earth. Cohen worked at Exxon for approximately 25 years, retiring in 2003 as a manager of strategic planning. After leaving the company, he became an outspoken climate denier. He helped lead the push for the American Physical Society to weaken its stance on the issue. In an article published in 2008, Cohen wrote: "...at the time of my retirement I was well convinced, as were most technically trained people, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's case for Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is very tight. However, upon taking the time to get into the details of the science, I was appalled at how flimsy the case really is." Cohen currently serves on the board of directors for CO2 Coalition, a group established in 2015 to counter "the demonizing of CO2 and fossil fuels."

Brian Flannery

(Credit: © Academia Engelberg Foundation)

Flannery was one of Exxon's top climate modelers after he joined the company in 1980. His research initially confirmed the findings of independent scientists, who said a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere would raise average global temperatures by roughly 3 degrees Celsius. By 1990, however, Flannery served as Exxon's top scientific spokesman as it worked to derail international efforts to cut greenhouse gases from fossil fuel use. In 1998, he transitioned into a managerial role at ExxonMobil Corporation. Flannery spent three decades at the company; during that time, he served as a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Working Group 3 (from 1998-2004) and was a member of multiple climate-related business committees. He continues to participate in the climate discussion as a fellow at Resources for the Future, an economic research and analysis nonprofit in Washington, D.C.

Edward Garvey

Ed Garvey

(Credit: Ed Garvey)

Garvey worked at Exxon Research & Engineering from 1978 to 1983 and was Henry Shaw's top researcher on the tanker initiative. Exxon paid in part for his graduate studies at Columbia University; during that time, Garvey worked with Columbia University's climate researchers Wallace Broecker and Taro Takahashi. After leaving Exxon, Garvey has worked for various consulting firms and his main client has been the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

Martin Hoffert

(Credit: NASA)

Martin Hoffert worked as a physics professor at New York University from 1975 to 2007. In that role, he teamed up with Exxon scientists Brian Flannery, Andrew Callegari and Haroon Kheshgi in the 1980s to review and create climate models. Hoffert said the collaboration during the 1980s was a good one. "We talked about the politics of this stuff a lot, but we always separated the politics from the science," Hoffert told InsideClimate News.

Maurice Edwin James "Morey" O'Loughlin

O'Loughlin (1922-2009) served as a senior vice president and director of Exxon Corporation in the 1980s until his retirement in 1987.  He took an interest in research by Exxon and outside scientists into the "greenhouse effect," as climate change was then known.

Lee Raymond

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Raymond became the company's chief executive in 1993 and then added the position of chairman in 1999. He joined Exxon in 1963. Raymond was an outspoken skeptic of mainstream climate science. Under Raymond, Exxon led a coalition of fossil fuel companies called the Global Climate Coalition, which sought to delay action on climate change and cloud public understanding of the issue. Raymond retired in 2005 and was succeeded by Rex Tillerson.

Taro Takahashi

(Credit: Taro Takahashi)

Takahashi, a climate scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Geological Observatory since 1957, collaborated with Exxon researchers on the company's ocean-related climate research in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Specifically, Takahashi and his colleague Wallace Broecker helped analyze the carbon dioxide data from air and ocean samples collected as part of the company's tanker project.  Takahashi used the Exxon tanker data—along with dozens of datasets from universities and other research institutions—in two studies published in 1990 and 2009. He won the U.N. Environmental Programme's 2010 "Champion of the Earth" award for his climate-ocean studies. Takashi currently serves as Columbia's Ewing Lamont Research Professor.

Harold N. Weinberg

Harold Weinberg

(Credit: Family of Harold Weinberg)

Weinberg (1929-2008) ran Exxon Research & Engineering's Technology Feasibility Center in the early 1980s, the unit responsible for finding commercial applications for the studies scientists performed. In 1978, he proposed that Exxon launch a worldwide 'CO2 in the Atmosphere' research program. That did not materialize, but he remained active in the company's global warming studies. After retiring from Exxon in 1987, he became Vice President of Engelhard Corporation and later the Chairman of New Jersey's Institute for Energy Research, among other positions.

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