by Jane Dale Owen
Although few people will even know about it, one of the most powerful corporations in the world is meeting in Dallas today.
How shareholders vote on resolutions in that meeting is critical to public health and the environment. The corporation is Exxon Mobil — the largest, most profitable energy corporation in the world. The shareholder resolutions call for more information about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking; company goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and creating a climate future task force.
I am a shareholder in Exxon Mobil, and I have deep roots in the oil business. My grandfather, Robert Lee Blaffer, was one of the founders of Humble Oil Company, the parent company of Exxon Mobil. My grandfather was a humanitarian and fiscally responsible. At that time he was unaware of the side effects of oil extraction and the refining process. I believe he would want me to do what I can as a shareholder to influence this powerful company to move toward a more sustainable future.
Being a shareholder in an extremely profitable energy company comes with financial benefits, and it comes with responsibility. Shareholders have the right to vote, speak and influence the company from the inside. It is up to us to hold Exxon Mobil accountable for the way it does business. In this season of annual shareholders meetings, we are seeing that shareholders do have power. To use that power we must stay involved. We are more powerful as shareholders than any unnoticed vote we could make by selling our shares.
Do we really want our company to be making deals with Russia to teach them the fracking process? Or to give them a stake in the Gulf of Mexico and West Texas in exchange for oil exploration rights in the Russian Black Sea and Kara Sea? Do we want Exxon Mobil to inflict the environmental damage associated with extracting oil from the tar sands in Canada? Do we want our refineries to continue to endanger the lives of children and families living near them?
Under the banner of energy independence, Exxon Mobil is throwing caution to the wind and moving full speed ahead into fracking, off-shore drilling and in other environmentally sensitive areas. A better long-term plan for energy independence would be to steer away from fossil fuels and move toward limitless solar, wind and geothermal.
If Exxon Mobil put resources into solving public health and environmental threats, they could be positioned to innovate and compete in the fast-changing, resource-constrained global economy. This powerful company could be a leader in doing what is needed now to turn a climate catastrophe around.
As shareholders of Exxon Mobil, we are part of a company that has unprecedented influence all over the world. We must exercise our power as shareholders and insist that our company become a better corporate citizen and use its power for a life-sustaining future.
Jane Dale Owen is granddaughter of Robert Lee Blaffer, one of the founders of Humble Oil and Refining Company, the parent company of Exxon Mobil. She is president and founder of Citizens League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) www.cleanhouston.org, an organization that for more than a decade has been working to inform and educate the public about solutions to environmental issues.