Religious shareholder activists egging on a federal investigation of ExxonMobil include the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, which counts the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, New Jersey, among its faith-based members. The narrative promulgated by the activists is that the energy giant conducted climate-change research and buried the results when the data inconveniently proved burning fossil fuels was a major contributor.
All this might be a tempest in a teapot if not for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) pressing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to prosecute ExxonMobil under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act following the so-called “revelations” reported by the Los Angeles Times and, to a more sensationalistic extreme, Inside Climate News. As noted in a previous post, presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley also are on board, not to mention former Vice President and inconvenient truth teller Al Gore. Of course, this onslaught aimed at ExxonMobil is timed to coincide with the upcoming United Nations Conference of Parties (COP21) in December.
The Tri-State Coalition’s website admits as much:
Faith-based investors, led by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ and other members of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, filed a shareholder resolution with ExxonMobil on Thursday, October 22 entitled “Acknowledge Moral Imperative to Limit Global Warming to 2°C.” This resolution builds on the growing understanding of what the impacts of climate change will be on the world’s poor and future generations, as well as creation, and calls on the company to acknowledge the need to mitigate unabated warming. Filers will be submitting their materials to the company in the coming weeks, and we anticipate that over 20 investors representing interfaith institutional investors and other investors will join this filing, which is rooted in the common recognition by the world’s faith communities of “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
This resolution builds on the momentum around the moral imperative to address climate change, from the Pope’s Encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home and many other faith statements on climate change, as well as the public sentiment that there is a moral imperative to act on climate change. In anticipation of COP21, we need companies demonstrating leadership and making bold statements and take action. The resolution focuses on the goal of limiting global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels because it is believed that warming beyond this level could cause the worst impacts of climate change. As the resolution notes, the world’s governments have agreed to work towards this goal since 2010. Warming beyond this level could trigger tipping points that produce irreversible warming and severe impacts.
Faith-based investors file this resolution one month ahead of the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, which are expected to produce the first international climate agreement in which all nations commit to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. In support of the negotiations, ten of ExxonMobil’s peers in the oil and gas industry, including Saudi Aramco, Total, Shell, Pemex, and BP, have already issued a statement calling for “clear stable policy frameworks that are consistent with a 2°C future.” All the while, ExxonMobil has remained silent, which not only presents reputational risk, but demonstrates that ExxonMobil may not be prepared for a low-carbon transition.
Now more than ever, as ExxonMobil faces increased scrutiny for its role in funding campaigns of climate denial and misinformation, we urge the company to use its voice to support the goal of limiting warming to 2°C and support a strong outcome from the Paris negotiations.
Sigh. This politically driven broadside aimed at ExxonMobil is challenged by the Wall Street Journal’s Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. Jenkins uses an apt term for those who have signed on: “bamboozled.” Mentioning Clinton, Gore, O’Malley and Sanders by name, Jenkins continues:
Not one of these worthies likely examined the evidence, which tells a story quite different from the claim that Exxon somehow concealed its understanding of the climate debate. But the hurdle rate for “investigative” journalism has apparently become low. The allegedly damning documents that the Los Angeles Times and the website Inside Climate News (ICN) claim to have unearthed were published by Exxon itself, in peer-reviewed journals, on its website, and in archives created by Exxon for public use.
Technically, the reporters wallow in the equivocation fallacy. Uncertainty about whether X=2 is not the same as uncertainty about whether 2+2=4. Acknowledging and even studying man’s impact on the climate, as Exxon has done and continues to do, is not tantamount to endorsing a green policy agenda of highly questionable value.
And that’s the real problem. Read closely and the accusation isn’t really that Exxon misled the public by emphasizing the uncertainties of climate science, which are real. It’s that Exxon refused to sign up for a vision of climate doom that would justify large and immediate costs to reduce fossil fuel use.
The narrative of Exxon’s supposedly criminal deceit may be loopy, but save your real contempt for the climate lawyers now rubbing their hands over a Big Tobacco-style lawsuit. In effect, their cynical reasoning is that Exxon can be punished for failing to conceal its awareness of the climate debate.
But why stop at Exxon? President Obama is aware of the threat of climate change—he talks about it all the time—yet has presided over an expansion of oil and gas leasing. Vice President Al Gore endlessly harped on climate change—yet when confronted with a modest uptick in gasoline prices during his presidential run, insisted that President Clinton open the strategic reserve to keep gas prices low.
Maybe the tobacco analogy is apt after all. Recall that the result of government lawsuits wasn’t to ban tobacco use but to make government (and organized crime) the main beneficiary of tobacco revenues. The U.S. government controls 31% of America’s mineral rights, and has 42,000 drilling leases in effect covering 80 million acres. Federal lands produce 41% of America’s coal output. Elsewhere, governments control 100% of mineral rights. Wherever it operates these days, Exxon is mainly an agent for governments determined to realize oil revenues regardless of any climate fears.
Just so. Apparently it’s “a moral imperative” to jeopardize returns for ExxonMobil shareholders, increase governments’ grip on private enterprise and raise the price of energy to disproportionally harm the poorest – if, that is, you’re a nun investing through Tri-State Coalition. More’s the pity.