Photo Friday: Humble Energy Ad Boasts About Melting Glaciers in ’62

On February 2, 1962, Humble Oil & Refining Company published an advertisement in LIFE magazine that proclaimed:


Humble Oil & Refining Company was founded in 1911 in Humble, Texas. It was absorbed by Standard Oil of New Jersey in 1959, and later underwent a name change to become Exxon Co. in 1973.

The advertisement continued:

This giant glacier has remained unmelted for centuries. Yet, the petroleum energy Humble supplies — if converted into heat — could melt it at the rate of 80 tons each second! To meet the nation’s growing needs for energy, Humble has supplied science to nature’s resources to become America’s Leading Energy Company. Working wonders with oil through research, Humble provides energy in many forms — to help heat our homes, power our transportation, and to furnish industry with a great variety of versatile chemicals. Stop at a Humble station for new Enco Extra gasoline, and see why the “Happy Motoring” Sign is the World’s First Choice!


The glacier pictured in the advertisement is Taku, the deepest and thickest alpine temperate glacier in the world. Ironically, while most of the world’s glaciers have been melting, Taku was actually growing for decades after this advertisement was published, as if in protest to Humble’s desire to melt it. Taku only recently started receding. Little did Humble realize how poorly their advertisement would age. Fifty-eight years later, the energy industry has contributed enough carbon into the atmosphere to make glaciers an increasingly endangered earth-feature.

Lately, the recovered advertisement has been circulating the media. One tweet read: “Was this in the 1970’s? When newspaper headlines screamed ‘The next Ice Age is upon us!!’”

Indeed, concern for global cooling began in the 1950s, as people, including American meteorologist Harry Wexler, worried that Cold War atomic bomb testing would accelerate the onset of a new ice age –– in a nuclear-winter-kind-of scenario. Yet, even then, scientists were saying otherwise. In a 1953 issue of Popular Mechanics, Dr. Gilbert Plass, a physicist at Johns Hopkins University, warned that “Earth’s ground temperature is rising 1 1/2 degrees a century as a result of carbon dioxide discharged from the burning of about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal and oil yearly.” And, in 1958, Bell Telephone Science Hour produced a video to teach Americans about the greenhouse effect.

Screenshot: “In the 70s, They said there’d be an Ice Age”

Then, in the early 1960s, J. Murray Mitchell Jr., an American climatologist, confirmed a multi-decadal cooling period since around 1945. Popular concern for impending glaciation rose, even as President Johnson’s scientific advisory committee warned that “Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment… emissions by the year 2000 could be enough to cause ‘measurable and perhaps marked’ climate change.” Still, concern for a new ice age grew amongst climate deniers, and peaked in the ’70s after the unusually severe Asian and North American winters of 1972-73.

Today’s climate models speculate that this period of cooling, which lasted from about 1945 – 1980, resulted from the dramatic increase in aerosol emissions (by-products of fossil fuel combustion) which formed low altitude clouds that blocked out the sun.

Global Average Temperature Anomaly from 1880 – 2000. Photo Credit: NASA

Humble Oil had also been studying the carbon-dioxide problem for decades, since before it changed its name to Exxon. In 1957, Humble Oil scientists published a study “tracking ‘the enormous quantity of carbon dioxide’ contributed to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution ‘from the combustion of fossil fuels,’” reported The New York Times. (Exxon was well aware of these findings and would later employ its own scientists to study the global warming effects of its company — though their results would deliberately be hidden for decades.)

While the media of this time incorrectly prioritized the concern for a potential future ice age, Humble Oil used this overarching fear to its advantage, hence the 1962 headline: EACH DAY HUMBLE SUPPLIES ENOUGH ENERGY TO MELT 7 MILLION TONS OF GLACIER! … which would offset the daunting global cooling of the day.

On social media one tweet read: “The mind boggles as to how times have changed. They might have well have just said ‘enough to drown 70 million kittens.'”

An overview of the history of climate science: Despite popular media, climate scientists were overwhelmingly predicting anthropogenic warming, not global cooling.

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