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Will ExxonMobil Adapt to Climate Change? Not Likely

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday June 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments

exxonmobil_greenpeaceThe question—by a guest blogger on ThinkProgress—was, “How will ExxonMobil adapt to the climate change crisis it helped create?”

Wait – adapt? Does ExxonMobil have plans to adapt? And does the oil major even acknowledge climate change or that it helped create it?

So, the premise of the piece was somewhat sketchy from the get-go—until one saw who wrote it: Jane Dale Owen, the granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, the parent company of ExxonMobil.

Owen is president and founder of Citizens League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN), an organization that provides news, information and education about global and local environmental issues.

Given that lineage, it gets somewhat interesting, so, let’s see what Owen had to say.

It’s been widely reported that we passed a major milestone last month when CO2 concentration in the earth’s atmosphere surpassed 400 parts per million for the first time since measurements began in 1958, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists. Owen wrote that “climate experts consider this to be the tipping point when unimaginable disastrous climate change is inevitable.”

We’ve reached a point of no return, and she continued, “For years, responsible investor groups have called for ExxonMobil to address climate change. The company’s board of directors seems to hardly notice. Again this year, there are resolutions calling for greenhouse gas emissions goals.”

But is change afoot? Owen cited a “major change in shareholder resolution themes,” to wit, resolutions calling on ExxonMobil to “disclose what it is doing to adapt to extreme weather and climate change.”

This shift in resolution themes “illustrates how neglecting to address climate change has contributed to a global crisis in which disasters are anticipated and preparedness for such events is a priority for any company’s business plan.”

Owen then issued her call to action: “As I cast my votes this year, I hope that more shareholders will get involved to move ExxonMobil toward a life-sustaining future. ExxonMobil’s $44.9 billion in earnings for 2012 came close to a world’s record. Instead of wildcatting in costly, unproven non-conventional fossil fuel technologies such as fracking and tar sands that add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the company could show foresight and leadership by investing in clean, renewable energy such as wind, solar and geo-thermal.”

So what happened at the  May 29 shareholder meeting with regard to Owen’s pleas? Not much, except for obfuscation and gobbledygook from ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson.

Here’s a sampling of what he said, taken from the transcript of the meeting:

“I think our views on climate change and the risk of climate change have been fairly well described both in public forums where I and others have spoken as well as in publications in the ways we have expressed view climate change as a serious issue, it does present serious risk. I will maintain the view that I have had for some time now, but notwithstanding all the advancements that have been made in gathering more data, instrumenting the planet so that we understand how climate conditions on the planet are changing, notwithstanding all that data, our ability to project with any degree of certainty the future is continuing to be very limited.

“If you examine the temperature record of the last decade, it really hadn’t changed…Our ability to understand all of the relationships between emissions and the environment and the feedback loops continues to be one of the science community’s grand challenges and there are some of the best scientist in the world working on that. And we support their work; continue to support their work because we want to understand that as well. So as we said in the past, that how do you want to deal with something or the outcome is unknowable but the risks are significant and so that’s why we have concentrated on, we do not have a readily available replacement for the energy that provide the means of living that the world has today…There is nothing out there today that will do that. Windmills won’t do it, solar panels won’t do it; bio-fuels won’t do it and all of those come with consequential issues as well. It’s not that we do not support continued advancement there, but I think that in this discussion which is vitally important to all mankind, I think we could have a much more useful discussion if we could find the place in the middle which is where 80 percent of people are and talk about a reasonable approach that acknowledges what we know [and] acknowledges what we don’t know and looks at all the tools available to us to manage that outcome and the engineered solutions side…”

Nice try but move along, there’s no adaptation—and not even very much coherence—here.

[Image: ExxonMobil: High Earnings, Low Taxes, No Ethics by Greenpeace via Flickr CC]


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  • Ben Franklin

    The last sentence of Tillerson’s quote is his position: ” I think we could have a much more useful discussion if we could find the place in the middle which is where 80 percent of people are and talk about a reasonable approach that acknowledges what we know [and] acknowledges what we don’t know and looks at all the tools available to us to manage that outcome and the engineered solutions side” Tillerson wants the world governments to implement carbon capture or (more worrisome) an engineered atmosphere change to modify a problem that Exxon is just now admitting is a real. And even though Tillerson admits that climate change is such a complicated model that we can not create numeric models to predict the future with the accuracy he would like, he believes governments can engineer a solution to this complex system without simply reducing CO2 emissions.

    Tillerson has no credibility on this issue! At least we can agree that this discussion is vitally important to all of mankind.

  • mjonesx

    Is it possible to have 7 billion people heading toward 9 billion without greenhouse emissions?
    Folks want to live a modern lifestyle. Unfortunately, we are adding CO2 a million times faster than natural systems can handle. Maybe it can not be solved, but at least we could try. Right now we aren’t even doing that at all.