A study entitled “Early warnings and emerging accountability: Total’s responses to global warming, 1971–2021” has been published showing that the French oil and gas company TotalEnergies was warned about the climate consequences of burning fossil fuels back in 1971.
The study shows how Total responded to climate science over the last 50 years. Beginning in 1971 Total personnel received a company magazine called Total Information which contained an article entitled “Atmospheric pollution and climate” that clearly stated:
“Since the 19th century, humans have been burning increasing amounts of fossil fuels. This results in the release of enormous quantities of carbon dioxide […] The overall amount of carbon di-oxide present in the atmosphere, therefore, has increased significantly. […] The increase has been around 15% over the last 150 years, which is not negligible. And […] if the consumption of coal and oil keeps the same rhythm in the years to come, the concentration of carbon dioxide will reach 400 parts per million around 2010 […]”.
“This increase in concentration is quite worrying […] carbon dioxide plays a large role in the thermal balance of the atmosphere […] air richer in carbon dioxide absorbs more radiation and heats up. It is possible, therefore, that an increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere is to be feared. The calculated orders of magnitude are obviously small (from 1—1.5 ◦C) but could have important impacts. Atmospheric circulation could be modified, and it is not impossible, according to some, to foresee at least a partial melting of the polar ice caps, which would certainly result in significant sea level rise. The catastrophic consequences are easy to imagine.”
The projections made in this article turned out to be alarmingly accurate as carbon dioxide reached 400 parts per million in 2013. Total Information ran around 6000 copies, it acted as the company’s internal and external communications outlet being read by employees, executives and commercial partners. It was also made available for public consumption via the French National Library.
The aforementioned article formed part of a special edition of Total Information that focused on the environment, researchers found that the issue even had a foreword signed by the CEO at the time which stated “the defense of the environment is often accompanied by rather strong criticism of large industries including oil companies”
The study goes on to state that after the findings put to them in 1971 Total began promoting doubt regarding the scientific basis for global warming by the late 1980s, and ultimately settled on a position in the late 1990s of publicly accepting climate science while promoting policy delay or policies peripheral to fossil fuel control.
Related Articles: Climate Change: Too Late? | Global Fossil Fuel Output Could Soar Over Next Decade, Sabotaging Climate Goals
Total failed to accept the impact their products could have on the environment and it is hard to understand why they doubted the science being shown to them. It is possible that it was a new concept to them and they had a hard time believing it but it is unfortunately more likely that they became deniers as it would affect their profit margins if they were to change their business model to help control their effect on global warming.
In 2021 Total rebranded themselves as TotalEnergies and released a statement surrounding the speculation they ignored climate science, “TotalEnergies deplores the process of pointing the finger at a situation from 50 years ago, without highlighting the efforts, changes, progress and investments made since then.”
Our statement following the release of the study "Early warnings and emerging environmental accountability: Total’s responses to global warming, 1968-2021" ⬇https://t.co/Gz1KAUByvj
— TotalEnergies (@TotalEnergies) October 20, 2021
TotalEnergies are attempting to redirect focus onto the strides they have made for renewable energy. They stated that since 2015 it has been transforming its operations towards renewable energy. Clémence Dubois from 350.org told the BBC’s World Service that Total “didn’t just know about climate change, they implemented a strategy of fabricating doubt around the climate emergency through lobbying”.
TotalEnergies also claims to be focused on getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, by setting specific greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030. But is this enough? Not according to the experts. Dan Lunt, Professor of climate science at the University of Bristol, when he spoke to the BBC stated, “The changes TotalEnergies say they are making are not nearly enough compared to what is needed to achieve our target of 1.5 degrees, enshrined in the Paris agreement.”
With events such as COP26 on the horizon this was bad timing for TotalEnergies to be faced with a climate scandal. According to reports 350.org and Notre Affaire à Tous are demanding that governments and financial actors force TotalEnergies to align itself with the Paris Accords by ceasing the development of new fossil fuel projects.
While it now appears TotalEnergies has accepted climate science, is that just a public front so that they may continue to work on their fossil fuel prices?
It should not be forgotten that the price of oil and gas has increased rapidly over this past year and there is a lot of profit to be made there which will be hard for TotalEnergies to ignore.
We will have to wait to discover if they achieve their goals regarding carbon emissions and greenhouse gas. The concerning question is could they have just been greenwashing us this whole time?
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: An illustration on global warming of a burning earth. Featured Photo Credit: The Digital Artist