Exxon: Destroying Planet Necessary to Relieve Global Poverty
Michael Brune | October 21, 2014
The fossil-fuel divestment movement has been on a roll lately to the tune of $50 billion, but one of its biggest successes happened last month: The world’s most profitable oil company squirmed. ExxonMobil’s vice president of public and government affairs published a critique of divestment that concluded by saying that destroying our planet’s climate by recklessly extracting and burning fossil fuel reserves is necessary to relieve global poverty.
This sudden concern is interesting from a company that holds the record for the highest corporate profits ever posted in the U.S. and whose CEO made more than $100,000 a day in 2012 (including Sundays). ExxonMobil hasn’t earned those kinds of profits by worrying overmuch about the poor of the world. As the Sierra Student Coalition‘s Anastasia Schemkes put it: “This is the oil industry saying ‘please don’t be mean to me’ after bullying vulnerable communities around the globe for decades.”
The real message of ExxonMobil’s blog post was unintentional. The fossil fuel divestment movement, which started on college campuses but has since spread to foundation boardrooms and beyond, is achieving its principal goal, which is to raise awareness of how morally indefensible the actions of companies like ExxonMobil really are. I’m not just talking about its core business of extracting as much oil as it can, wherever it can, while it can. This is a company that pretends to care about climate disruption (with lots of talk about “mitigation,” which is code for “do whatever it takes to keep burning fossil fuels”), while simultaneously funding the climate-denial industry and lavishing its largesse on obstructionist legislators.
How can we begin to get companies like this to change? It’s tough to beat such a Goliath through financial pressure alone. Even the most wildly successful divestment campaign is unlikely to dent this mega-corporation’s profits in the near term. But let’s not forget that even the hugest corporation is made up of real people. And real people start to get uncomfortable when it’s clear that not only is what they are doing terribly wrong—but that other people are taking note.
That’s when they start to get defensive—and we can see that divestment really is making a difference.
The oil giant seeks to counter the campaign that urges investors to dump stock in petroleum and coal companies.
By Ben Geman, October 13, 2014
Exxon Mobil is wielding its public relations might against the fossil-fuel divestment movement, signaling that climate-change activists have struck a nerve at the world’s biggest publicly traded oil and gas company.
Exxon Mobil’s blog, titled “Perspectives,” posted a lengthy attack Friday about the divestment movement, which urges universities, churches, pension funds, and other big institutional investors to dump their shares of oil and coal companies as part of the fight against global warming.
But the blog post calls the movement “out of step with reality,” saying it’s at odds with the need for poor nations to gain better access to energy, as well as the need for fossil fuels to meet global energy demand for decades to come.
So far, the climate advocates’ progress at getting a growing number of institutions to shed holdings in fossil fuel companies remains pretty small compared with the scale of the industry they’re battling.
Consider that the roughly 1,700 oil-and-gas and coal companies listed on stock exchanges are worth nearly $5 trillion, notes the research company Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
But the divestment movement has been growing– just last week the University of Glasgow became the first European university to announce divestment plans. And the movement also has a number of high-profile adherents, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the South African Nobel Prize-winning anti-apartheid leader. (The fossil fuel divestment movement takes its cues from the 1970s and 1980s movement urging divestment from apartheid South Africa.)
Another supporter is Christiana Figueres, the United Nations official shepherding international negotiations aimed at reaching a new global climate pact in late 2015.
But Exxon calls divestment a misplaced solution to climate change.
“Divestment represents a diversion from the real search for technological solutions to managing climate risks that energy companies like ours are pursuing,” writes Ken Cohen, Exxon’s VP for public and government affairs.
Cohen’s post argues that the movement ignores the scale of global energy demand for power, transportation, and other needs, as well as “the inability of current renewable technologies to meet it.”
“Almost every place on the planet where there is grinding poverty, there is also energy poverty. Wherever there is subsistence living, it is usually because there is little or no access to modern, reliable forms of energy,” Cohen writes.
Divestment advocates will find plenty of material to argue about in Exxon’s post. In one case, Exxon cites estimates that renewable energy’s share of the total global mix will be about 15 percent in 2040.
But the activists pushing for divestment, such as Bill McKibben’s 350.org, advocate for more aggressive policies that promote low-carbon energy, and analysts say that would change the global mix a lot more and a lot faster.
While the International Energy Agency has forecast that without policy changes, renewables will meet about 15 percent of total energy needs in 2035, IEA and other agencies have also modeled various other scenarios in which low-carbon energy takes a far larger share.
For instance, in late September, IEA released a “roadmap” of policies explaining how solar power alone could become the world’s biggest source of electricity by 2050 or even earlier.
Divestment advocates have already criticized Exxon’s post.
“This is the oil industry saying ‘please don’t be mean to me’ after bullying vulnerable communities around the globe for decades,” said Anastasia Schemkes, a campaign representative with the Sierra Student Coalition.
Reverend Fletcher Harper, executive director of the pro-divestment group GreenFaith, took issue with Exxon’s assertions that the divestment movement is out of touch. “Divestment advocates have been clear from the start that the divestment campaign is about calling into question the industry’s ‘social license’ to operate. In this regard, divestment is a highly appropriate debate, and highly reality-based,” he said in an email.
Harper also said that advocates agree with the imperative of bringing energy to nations where access is now lacking. “I believe that these energy needs must be met, to the greatest degree possible, with clean, renewable energy. The [Exxon] blog post does not reckon with the fact that coal, oil, and gas combustion are responsible for a large number of deaths annually worldwide,” Harper said.
It’s not the first time Exxon has tussled with divestment advocates.
In response to shareholder activists, Exxon released a report in late March that rebuts advocates’ claims that its fossil fuel reserves are at risk of becoming “stranded assets” in a carbon-constrained world.
Oakland City Council votes to oppose coal, crude oil trains
By Rory Carroll, San Francisco, June 18, 2014
(Reuters) – The Oakland City Council has unanimously backed a resolution opposing the use of the city’s rail lines to transport crude oil and coal, a move that supporters hope will call attention to proposed projects that would sharply increase the amount of such cargo rolling through the densely populated city.
The resolution will not halt crude oil trains from entering Oakland since U.S. railroads are federally regulated, but backers hope it will stoke debate about plans for export facilities that would boost demand.
Backers of the resolution are particularly concerned about a proposed upgrade to Phillips 66’s Santa Maria refinery that would allow it to take in more crude oil from North Dakota on trains that would pass by rail through Oakland.
They are also worried about the redevelopment of the Oakland Army Base, which includes the building of a commodities facility that they believe will be used to export coal. The coal would also be moved through the city by rail.
“These proposed export facilities are a serious threat to Oakland and the East Bay communities,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“If oil and coal companies have their way, the Bay Area will become the biggest fossil fuel export hub on the West Coast,” she said.
The fuels will not be consumed in the Bay Area, she added, but would just pass through the area on their way to overseas markets.
California has in recent years seen a surge in crude oil arriving by rail on the back of an oil boom in North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation and in Canada, prompting safety and environmental concerns.
Crude oil-by-rail shipments into California increased from about 70 rail tanker carloads in 2009 to nearly 9,500 carloads in 2013, according to state regulators. They are projected to soar in the next few years.
Last July, 47 people were killed in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, when a freight train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed and exploded. Since then, there have been a number of fiery derailments in the United States that have caused environmental damage, but no fatalities.
Separately, the Oakland City Council on Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution to divest money from city employees from fossil fuel companies, although none of that money is currently invested in those types of businesses.
The move is intended to put pressure on the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), which does hold such investments, to follow suit.
CalPERS is one of the country’s largest managers of public pensions, with $288 billion in retiree assets under management. (Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by G Crosse)
Oakland City Council Votes to Divest from Fossil Fuel Companies
Oakland becomes 5th California city to divest; Council, 350.org urge CalPERS to act
Oakland, California — The Oakland City Council today unanimously approved a measure divesting city funds from all investments in any company “whose primary business or enterprise is extraction, production, refining, burning and/or distribution of any fossil fuels.” The council recommended that city pension funds also divest and urged the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS), one of the nation’s largest managers of public pensions, with $288 billion in retiree assets under management, to follow suit and eliminate fossil fuel companies from their portfolios.
Oakland becomes the fifth city in California to pass a fossil fuel divestment resolution and the 25th city in the nation, joining the ranks of San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. “I’m thrilled that Oakland City Council took a strong stand to divest from fossil fuels companies that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases, and to protect our communities by opposing the transport of hazardous fossil fuels by rail through the heart of Oakland,” said Dan Kalb, Oakland City Councilmember, and author of the Council resolutions. “Divesting from a dirty energy economy will add Oakland’s voice to a growing movement that makes it clear that the old way of fueling our economy is not sustainable for our cities and our planet.”
The move is part of a fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement, which has spread to over 500 campuses, cities, faith communities, labor unions and pension funds around the nation, calling on institutions to take bold action against climate change by aligning investments with a clean and equitable energy future. So far, 12 colleges and universities, 27 cities, two counties, 30 religious institutions, and 27 foundations in the U.S. and around the world have pledged to divest or have done so already.
Ophir Bruck, an Oakland resident and organizer with Fossil Free UC, the University of California divestment campaign, said Oakland’s action could embolden the Board of Regents of the nation’s leading public university to act: “This move positions Oakland as a climate leader and should encourage the UC Regents, who are exploring the possibility of divesting UC’s $88 billion portfolio from fossil fuels, to stand on the right side of history by divesting for our future.”
Efforts on the measure were spearheaded by 350 Bay Area, a regional group aligned with the international climate change organization 350.org, which supports fossil fuel divestment efforts worldwide via its Go Fossil Free campaign.
Added Oakland resident and 350 East Bay divestment activist Janet Cox: “I was really glad to the Council take a strong stand in support of the environment and the fight to halt devastating damage to the climate. Governments and NGOs are going to have to act if we’re going to survive climate change, and this resolution puts Oakland in the vanguard. Oakland will be able to lead on this critical issue.”
Ophir Bruck, 415-609-2409, firstname.lastname@example.org, Divestment Organizer with Fossil Free UC and the California Student Sustainability Coalition
Jay Carmona, 510-502-0752, email@example.com, National Divestment Director