Oil companies like to use models to estimate their reserves and the potential of unexplored fields. Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest oil company and a longtime supporter of the global warming denial lobby, tells us the following on page 8 of its 2007 annual report: "Using proprietary technologies and tools, including advanced reservoir prediction models and geological data visualization, we have significantly improved our ability to identify, model, and understand oil and gas reservoirs."
Exxon and its fossil fuel partners in the denial lobby seem to like models well enough when they use them for their own purposes; but through their hired mouthpieces they decry the use of models for climate change forecasting. (The Heritage Foundation to whose pages the previous link leads received consistent funding from Exxon throughout this decade.)
The companies support the dissemination of statements such as the following:
Scientific forecasting research has shown that experts aren’t able to provide accurate predictions in this kind of complex and uncertain situation. It doesn’t matter whether experts present their forecasts as certain outcomes, detailed scenarios, expectations, likelihoods or probabilities. Or that the forecasts are the product of hard thinking by many highly qualified experts, or even of mathematics or computer simulations. The expert forecasts are nonetheless worthless.
What could be more complex than the modeling suggested by this Exxon press release detailing projects around the world, some of them deep underwater, in which modeling was an important component? What could be more complex than modeling the oil and natural gas reserves of the world's largest oil company? Except perhaps modeling the entire world's oil and natural gas reserves. (See Exxon's claim about the extent of those reserves below.)
Exxon wants the public, their shareholders, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Minerals Management Service and the United States Geological Survey to accept their reported reserves and their estimates of potential new reserves all based on their models. The company's chief executive officer even wants us to believe that fossils fuels will still be the dominate fuels 100 years from now. Is that what the company's models are telling it? And, yet Exxon and its fellow travelers send forth messages into the world that implore us not to believe in models--that "expert forecasts are...worthless." That being the case, should these companies' forecasts of the fossil fuels they believe they can get out of the ground be considered worthless as well?
Clearly, it is not modeling which Exxon and others in the fossil fuel lobby want us to distrust. They merely dislike modeling which demonstrates a possible future that is disadvantageous to their executives and their shareholders. The truth is that corporations of all kinds, governments, nonprofits,and even individuals rely on forecasting models to give them some starting point for evaluating possible outcomes. And, while forecasts of many kinds often have wide margins of error, they can point out possible risks, which, if they indicate severe consequences, may cause us to act to head off those consequences or prepare to mitigate them.
Don't believe Exxon and its hired hands when they feign concern over climate change models. They, too, like to use models to substantiate their pronouncements. What the members of fossil fuel lobby are really telling us with their critique of models is that they are hypocrites of the first order. But, that's something that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been following the activities of Exxon and the fossil fuel lobby in the public discussion of climate change.