Coal Knew, Too

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser; Photos: Getty

A newly unearthed journal from 1966 shows the coal industry, like the oil industry, was long aware of the threat of climate change.

“Exxon knew.” Thanks to the work of activists and journalists, those two words have rocked the politics of climate change in recent years, as investigations revealed the extent to which giants like Exxon Mobil and Shell were aware of the danger of rising greenhouse gas emissions even as they undermined the work of scientists.

But the coal industry knew, too — as early as 1966, a newly unearthed journal shows.

In August, Chris Cherry, a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, salvaged a large volume from a stack of vintage journals that a fellow faculty member was about to toss out. He was drawn to a 1966 copy of the industry publication Mining Congress Journal; his father-in-law had been in the industry and he thought it might be an interesting memento.

Cherry flipped it open to a passage from James R. Garvey, who was the president of Bituminous Coal Research Inc., a now-defunct coal mining and processing research organization. 

“There is evidence that the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is increasing rapidly as a result of the combustion of fossil fuels,” wrote Garvey. “If the future rate of increase continues as it is at the present, it has been predicted that, because the CO2 envelope reduces radiation, the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere will increase and that vast changes in the climates of the earth will result.” 

“Such changes in temperature will cause melting of the polar icecaps, which, in turn, would result in the inundation of many coastal cities, including New York and London,” he continued.

Cherry was floored.

Read the full story at HuffPost.