Religious Proxy Warriors Renew Attack on Fossil Fuels
Acton Institute Powerblog

Religious Proxy Warriors Renew Attack on Fossil Fuels

No sooner does one proxy resolution season end, it seems, then another begins. The religious shareholder activist group As You Sow has announced last week it will continue to push proxy resolutions at Exxon Mobil Corporation in 2015. If there’s any doubt what stance they’ll take, those doubts should be allayed by As You Sow’s presence at last weekend’s Climate Summit at the United Nations:

The world will be watching, and this is a time to stand up and be counted. As You Sow will be there to march and stand up for the voice of investors. We invite you to walk with us, raising our voices together against climate risk, for a sustainable future, and a strong economy.

What exactly is meant by AYS’s assertions for climate risk, sustainability and a strong economy? In a Sept. 12 press release, the shareholder activists reference a recent report by Carbon Tracker Initiative, a London-based nongovernmental organization in which ExxonMobil is accused of “understating climate-change risk to investors.” CTI’s agenda is to reduce the use of fossil fuels, of course, but over the past several years they’ve presented a new wrinkle to the argument. It seems that – if successful in their renewable-energy mandates and carbon caps – ExxonMobil investors will be left holding an empty sack as a result. According to AYS and Arjuna Capital, another group of progressive investor activists:

ExxonMobil is underplaying the risks presented to its business and investors by the need for international action to prevent climate change, according to a new report.

The analysis, from the financial think tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI), warns that the oil giant is unprepared for a major shift in the market, with carbon-cutting policies and the rise of renewable energy likely to curb demand for oil in the coming decades.

Supporters of the ‘carbon bubble’ theory warn that such a trend would leave the fossil fuel reserves already claimed by Exxon as devalued stranded assets. Even if world leaders fail to agree on effective climate change policies, some analysts say demand for oil will still fall, leaving Exxon and the other oil majors exposed.

The presumptuousness and spin above exposes AYS and CTI as little more than anti-fossil fuel activists. It barely merits mention that ExxonMobil’s in a far better position to calculate the potential financial risks and advantages of stranded assets than a group of “concerned” activists working at cross-purposes with a majority of shareholders.

The release continues:

Although Exxon did concede that it needed to manage climate change-related risks, the CTI report concludes that the firm is failing to adapt its investment strategy and business model accordingly.

In a statement, wealth manager Arjuna Capital and the nonprofit As You Sow, which jointly submitted the initial share-holder resolution to Exxon, claim the CTI report proves that ‘the dinosaur has no clothes’.

‘Exxon’s cost profile is headed in the wrong direction as they invest in high-cost unconventional assets. This flawed strategy has contributed to a significant deterioration in returns over the last five years –essentially reversing a 40-year trend of outperformance,” said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at Arjuna Capital.

‘A fossil fuel volume play in the face of climate risk is faulty logic. As investors, we prefer Exxon protect value by diverting capital from high risk, high carbon projects to low carbon alternatives and return money to shareholders through increased dividends and share buybacks.’

As part of the investor engagement group the Carbon Risk Initiative, As You Sow and Arjuna Capital have pledged to battle for more transparency and responsiveness from fossil fuel firms as the 2015 shareholder season approaches.

Let’s suss this out: ExxonMobil’s core business is, according to the Arjuna spokeswoman, “unconventional.” Viewed from the AYS, CTI and Arjuna ivory towers, perhaps. The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Peaple, however, relates a scenario far different from that of CTI and its over-eager disciples:

As The Wall Street Journal’s Russell Gold reports, naysayers have long argued that the surge in U.S. oil and gas supply over the past decade, stemming from greater use of the fracking technique to extract resources, would eventually peter out. The reason: the U.S. would run out of wells to frack.

That ignored one other possibility: that frackers might find ways to get more resources from any given well.

The best new well drilled last year—in Susquehanna County, Pa.—produces more than four times as much oil each day as the best well drilled back in 2003, at the outset of the shale revolution.

According to Gold, while the number of rigs drilling for oil onshore in the U.S. has been broadly flat in recent times, production is increasing because of this sort of rising productivity.

If this trend carries on, it could alter estimates of how long the U.S. can sustain its energy production boom. A recent government report suggested U.S. oil production would level off in 2019. But under a scenario where extraction technology continues to improve, it could keep rising until 2040, the report concluded.

Your writer is loathe to ascribe motives to any individual or group of people, but the above indicates AYS and Arjuna aren’t concerned in the slightest about ExxonMobil’s shareholder value inasmuch they’re convinced climate change is incontrovertibly real, manmade, catastrophic and reversible. Belief in some or all of the above certainly is within the rights of AYS and Arjuna, but what of other shareholders in the equation? After all, these organizations and individual men and women of every set of beliefs and non-beliefs simply seek a decent return on their investments in ExxonMobil stock. Additionally, the value of cheap and plentiful fossil fuel is a boon for not only the world’s economic engines but as well the quality of life for every rung of the economic ladder.

 

 

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.