A Letter To Chevron’s CEO: Your Business Is Creating A Climate ‘Incompatible With An Organized Global Community’

From: David Fenton

To: John Watson, CEO of Chevron

Dear Mr. Watson,

I’m the one who asked you about global warming at the Council on Foreign Relations last week. I accused you of being in denial. I’m afraid your answer proved it.

I pointed out that three recent reports warned we are headed for 4 to 6 degree centigrade warming over the next century — from those radicals at PricewaterhouseCoopers, The International Energy Agency and the World Bank. This is what your industry business model is threatening us with, a future that UK climate scientist Kevin Anderson has called “incompatible with an organized global community.” It will make coastlines unstable for generations as seas rise, bring the price of food beyond the reach of the world’s poor, create even stronger storms, droughts, wildfires and floods — all while wrecking the global economy. And it is happening now.

If you need a reminder, you can watch our exchange here.

Your answer? We have no choice but to keep burning all the fossil fuels to avoid returning to the Stone Age. China and India are doing it so we will too (sounds like what a five-year-old would say). There is no alternative technology, so we have no choice but to advance towards collective suicide. Such foresight and leadership!

But none of it is true.

What will return us to the Stone Age is burning all your reserves, and those of the other fossil fuel companies. That isn’t politics — its physics, as burning them will warm the earth beyond anything civilization has known.

Meanwhile, as the experts at McKinsey, the Rocky Mountain Institute and many others have shown, we can move towards an almost carbon-free energy system over the next 30 to 40 years at either zero net cost (McKinsey) or a $5 trillion dollar net present value savings to the economy ( We have almost all the technologies needed, and as they scale they are coming down in price rapidly. Wind and solar are competitive in many places now, and soon won’t need subsidies (when will you give up yours?). With a smart grid, solar and wind can scale to at least 50% of our energy needs even before storage becomes more affordable, which it will. The new Tesla electric sedan gets 300 miles on a charge, and those prices will fall as volume rises too. Why isn’t Chevron leading us into this survivable and profitable world?

We can also save at least 40% of the energy we use just by making systems efficient, without sacrifice and with enormous savings, especially in buildings. This would end the recession and put millions to work. Why aren’t you leading this?

As for other countries, they are getting far ahead of us. Germany now gets 26 percent of its power from renewables and forecasts doubling that by 2025. At times last spring, 60 percent of all German electricity was renewable in Europe’s strongest economy, growing by 3 percent yearly. Germany is now installing over 7 gigawatts of solar each year — that’s 7 nuclear power plants worth at peak power. In India the Reserve Bank concluded that new coal plants make no economic sense, India cancelled plans for 42 GW of coal and Tata, the largest power company, announced it would no longer build anything but renewables. Coal still dominates in China, but things are changing — it leads the world in renewables, with installed windpower doubling every year. Last month the Party Congress announced a “revolution in energy production and consumption,” words they don’t use lightly over there.

Do you really want these countries to beat the U.S. for the technologies and jobs of the next era? Is that “maximizing shareholder value?” Is scorching the earth?

I suggest that sticking with fossil energy business as usual and 4 to 6 degree warming is probably the worst business mistake ever made. Instead, you should become an energy service company leading the inevitable transition to a low carbon economy. It’s inevitable that people will demand this. As the weather worsens, those whose products are causing the warming will become social and economic pariahs. You will be regulated and restricted to death. Remember the tobacco lawsuits? Small potatoes compared to what you will face. As Bill McKibben has suggested, perhaps our recent New York storm should be renamed “Hurricane Chevron.”

To change the climate for business, and rescue your legacy, you should support a slowly rising carbon fee, 100 percent of which is rebated to consumers per capita. This will level the energy playing field and make renewables and efficiency much more affordable by pricing your products for their true cost to society. Then you can make the money on renewables you claim you can’t now.

Lastly, Mr. Watson, in addition to denial and deception when it comes to climate, your comments on the lawsuit against you for your oil spills in Ecuador are yet another terrible example for our children. You can complain about lawyers all you want, but it won’t hide the contamination still poisoning water, fishing grounds and habitat in the Amazon, all clearly captured on the documentary you mentioned. Clean up your mess in the Amazon, and join us in cleaning up the mess we’ve made of our climate.

David Fenton is CEO of Fenton, the social change communications firm

20 Responses to A Letter To Chevron’s CEO: Your Business Is Creating A Climate ‘Incompatible With An Organized Global Community’

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Excellent letter, but Watson isn’t even exactly evil- more like a malignant robot, programmed only to make more money. He and his friends are not going to change.

    David, I hope you have ideas for reaching the indifferent middle.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    A robopath, Mike. Read Yablonsky. The robopaths rule the world and they are the antithesis of the human being.

  3. Marilyn Maxwell says:

    I appreciate your letter David. The oil industry is a major contributor to many of the ills in our society.
    We need to open a dialogue. Life is all about choices we make. I believe in non-compliance. I do not own a car myself. We need to think about our consumerism and our individual responsibility toward the global climate. Shop local, eat organic, grow your own, reduce debt, pay cash, use natural products. North America needs to catch up in producing green energy,green products and jobs. Reality show us that the world is no longer sustainable at the rate we are consuming and change is up to the corporations, business, government, and the people. Take responsibility.

  4. I tend to think self-interested elites are much more of the U.S. and global climate problem, than the middle.

    And I’m not sure the middle is all that indifferent. Just individually powerless relative to the top elites.

  5. todd tanner says:

    Hell of a letter. Well done. We’re asking for examples of great climate letters at the CH Facebook page. We’ll definitely share this one.

  6. Richard Miller says:

    Great question to the CEO of Chevron! Thanks for challenging him in that setting! And great letter.

    I looked at your website and see that you are deeply connected with the environmental organizations. Bill McKibben, as you know, has started a divestment campaign for universities, churches, and other organizations that climate aware Americans belong to. This is a great campaign and I was at one of the events and was very impressed by the response of the crowds. As someone who has been reading and researching the social implications of climate change (along with being involved in protests), I think we are starting to see some energy and momentum but the window of opportunity to stay near 2˚ C is rapidly closing. My proposal to you, and I mentioned this to Bill McKibben at a lunch before one of his events, is to go one step further and threaten the Democratic party with effectively divesting from it.

    Here is the proposal. Dr. Robert Brulle’s in his article entitled the “The US Environmental Movement”, which you can find at , maintains,
    “The U.S. environmental movement is perhaps the single largest social movement in the
    United States. With over 6,500 national and 20,000 local environmental organizations, along with an estimated 20-30 million members, this movement dwarfs other modern social movements such as the civil rights or peace movements. It is also the longest running social movement.”

    There has been a great deal of research on how social movements bring about political change following the work of the academic Gene Sharp. Students of Sharp founded the International Center for Non-violent conflict. See here If you look at this research, you realize very quickly that the environmental groups are not fully leveraging their power. My proposal is that the environmental groups get together for a summit and put together a series of demands on President Obama (all of which he can do without Congress) – stop the Keystone XL pipeline, stop selling leases on public lands to coal companies, and possibly fracking companies, etc. – and tell the Democratic party that if the President does not do these things environmental organizations will work to keep their 30 million members at home in the 2014 and 2016 elections and to keep them from contributing to the Democratic party. This would get the Democrats attention. They have made it a habit to cave into strong opponents so I think it is a near certainty that this would lead to insurmountable pressure on the President that would produce real change. This of course would require a great deal of educational outreach by environmental organizations in order to both describe to their members how time is running out on the climate issue and how this strategy has a very good chance of being successful if you understand the basic power dynamics of a society and know how to exploit them through nonviolent political action.

    What do you think?

  7. Richard Bradley says:

    A revenue-neutral carbon tax is exactly what’s needed and what we’re fighting for at Citizens Climate Lobby.

  8. todd tanner says:

    It’s up:

    CP – Thanks for sharing this letter. It’s a great example of something we all should be doing.

  9. peter whitehead says:

    someone recently suggested we stop giving ‘people’ names to storms – eg Hurricane Chevron would be a good choice

  10. Spencer Lane says:

    Interesting to find a mention of electric vehicles and the CEO of Chevron in the same article. Chevron once owned NiMH battery technology and patents through the purchase of Texaco and created the company Cobasys, a partnership between ChevronTexaco and Ovonics, the company Texaco acquired for the battery technology.

    What at first appeared to be a good thing when ownership of NiMH tech. went back to Ovonics in the form of Energy Conversion Devices, a maker of thin-film solar photovoltaic panels, turned out to be a bust when EDC filed for bankruptcy last February.

  11. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    What economy on a dead planet?

  12. aenoch says:

    We definitely need a NONE OF THE ABOVE place on the ballot. If NONE OF THE ABOVE wins we start all over with different candidates.

  13. Thanks for writing this article. This is exactly why we need to actually go after the fossil fuel industry and DIVEST! The whole business model of the fossil fuel industry is based on destroying the earth…

  14. Great idea. I have long thought that all the environmental groups, while pursuing their own specialized agendas, should also form a super group called something like the “United Environmental Front (UEF)” to campaign on specific issues of interest to everyone. Climate change would be a good place to start.

    This UEF would function in much the same way that Chamber of Commerce or the United Way does. It takes dues from national and local organizations, say 5% of the contributions they raise, and also takes its marching orders from them, though it coordinates the overall choice of issues.

    So the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, and a thousand little local environmental groups such as my hometown’s Corvallis Sustainability Coalition — all members — vote on the issues and come up with shutting down Keystone and funky coal plants as the top priorities for 2013. The UEF then sicks its well-funded, massively represented Washington lobbyists on Congress and the White House and they do some serious arm twisting.

    Things get done, and it’s on to the next consensus issue — fracking? No oil exploration in the Arctic?

    No reason it can’t work in principle. All that needs improving is the name, so we don’t end up with UEF as the acronym. United Environmental Group (UEG)? I give up. Help, somebody.

  15. Anne says:

    CEOs of major energy companies are similar to Mitt Romney in that they are insulated from most of society, they live in a bubble and become myopic. Being challenged in public by credible, concerned people is foreign to them but also very healthy for them, and for us. Whether your comments or this letter will penetrate his conscience (and the collective conscience of Chevron) is a different question. You’d think, with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from UC-Davis, he’d know a little something about food production and the importance of climate for good crops. But that was many pay checks ago, and he’s probably forgotten by now. Good letter, hard-hitting and fair. We need more of this – a steady drumbeat of this message – over and over and over again.

  16. Anne says:

    Last year (2011), at age 54, Watson’s total compensation was $24,726,716, according to Forbes.

  17. peter whitehead says:

    I love the word ‘compensation’ – what for, getting out of bed?

  18. Joan Savage says:

    One key cognitive dissonance in the video-recorded conversation is that Watson in his own reply thinks that the transition away from fossil fuels will take a long time, “we have a long way to go before…”
    Another is his “affordability” defense.

    The rebuttal of “next 30 to 40 years at either zero net cost (McKinsey) or a $5 trillion dollar net present value savings to the economy (” seems also rather slow for time as well as being socioeconomic-maintenance oriented.

    I’d like a refresher review on time frames.

    The melting continental ice sheets and Arctic melt methane releases prompt me to think that humans have far less than 30 to 40 years to accomplish an energy transition with any semblance of societal continuity.

  19. Jay Alt says:

    US environmental groups annually meet with legislators and leaders in Wash. Each group is asked to outline their top priority. A few years ago they stunned the pols by all replying with the same thing – ‘global warming.’ That got their attention. Only momentarily.

  20. Cyn Leach says:

    In response to the comment by Philip S. Wenz…
    How about Earth-Life Foundation (ELF), or Environmental Survival Coalition (ESC), or Sustainable Action Vanguard (SAV)?