Early Funding of Climate Research

In 1954, the fossil fuel industry began funding climate science. This was way before many people knew about climate change. They gave money to Charles Keeling. He became famous for the “Keeling curve.” This curve shows how much carbon dioxide (CO2) is in the Earth’s atmosphere. It keeps going up.

Keeling’s Important Work

Keeling’s research got about $158,000 in today’s money from oil and car companies. He first measured CO2 in the western US. Later, he worked at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. There, he measured CO2 all the time. Keeling’s work is significant in that it helped us understand how industry can impact our climate.

Why This Funding Matters

The Air Pollution Foundation gave Keeling the money. This group wanted to study air pollution, like the smog in Los Angeles. But they also helped start climate research. This was new information.  These documents show that oil companies knew of their impact on the world’s climate much earlier than originally believed.  Even though oil companies contributed to this base knowledge of climate science, they later downplayed and denied the findings.  Oil companies would go on to fund research that would absolve the industry of liability for climate change.

What the Documents Say

Rebecca John found these old documents. She works at the Climate Investigations Center. The documents were on the climate website DeSmog. They show that oil companies knew about climate change risks early on. Samuel Epstein, Keeling’s boss, wrote about it in 1954. He said changing CO2 levels could really affect our planet.

The Industry’s Double Role

For a long time, oil companies knew their products could harm the climate.  In fact, the oil industry has known about these risks for 70 years. But they didn’t tell the public. Instead, they denied the science of climate change. They even paid for efforts to stop action against climate change.

Research Funding

Oil companies did their own climate research. For example, Exxon’s scientists predicted global warming very accurately in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the new documents show that the industry knew about the climate impact of CO2 back in 1954. This was through Keeling’s work.

Through early research, the oil industry discovered their operations may alter our climate. Once that became clear, the oil companies refused to accept responsibility.  Chasing profits, oil companies turned to funding research that attributed climate change to other causes or downplayed their earlier findings.

The Bigger Picture

The fossil fuel industry first looked into smog and air pollution. Then they began to see how burning fossil fuels affected the climate. Attorneys may use this initial research in lawsuits intended to hold oil companies accountable for their contributions to climate change.  For example, scientists have linked climate change to the recent increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes.

What This Means for Us

These findings are significant. They show that oil companies have known for a long time that burning fossil fuels could alter our climate. These companies downplayed those risks and funded research to counter their initial findings. Now, attorneys are trying to use their initial research against them to hold these oil companies responsible for the damage.


In short, the fossil fuel industry has been part of climate science from the start. They funded important research but then denied the science for years. Now, there is proof of what they knew and when. This could help in the fight against climate change.

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