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“Since 1971, Total has known the effects of its activity on the climate, and has done nothing”


At the time of reckoning, will Total find itself on the dock? Faced with the specter of a “climate collapse”, and as the energy sector continues to account for 47% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, more and more of them are looking for the culprits … and to find them.

Who knew what about global warming, and when? How did they react? In a scientific article published this Wednesday, October 20 in the scientific publication “Global Environmental Change”, three researchers reveal that the staff of the oil giant has “Was alerted in 1971 on the potentially catastrophic impact of its products” on the climate.

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50 years ago, what Total knew about the impact of its activities on global warming

And this while, publicly, the company has not ceased “To instill doubt” on climate science until the end of the 1990s, decrypts Laure Barbé, spokesperson for the association Notre affaires à tous, which intends to hold the French major to account with the hashtag #Totals knew.

> Watch his explanations in video:

As early as 1971, “catastrophic consequences” evoked

In the United States, the oil juggernaut ExxonMobil was prosecuted in 2015 by the New York prosecutor for knowingly disseminating false information on the consequences of its activities on global warming. Did the French Total have the same strategy? This is the whole question addressed by the three researchers, Benjamin Franta, Christophe Bonneuil and Pierre-Louis Choquet, in their article entitled “Early alerts and emergence of environmental responsibility: Total’s reactions to global warming, 1968-2021 “.

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In particular, they got their hands on an article by geographer François Durand-Dastès, published in 1971 in the journal “Total Information”, internal to the company, clearly making the link between the combustion of fossil fuels and the warming of temperatures, whose predictions are surprisingly correct. We can read there:

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“Since the 19th century, man has been burning fossil fuels, coals and hydrocarbons in increasing quantities every day. […] This operation results in the release of enormous quantities of carbon dioxide. […] This increase in content is quite worrying. […] Indeed, carbon dioxide plays a big role in the thermal equilibrium of the atmosphere. […] It is therefore possible that an increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere is to be feared. […] The calculated orders of magnitude are obviously small (1 to 1.5 degrees centigrade) but could have important effects. “

In the rest of the article, the tone is no less measured. Evoking the melting of the poles and the rising waters, the author sounds the alarm bells and evokes “Catastrophic consequences”, “easy to imagine. “

Create doubt

As Laure Barbé sums it up, “Since 1971, Total has known the effects of its activity on the climate, and has done nothing. Worse, it has increased its production of fossil fuels and instilled doubt among decision-makers and the general public about climate science. ”

Apart from this article, the 1970s were marked by Total’s silence on climate issues, even as a scientific consensus began to emerge. At the end of the 1980s, Total, like the other oil majors, implemented through public declarations and lobbying work a “Strategy of doubt” on climate science. It’s about “To press on the gray areas “As to the timeframe, the origin (human or natural) and the extent of the consequences of climate change, explains Laure Barbé. Deciphered in the edifying documentary “The Factory of Ignorance”, by Pascal Vasselin and Franck Cuvelier, the tactic is well known to the food industry, pesticides and even tobacco, to demonstrate the harmlessness of their product.

Total in the land of black gold: the survey that overwhelms

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Since the end of the 1990s, the French company has changed its strategy: if it admits the existence of a climate problem, it refused until recently that constraints weigh on its activity, before finally committing itself, in 2020, to reduce its direct emissions [celles liées à la production d’énergie, NDLR]. Problem: they only weigh 20%. At the same time, Total “Continues to invest 80% in non-renewable energies”, deplores Laure Barbé.



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