1980 Exxon Memo on the CO2 Greenhouse Effect and Current Programs Studying the Issue

December 18, 1980 Henry Shaw sent a memo to T.K. Kett attaching a report he and P.P. McCall authored on the current status of the CO2 greenhouse effect. The Shaw/McCall report notes that because forests are a sink for carbon dioxide and deforestation is part of the reason why levels carbon dioxide in the atmosphere continue to increase, then another sink for carbon dioxide must be found and the impact of fossil fuel must be considered in the context of such a sink.

The Shaw/McCall report also note that doubling of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will likely increase global average temperatures of 1.5 to 3 degrees celsius, and greater warming will occur at the poles causing the melting of ice and snow cover. The report acknowledges that there are scientists saying that doubling of carbon dioxide will increase the global average temperature of .25 degrees celsius but the authors write, “these calculations are not held in high regard by the scientific community.” The report anticipates that a “general concensus [sic] will not be reached until such time as a significant temperature increase can be detected above the natural random temperature fluctuations in average global climate. The earliest that such discreet signals will be able to be measured is after the year 2000.”

The report also summarizing what programs are underway studying carbon dioxide, including the Department of Energy and the National Research Council chaired by Jules Charney of MIT, which authored a report concluding that there are uncertainties in the climate models and uncertainties in the timing of the doubling of CO2 and the resulting temperature increase.

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