As I have said elsewhere, I don’t do a lot of finger-pointing at oil companies when placing the blame for global warming. They produce the oil and gas because we demand it. The primary fault lies with consumers, i.e. us. To quote the famous swamp philosopher Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Nonetheless, the oil companies have done more than produce oil. Many have produced propaganda against the seriousness of the crisis, even attempting to undermine the science of climate change. And chief among these miscreants is ExxonMobil, a laggard among oil majors in responding to global warming.
It was, therefore, with some satisfaction that I read about the shenanigans at ExxonMobil’s recent shareholders’ meeting. Four new members were to be elected to the 12-person board of directors and, as is the custom, management presented its own slate of candidates which it assumed would be duly elected.
A tiny, activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1, had other ideas. It presented its own slate—four climate activists. And to the chagrin of CEO Darren Woods and his fellow executives, who had campaigned vigorously against the usurpers, two of the independent candidates won seats on the board. Furthermore, of particular interest, they were backed by three of America’s biggest pension funds, the two biggest advisory services and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager and major shareholder in ExxonMobil.
And shareholders went further. They also voted for greater transparency of the company’s lobbying efforts.
Exxon-Mobil wasn’t alone in getting a climate message from its shareholders this week. At Chevron’s AGM, investors strongly supported a proposal asking the company to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, including its customers’ emissions, in addition to its own operations and supply chains.
Not to be omitted from the chastising is my former employer, Royal Dutch Shell, perhaps the most progressive of the majors. This same week, with a decision that could set an international precedent, a Dutch court ordered Shell to make deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than it had planned. Shell, like Chevron, was ordered to reduce the emissions not only of the company, but also its suppliers and customers.
The attention to the emissions of the companies’ customers has a particular resonance here in Alberta where government and industry boast about reducing emissions but only at the production end. It is, of course, the end use that produces the bulk of the emissions.
Needless to say, environmentalists are ecstatic about the messages sent to the industry. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, observed that the Exxon-Mobil vote “sends an unmistakable signal that climate action is a financial imperative, and leading investors know it and are demanding change.” It is clear that the business strategies of oil companies must change to a much greener direction.
Incidentally, after the board election, Exxon-Mobil’s stock price rose.