The fossil fuel industry funded some of the world’s most foundational climate science as early as 1954, newly unearthed documents have shown, including the early research of Charles Keeling, famous for the so-called “Keeling curve” that has charted the upward march of the Earth’s carbon dioxide levels.
A coalition of oil and car manufacturing interests provided $13,814 (about $158,000 in today’s money) in December 1954 to fund Keeling’s earliest work in measuring CO2 levels across the western US, the documents reveal.
Keeling would go on to establish the continuous measurement of global CO2 at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. This “Keeling curve” has tracked the steady increase of the atmospheric carbon that drives the climate crisis and has been hailed as one of the most important scientific works of modern times.
The fossil fuel interests backed a group, known as the Air Pollution Foundation, that issued funding to Keeling to measure CO2 alongside a related effort to research the smog that regularly blighted Los Angeles at the time. This is earlier than any previously known climate research funded by oil companies.
In the research proposal for the money – uncovered by Rebecca John, a researcher at the Climate Investigations Center, and published by the climate website DeSmog – Keeling’s research director, Samuel Epstein, wrote about a new carbon isotope analysis that could identify “changes in the atmosphere” caused by the burning of coal and petroleum.
“The possible consequences of a changing concentration of the CO2 in the atmosphere with reference to climate, rates of photosynthesis, and rates of equilibration with carbonate of the oceans may ultimately prove of considerable significance to civilization,” Epstein, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology (or Caltech), wrote to the group in November 1954.
Experts say the documents show the fossil fuel industry had intimate involvement in the inception of modern climate science, along with its warnings of the severe harm climate change will wreak, only to then publicly deny this science for decades and fund ongoing efforts to delay action on the climate crisis. [Continue reading…]