Tag Archives: ExxonMobil

Exxon’s Chairman to Lead Us to a Clean-Energy Future?

Really?

We didn’t think so either. So we’ve written every member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Dear Senator:

God’s world is in danger from our addiction to fossil fuels. And so I thank you in advance for your leadership in solving the climate crisis we are causing. I ask that you please subject Rex Tillerson, the Chairman of oil giant ExxonMobil, to the most rigorous questioning on his plans to address climate change, and his plans for leadership in strengthening the Paris Accord and raising our levels of ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Please find from him what he believes about the impact of burning all remaining proved reserves of energy companies; what percentage of reserves can be burned while keeping the climate below 2 degrees of warming; what would be the impact on ExxonMobil if only that percentage of its reserves could be produced.

(Spoiler alert: Only about 20 percent of proved reserves can be produced without tipping the world into runaway overheating. Exxon has $800 billion of proved reserves in the ground today. If they had to leave all but 20% of those reserves in the ground, that would be a write-off of $460 billion, or around three times their total net worth, and 20 years’ worth of income.)

In light of this, would you please find out why Mr. Tillerson has continued spending $23 million per year at Exxon to find yet more un-producible oil and gas?

In the end, it seems impossible to me that the world’s leading oil man could lead the transition to a survivable climate, but I would encourage you to lead the charge in finding this out.

Sincerely, …

 

If you want to write or call, here are the members of the committee, with links to their contact information. Check that: Please, write or call! Feel free to cut and paste this letter!

Republicans:

Democrats:

Exxon’s Home-Run Investment in Governor Christie

We hope someone is around, one day, to record what happened to American democracy.

Never a perfect system, its death spiral could have been obvious to anyone who knows how to use a calculator. First came the super-PACs with their millions of dollars for attack ads, always under the veil of nominal independence from any particular candidate.  Then came the “charitable” super PACs, which hid from scrutiny the identity of the political puppet-masters. Then came the billionaires, like Charles and David Koch, buying virtually any election they pleased, and neutralizing the millions of citizen contributors who could pitch in twenty or fifty bucks to their favored candidates. Then came congressional redistricting, which made it all but impossible to replace incumbents. Then came the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and a host of state-backed measures to discourage voting by marginalized communities.

And most of this was made possible by the highest court in the land, which enshrined as “free speech” the use of unfathomable wealth by the richest corporate “persons,” to make sure that democracy didn’t infringe on their profits.

The energy industry featured prominently among those big spenders. In 2012, they gave $143.7 million to political candidates, with 80 percent of it going to Republicans. Of course, that doesn’t count the soft “issue-spending,” on things like fracking, offshore drilling, mountain-top-removal mining and the Keystone XL pipeline.Picture1

And if $144 million sounds like it might buy an election or two, get ready for much, much worse. The biggest energy-industry political bankers, Charles and David Koch, have announced plans to spend nearly $900 million in the 2016 election cycle – almost a billion dollars from two unfathomably rich oil guys. That $20 click you made to some worthy cause last year is about to be overwhelmed 45 million times over.

American voters: You never stood a chance. Against this money, your candidates are being swept away, or are cutting their own deal with the devil.

And with that much money being poured into politics, you can be sure that it’s getting a fair return. Consider Exxon Mobil.

Exxon had a problem in New Jersey. For decades, they had poisoned Newark Bay and Arthur Kill, plus more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, from their two refinery sites in Bayonne and Linden. Eventually, the state sued the oil giant for $8.9 billion in damages. The lawsuit went forward under the administrations of four different governors. Exxon denied any wrongdoing. But the court saw through the denials, and found the company liable for the pollution. All that remained was for the court to settle on the numbers.

Now, $8.9 billion is a pretty big loss, even for Exxon. And even if the award were cut by half or even more, it could spoil their whole afternoon. But Exxon lays out a lot of money to influence lawmakers. In 2014, they spent $12.7 million on political lobbying (admittedly, way down from the $29 million they spent in 2008 when faced with the threat of an Obama presidency).

Exxon's Bayonne Refinery : "Staggering and unprecedented environmental damage."

Exxon’s Bayonne Refinery : “Staggering and unprecedented environmental damage.”

It’s worth noting that in 2014, New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, was the head of the Republican Governor’s Association, charged with raising money to elect GOP gubernatorial candidates. Of course, Governor Christie was also in charge of New Jersey’s huge lawsuit against Exxon, although it was being handled by the state’s attorney general and career state employees who had developed the case over years. So at first, no one gave much notice to the $500,000 donation that Exxon gave to Christie’s GOP governors group.

But then something really amazing happened. Christie’s own chief counsel took a sudden interest in the case, and reportedly muscled aside the attorney general, to cut a deal with Exxon. The judge was believed to be ready to announce the amount of the award against Exxon. But the Christie administration asked him to defer his ruling while they worked on a settlement.

Settlements happen all the time. Exxon was guilty. Naturally, they’d rather settle than be hit with unknown billions in damages. So maybe this would be all for the best for New Jersey’s beleaguered taxpayers.

Well, for Exxon, it was definitely all for the best. Better than their wildest dreams. The Christie administration settled for a mere $250 million – on an $8.9 billion claim. On a claim where Exxon had already been found guilty. That’s three cents on the dollar. Three cents.

Now, in order to send someone to jail, you’d have to find a direct link between Exxon’s $500,000 pocket change for Christie, and Christie’s $8.65 billion claim release. And they’re way too smart for that. But the message to the state’s taxpayers was cruelly clear: Polluters, come to our state and do whatever you want; as long as you take care of our politicians, we’ll pick up 97 percent of your clean-up costs. The profits are for you; the costs are for us. So long as you keep the campaign funds rolling in.

At Beloved Planet, we’re not out to enshrine anyone’s national myths. But much of what was once noble about the American experiment is now at risk of being drowned in a flood of political cash. Our water, our atmosphere, our wetlands – these things belong to all people and all God’s creatures. But with the collapse of virtually all limits on cash to control our lawmakers, we fear that these common blessings are in peril as never before.

Sooner or later, those who believe that this world belongs to God – and not to the rich and powerful – are going to have to take a stand. God help us.

What Would Jesus Invest In?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 13:44)

Twelve years ago, Rev. Jim Ball and Evangelical Environmental Network launched a campaign with a clever catch-phrase: “What would Jesus drive?” A few months later, he climbed into his blue Prius hybrid for a tour of the Bible-belt, speaking to churches in 14 cities, and winding up on Diane Sawyer’s Good Morning America.

“We wanted to have people start to think of their transportation choices as moral choices,” said Ball, “and to a certain extent we succeeded.”

Rev. Ball and his hybrid. NY Times photo

Rev. Ball and his hybrid. NY Times photo

Today, efficient vehicles are widely seen as a component of ethical living, and the U.S. is on the way toward implementing a 54.5 mpg vehicle efficiency standard.

And additionally, people all over the country are also beginning to ask a related question: “What moral choices are reflected by the investment of our savings?” For Christians, perhaps, “What would Jesus invest in?”

Of course, the Bible provides abundant guidance on matters of money. But for a moment let’s focus on Jesus’ one-sentence parable often called “The Hidden Treasure,” about gold discovered buried in a field. Yes, the treasure is hidden, but not hidden from you. You know it’s there, and you’re willing to sell your heirlooms, real estate, livestock or anything else of recognized value in order to capture the hidden riches.

Now maybe you’ve always thought of this parable in purely spiritual terms. If so, you were probably right. But the parables of Jesus make sense because they call upon tangible everyday realities to illustrate transcendent truths. And the tangible reality of investing is that most buyers and sellers don’t know how to properly value things. They miss the hidden value – or the hidden liability. They might know the value of a farm field, but they don’t know about the gold buried there. And sometimes what’s hidden is not treasure, but toxic liabilities.

It turns out that Jesus’ investment thesis has taken center stage in today’s very largest companies – the huge fossil fuel giants that dominate our stock markets these days – ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and the like. And that’s because these companies derive their value mainly from their “proven reserves” of oil, gas and coal. The idea is this: An investor who buys shares in these companies is really buying a tiny slice of the value of the fossil fuels they’ve discovered and locked down under leases. The investor will make a profit if what he or she pays for the stock is reasonably in line with the income that the fuel reserves will generate when produced, refined and delivered to market over the next decade or two.

And these companies have huge reserves. The 200 largest fossil fuel companies control proven reserves containing 2,795 gigatons of CO2 locked inside them from millions of years of natural processes – and that’s not counting unconventional fuels like Canada’s tar sands or America’s shale oil. 2,795 gigatons. Now here’s the problem: climate scientists have concluded that we can’t afford to burn any more than 652 gigatons of CO2 between now and 2050, if we want to leave our children a fighting chance of having a world no more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than it was in the last century.

Now, 3.6 degrees hotter will be terrible, but if we want it to be no worse than that, then 652 gigatons of CO2 is all that the whole world can burn.

So whatever a gigaton of CO2 might look like, you do the math: The world’s oil companies have enough proven reserves on their balance sheets to burn 2,795 gigatons into the atmosphere. But the world can only afford to let them produce 652 gigatons’ worth, or we cook our children’s future. That means that 77 percent of proven, controlled, leased reserves of oil, gas and coal of these companies have to stay in the ground. The International Energy Agency puts the leave-it-in-the-ground percentage slightly lower, at two-thirds. The World Bank now calls these reserves “stranded assets,” and frets about pensions invested in those companies.

Bill McKibbon of 350.org "Do the Math." Photo grist.com

Bill McKibbon of 350.org “Do the Math.” Photo grist.com

And, oh by the way, it follows that all current exploration and development for new fossil-fuel reserves is nothing but wasted money. Unless, of course, the oil companies are willing and able to somehow fundamentally destabilize the world our children will inherit, and if we let them use their enormous wealth to purchase the support of politicians who will permit it.

But whatever you think of human nature, you probably don’t think that the world will actually condemn its children – and all the world’s other species – to a future of increasingly prevalent hunger, drought, ocean acidification, flooding and species extinction. With each passing year, rising CO2 concentrations accompanied by rising temperatures and increasingly extreme weather will surely make climate denial less and less tenable.

So just how much longer can we imagine that the world’s nations will permit fossil fuel companies to continue producing the thing that threatens the viability of life on our planet? Perhaps we will blow through the scientific carbon budget and make the world a terrifying 3.6 degrees hotter. But do we really think that we’ll do that three or four times over, by producing all the the proven reserves of these companies?

And that brings us to a very practical investment question: Since it simply must be that the people of the world will eventually fight back against fossil-fuel carbon pollution, who would invest in a company whose investment model calls for producing roughly three times more carbon pollutants than the world can possibly permit?

I think that Jesus’ parable of “The Hidden Treasure” is speaking more clearly than ever today. Investors are looking for hidden value; and are increasingly wary of hidden liabilities. In the case of oil, gas and coal companies, the hidden truth is becoming clearer day by day: Investors are being asked to pay for reserves that are indeed in the ground, but simply cannot be produced without dire consequences to the world and its creatures, including humans. And the more this reality sinks in, the further their values must plummet.

So if you’ve wondered about those people demanding divestment from fossil fuels in their portfolios, perhaps this is one instance where ethical investing and profitable investing line up nicely.

What would Jesus invest in? I can’t say I know for sure, but I don’t think it would be ExxonMobil.

Note: Bill McKibbon and 350.org have launched a nationwide campaign called Do the Math, which highlights in clear terms the necessity of leaving fossil fuels in the ground.