How Will ExxonMobil Adapt to Climate Change Crisis it Helped Create?

by Jane Dale Owen

On May 9, carbon dioxide (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. Climate experts consider this to be the tipping point when unimaginable disastrous climate change is inevitable.

As if to illustrate this point of no return, monster tornadoes raged across the middle of this country completely obliterating Moore, Oklahoma. Pieter Tans, a senior scientist in NOAA’s Global Monitoring Division told a New York Times reporter,  “It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.”

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 a major shift in shareholder resolution themes is emerging. 2013 shareholder resolutions call for ExxonMobil to disclose what the company 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.

The situation reminds me of a Winston Churchill quote:

Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong — these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.

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 gas to the atmosphere, the company could show foresight and leadership by investing in clean, renewable energy such as wind, solar and geo-thermal.

At the very least, ExxonMobil could invest some of its vast resources in best available technology to clean-up the emissions from its refineries and chemical plants. In addition to increasing CO2 levels, these emissions endanger the lives and health of the people living on the fence lines of these operations.

Unless citizens get involved, we can expect ExxonMobil to continue business as usual. Of course we should expect our company to disclose to us it’s plan for adapting to climate change and how much it will cost.  But I regret that this company, the U.S. government and others did not heed NASA Scientist James Hansen’s warning to the U.S. Congress about climate change in 1988. If action had been taken then, I believe we could have avoided much of the loss and suffering due to storms, fires and drought we recently have seen and are likely to see in the future.

If you are an ExxonMobil shareholder, I urge you to exercise your power — review the shareholder resolutions and vote.  We must continue to work toward getting this company to take responsibility for its role in climate change. As Ralph Keeling, geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography noted in the report about CO2 levels, “There’s no stopping CO2 from reaching 400 ppm. That’s now a done deal. But what happens from here on still matters to climate, and it’s still under our control. It mainly comes down to how much we continue to rely on fossil fuels for energy.”

— 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), an organization that provides news, information and education about global and local environmental issues.

35 Responses to How Will ExxonMobil Adapt to Climate Change Crisis it Helped Create?

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Jane Dale Owen wrote: “I hope that more shareholders will get involved to move ExxonMobil toward a life-sustaining future.”

    The only thing that ExxonMobil can do to “move toward a life-sustaining future” is to stop extracting, refining, transporting and selling oil.

    In other words, go out of business.

  2. fj says:

    Itself highly exposed and humanity in the process to the most extreme tragedy, the fossil fuel industry must divest immediately from fossil fuels and reinvent itself around clean energy and technology like Microsoft did with the internet.

  3. Superman1 says:

    Even more to the point: how will we the electorate adapt to the climate change crisis we helped create? Last I saw, we are the ones who drive to the Exxon stations, remove the hose, insert the nozzle in the tank, and squeeze the lever. Then, a nice 200 mile journey down the Skyline Parkway to enjoy the scenery. All Exxon’s fault!

  4. David Goldstein says:

    Jane- thanks for the article! I agree with the gist- however, when writing about climate change, I think it is very important to be as technically accurate as possible regarding the science, since even ACCURATE science is torn down by the denialists. So…when you write 400 ppm is the tipping point beyond which climate experts considerable unimaginable disastrous climate change inevitable…I do not believe that 400 ppm PER SE is considered such a tipping point. To the extent that a definitive tipping point has been agreed upon (and many of us think this is way too high-it should likely be 350 ppm or so), the 450 ppm/2 C warming is it. 400 ppm is more of a sobering (and starting) round number crossing point. My 2 cents!

  5. Superman1 says:

    An article in today’s Salon discusses biennial Sandys by 2100, with potential five foot sea level rise, and one of the earliest comments puts it all in the larger perspective.

  6. Superman1 says:

    David, you need to read the Talmud some more. She didn’t say all experts or even many experts; the only implication was plural, two or more. So, if McPherson is viewed as an expert, we need one more like him and she’s right on.

  7. Jon Davies says:

    I hope that Exxon does not adapt or begin to invest in alternate energy technologies. They do not deserve to survive the transition which they have been fighting against so forcefully for so long, costing us years of lost progress. I hope that shareholders instead sell their shares and reinvest in the appropriate technologies themselves, and I hope that Exxon self implodes when the carbon bubble brings it down to it’s actual worth.

    The big oil companies who have been spending decades and billions of dollars to discredit the science and deliberately mislead the public deserve only the people’s loathing, and I will be most displeased to see them emerge into a sustainable future as greenwashed ‘saviors’.

  8. Jon Davies says:

    It is largely still Exxon’s fault. The public’s apathy is due to their misinformation and propaganda. The government’s lack of stronger policies is due to the public apathy Exxon have fostered and their campaign donations.

    We need government policies to steer the transition, and until the better alternatives become more affordable and readily available, and fossil fuels truly priced, most people are stuck living the lifestyle society functions around, even the ones who would want to change to an electric car or bike to work.

  9. David Goldstein says:

    ha!- I actually haven’t gone through the Talmud much at all- but I have to believe that some ancestor/lineage piece is alive in me; I too love the conversations/debates that revolve around extreme-logical-parsing. One of the ongoing sadnesses for me in the whole climate arena is- if we assign an arbitrary score of 100 to Talmudic logic – then the median score in the general climate arena comes in at about 2.3 ! And, if possible, the denialistas come in at some robust negative integer.

  10. prokaryotes says:

    “How Will ExxonMobil Adapt to Climate Change Crisis it Helped Create?”

    Exxon Mobil, for years the principal funder of climate science disinformation, has inserted itself into climate engineering. The corporation’s point man on geoengineering is Haroon Kheshgi, who leads its Global Climate Change program. In 1995, he was the first to propose liming the oceans as a means of reducing acidification due to escalating atmospheric carbon. Through Kheshgi, Exxon has begun to influence various ‘independent’ reports into geoengineering, including one by NASA in 2007.

  11. Geoengineering can easily be seen as a way to keep fossil fuel use going. Bad idea. Geoengineering is a huge, interlinked universe of unintended consequences waiting to happen. It is solving a problem whose root cause is human interference with more human interference.

  12. prokaryotes says:

    “It’s an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.” – Rex Tillerson CEO Exxon

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Well said Jon, plus the maximum penalty imposed for the new crime of ecocide when it gets going, ME

  14. Superman1 says:

    “The public’s apathy is due to their misinformation and propaganda.” That’s your belief; it is not a statement of fact.

  15. Superman1 says:

    Undoubtedly, their misinformation has had some impact, but when I see a world-wide universal ‘apathy’ against taking the draconian, or even semi-serious, actions require to avoid climate catastrophe, I look for other explanations. People I know who understand what’s happening with the climate have zero inclination to change their lifestyles to ameliorate the situation.

  16. Superman1 says:

    Geo-engineering is the climate equivalent of modern medical practice. Do nothing about eliminating what’s causing the problem/illness. Apply some exotic and expensive treatment to eliminate the symptoms, which will then be replaced by other usually more serious symptoms, which themselves will require additional treatment.

  17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The only way that malignancy can cease destroying life is by apoptosis.

  18. Superman1 says:

    I almost went into terminal shock this morning; the MSN browser had a link to climate change, specifically the Arctic ice death spiral ( Now that the truth has been released, undoubtedly we can expect millions of new converts to climate change hawks.

  19. Superman1 says:

    Undoubtedly, a reflection of an Oxford Circle Reformist upbringing.

  20. “.. the company could show foresight and leadership by investing in clean, renewable energy such as wind, solar and geo-thermal.”
    Oil companies know nothing about wind ans solar, which now have their own ecosytems of technology, management and finance.

    Shareholders should press Exxon-Mobil to get into renewable businesses where it has some technical resources to contribute, not just money. I see two:
    – geothermal, based on mapping and drilling into resources deep under the earth’s surface;
    – synthetic and biological liquid fuels and gas.

  21. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “That’s your belief; it is not a statement of fact.”

    Every single comment you have ever posted here, without exception, has consisted wholly and entirely of stating your beliefs as fact.

    Moreover, when your beliefs have repeatedly been shown to be false by multiple other commenters, you continue to state them as fact.

  22. SecularAnimist says:

    fj wrote: “the fossil fuel industry must divest immediately from fossil fuels and reinvent itself around clean energy and technology like Microsoft did with the internet.”

    Microsoft was already a technology company with world-class expertise in computers, software and networks when the Internet became important to its customers, so it was not much of a stretch to “reinvent” itself around the Internet (and in fact much of that “reinvention” was little more than rebranding and marketing spin, not to mention the use of its Windows monopoly to disadvantage competitors like Netscape and Novell).

    The fossil fuel corporations are in an entirely different position. They are not really “energy companies” — they are FUEL companies. Their entire business model is to possess, extract, refine, transport and sell a limited, and ever-dwindling supply of increasingly costly FUEL.

    The clean energy technologies of the 21st century, principally solar and wind power, DO NOT REQUIRE FUEL. It’s a whole different business model — developing and selling the technology to harvest abundant, limitless, ubiquitous FREE energy from the sun and wind.

    There will be giant “energy companies” in the renewable energy future — but they will be technology companies, like Microsoft and Google and GE and Samsung and SunPower, not resource extraction companies like ExxonMobil.

    Renewable energy makes ExxonMobil’s business model obsolete. There is no place for them in the renewable energy world, and they know it. That is exactly why they are working so hard to obstruct and delay the inevitable transition for as long as possible.

  23. Superman1 says:

    Another post filled with invective and devoid of fact; your record remains unbroken!

  24. Raul M. says:

    If a ship is floating in the Arctic and is compressing natural gas from flux, How large does the gas sheet need to be that is on the ocean floor collecting the natural gas flux? It would have to be at least so big so that the ship wouldn’t lose buoyancy. And with increasing flux during the summer, the ship would need to process more gas so that the sheet wouldn’t float up under it. So the ship would need to be so capable of bottling compressed gas and the sheet would need to cover at least one access route for shipment of natural gas containers.

  25. Raul M. says:

    Methane Emergency Group has a nice picture showing methane flux in the Arctic Alaska area that looks to be on land. how extensive does the fuel cell need to be to process all that flux into electricity and heat.

  26. Raul M. says:

    Counting on hydroxyl radicals to process all that methane flux in the atmosphere seems most worrysome and masking the warming in the Arctic from such flux seems more expensive through geoengeneering than just collecting the flux and using it in a fuel cell to produce heat and electricity.

  27. kermit says:

    Most people would have no trouble driving an electric vehicle instead of the gas guzzlers we have now.

    If misinformation were not effective, why would the financial elites with a stake in the status quo spend so much money on it? You would have us believe that propaganda is ineffective even while the Koch brothers et al are taking over the last remnants of MSM and making major campaign contributions to nearly all politicians.

    I blame my fellow citizens for being disinterested in reality, and taking the emotionally easy way out when organizing their internal world map. But they really are overwhelmed with information – much of it false – and do not have the knowledge base we do for reorganizing it.

    Your science may be right, but your moral condemnation of the average clueless prole could have been said by the ideologically pure in any revolution. In Northern Ireland, in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, in the French revolution, there were those who hated most the allies who were not sufficiently fanatic.

    We are the children and grandchildren of the WWII generation; we can make any effort that we have to. But first you have to get past the cocoon of disinformation surrounding the majority.

  28. Superman1 says:

    “If misinformation were not effective, why would the financial elites with a stake in the status quo spend so much money on it?”. I have puzzled over that myself. Consider what happened in the case of tobacco, where the companies spent large amounts of money on concealing the truth.

  29. Superman1 says:

    In 1964, the Surgeon General’s Report presented the truth about smoking. According to a NYT reporter who follows tobacco, in a 2010 interview, the release of the Report had negligible impact on smoking habits. The impact came from financial penalties and mandates imposed by government.

  30. Superman1 says:

    In effect, these penalties and mandates were imposed by a non-smoking majority on a smoking minority; they would never have been passed had the numbers been reversed. In climate change, there is no non-fossil fuel majority that will impose its will on the fossil-using minority. The fossil companies may have other motivations for the disinformation, but I believe disseminating the truth about climate change will have minimal impact on any electorate actions.

  31. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Time to stop feeding him. At a penny per word, he just earned another thirteen cents slagging you off.

  32. Superman1 says:

    Mulga, if posters were paid by the word (not by content; there you would starve), you could have retired five times over already.

  33. Raul M. says:

    In my own family there is much greater understanding about the world warming than there was 20 years ago. And so by the common people learning the truth about how the warming happens, then there will be much more acceptance of the truth. Because leaders and bosses will learn of the acceptance of the truth, they will loose their fear of being overthrown for doing more to ensure a livable climate. Some CEO’s may feel they have gained so much in stock options that the subject has become moot and many people are still learning truth about the weather.

  34. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Ka-ching! Twenty-three more cents. Do you get anything for commas, apostrophes etc?

  35. Joe Romm says:

    Glass houses….