Global Warming’s Paper Trail
In the 1980s, big oil companies carried out internal assessments of how their products' emissions might affect the planet. Despite findings linking fossil fuels to ecological damage and global warming, the industry kept their data secret, and then lied about it, potentially dooming the rest of us as a result.
STANFORD – One day in 1961, an American economist named Daniel Ellsberg stumbled across a piece of paper with apocalyptic implications. Ellsberg, who was advising the US government on its secret nuclear-war plans, had discovered a document that contained an official estimate of the death toll in a preemptive “first strike” on China and the Soviet Union: approximately 300 million in those countries, and double that globally.
Ellsberg was troubled that such a plan existed; years later, he tried to leak the details of nuclear annihilation to the public. Although this attempt failed, Ellsberg would become famous instead for leaking what came to be known as the Pentagon Papers – the US government’s secret history of its military intervention in Vietnam.
America’s amoral military planning during the Cold War echoes the hubris exhibited by another cast of characters gambling with the fate of humanity. Recently, secret documents have been unearthed detailing what the energy industry knew about the links between their products and global warming. But, unlike the government’s nuclear plans, what the industry detailed was put into action.