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Documents Show Coal Industry Knew Climate Impacts in 1960s

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Coal executives wrote in 1966 that C02 emissions could "cause melting of the polar icecaps, which, in turn, would result in the inundation of many coastal cities, including New York and London." (PDTillman/Wikimedia Commons)
Coal executives wrote in 1966 that C02 emissions could "cause melting of the polar icecaps, which, in turn, would result in the inundation of many coastal cities, including New York and London." (PDTillman/Wikimedia Commons)
 By Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE - Producer, Contact
December 5, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. – As court proceedings continue against ExxonMobil on claims the company misled investors about the risks of climate change, a recently discovered journal suggests the coal industry knew about the potentially catastrophic impacts of burning coal as early as 1966.

Christopher Cherry, a civil engineering professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who found the industry journal, says he was surprised by how clearly executives understood how CO2 emissions were linked to climate change.

"Talking about changes in temperature causing polar ice caps, inundation of cities like New York and London,” he points out. “In one paragraph they basically summarized what we've been observing, and what scientists have been describing was going to happen, but they did it back in the '60s, 50 years ago."

Also in the journal, an engineer from Peabody Coal pointed out that the industry was "buying time" until federal air pollution protections were introduced, after the 1963 Clean Air Act.

The first federal regulations for CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants did not come until 2015, and were repealed in 2017.

Peabody has responded to the findings, acknowledging fossil fuels' role in climate change and promising to advance technologies to reach its goal of near-zero emissions.

Cherry notes that just a few years ago, Peabody's position on climate change was denial and obfuscation.

"At the end of the day I don't hold a lot of hope or trust in a company that has been denying evidence of climate change for the last few decades, obviously now almost half century," he states.

Cherry wasn't researching coal complicity in climate change. He says he stopped a colleague carrying old library volumes to the recycling bin when he saw the 1966 Mining Congress Journal, mainly as a gift for his wife, whose parents were in the mining industry.

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