Falling Support for Climate Resolutions
Religion & Liberty Online

Falling Support for Climate Resolutions

All eyes seem to be directed toward Rome last week as the Pope weighed in on climate change. As anticipated, there has already been a lot of spinning by the whirling dervishes of the zealous variety– doubling down on their over-the-top, pre-release spin.

Yes, it’s a given both sides of the climate-change debate are spinning, but as your writer is on the skeptical end of the spectrum it seems the other end is receiving the majority of media coverage. Skeptics? We’re castigated as “deniers,” “Republicans,” and, of course, “anti-science.” Ouch! No worries, however, as we skeptics have grown accustomed to ad hominem attacks, not to mention pseudo-science, false claims of a scientific consensus agreeing on human-caused global warming, and accusations we’re performing the bidding of Faux News. Hoo boy, as Boris Badenov used to say.

Allow me a bit of schadenfreude when I report the consistent defeat of so-called religious-based shareholder activism deployed against oil and gas companies – on which more below. I take pleasure in these persistent defeats not because I dislike my loyal opposition as much as they dislike skeptics but because I’m convinced the best way to lift the poor from poverty and incumbent disease, hunger and illness is cheap and readily available fuels. It’s not about winning an argument from my point of view inasmuch it’s about enabling the world’s poorest to attain self-sufficiency, health, and comfort – mostly because I recognize the world’s poverty has been halved in the past 20 years, largely due to affordable fuels.

And yet… Elizabeth Douglass at InsideClimate News reports religious shareholders are persistent in their failed efforts to deep-six economically the companies in which they invest. Douglass trots out the usual suspects: Timothy Smith of Boston-based Walden Asset Management; Sister Patricia Daly of the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, N.J.; and Rev. Michael Crosby from the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order in Milwaukee. Daly and Crosby, notes Douglass, “have worked together for years as active participants in the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a New York group whose members manage more than $100 billion in assets.” Douglass continues:

For the past few years, several climate resolutions at Exxon have won more than a quarter of the shareholder vote, and sometimes nearly a third. The vote count reached a remarkable level of backing for proposals opposed by management, according to Heidi Welsh, executive director at the Sustainable Investments Institute, a Maryland-based nonprofit that provides impartial analysis of social and environmental policy shareholder resolutions.

I’m not quite sure the modifier “remarkable” applies to the vote count unless it precedes “landslide” – as in votes against the ICCR resolutions. Ever chasing pounds after pennies, Douglass shows her cards:

While scientific confidence that global warming is man-made and caused largely by fossil fuel burning has reached 95 percent, oil companies have managed to hold that reality at arm’s length. But because their own shareholders are raising these concerns, might the oil companies face retribution for fiduciary negligence should the investors’ warnings come true?

Some experts say that this is a clear danger. If oil companies continue to ignore the science of global warming, they might be unprepared for damaging climate-related developments, including shifts in oil demand and prices, aggressive carbon emissions limits and other regulations.

Reality? Danger? Last time I checked, the ICCR representatives named above may possess religious training but certainly have none in running a major oil company. In other words, they’re grandstanding by exploiting the accoutrements of their respective vocations to further a political agenda rather than one based on science and in the best interests of their fellow shareholders, the world’s poor, and the oil companies in which they invest. Furthermore, they’re cherry picking information from leftist sources (including ICN) to reinforce their agenda to strand all fossil fuels in the ground and convert immediately to solar and wind renewables.

To be fair, Douglass allows some balance in her article:

In opposing the various resolutions, the oil companies often argue that they are addressing climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mostly through energy efficiency projects; by limiting leaks of methane and other gases; and by restricting gas burn-off in the field. They sometimes say the steps being proposed by shareholders are counterproductive or contrary to company strategy, and that internal risk assessments already address the possibility of lower oil prices and depressed stock prices from climate-related risks.

Exxon and Chevron, in particular, downplayed the risks by repeatedly citing scientific uncertainties or “gaps” in knowledge regarding how big a role human activity was playing in global warming, and saying there is no need for immediate action until the science is more certain, the financial documents show.

But by the time the first climate shareholder resolution emerged in 1990, research into the “carbon problem” had been underway in industry, government and scientific circles for more than a decade.

However, that’s as far as she goes, which is to say it’s little more than lip service. The final paragraph is most telling – it’s the equivalent of claiming the 95-percent scientific consensus number (down a tick or two from the more popular claims of 97 percent) is grounded in the real-world. And this:

Over the 25-year period reviewed by ICN, Chevron’s shareholder resolutions on global warming asked the company to report on renewable energy efforts, add climate competency to the board and assess a broad range of climate-related financial risks. The resolution to include a board member with climate change knowledge won at least 20 percent of the vote at the past six annual meetings.

Twenty percent? Wow! Statistically speaking, this is even larger than George McGovern’s paltry numbers in the 1968 presidential election, which has gone done in history as a landslide favoring Richard Nixon. Similarly, resolutions intended to address climate change submitted by ICCR and fellow “religious” shareholders As You Sow; Trillium Asset Management; Calvert Asset Management, Inc.; Domini Social Investments LLC; Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary; Walden Asset Management; Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia; Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment; Mercy Investment Services, Inc.; Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary; Arjuna Capital; The Nathan Cummings Foundation; and Walden Asset Management all went down in ignominious flames.

Sister Daly, for one, remains undeterred. According to Douglass:

Exxon seems intent on taking the opposite path. This year, the oil giant didn’t merely maintain its objections to a popular and long-running greenhouse gas proposal—it appears to have actively campaigned against it.

That resolution, championed for years by Daly, the nun, won just 9.6 percent of the vote at last month’s meeting, after it had collected votes between 20 and 30 percent the previous eight years. The low level of support means the proposal will be barred from Exxon ballots for three years.

The result was especially disheartening because a public campaign for the resolution by the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and Daly’s Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment had secured more than 19 million “yes” votes from groups that manage $1 trillion in assets.

“We were clearly disappointed. I think the vote reflected a good bit of money and effort by the company to reach out to the proxy voting services,” Daly said. One of those services, Institutional Shareholder Services, advised its clients to vote against the greenhouse gas resolution this year, reversing years of recommending “yes” votes.

“They worked very hard against us,” Daly said of Exxon. “Of course there’s frustration. But we’re not going away.”

Oh, goody. I can hardly contain my excitement. After all, those nasty oil companies are doing so much to make lives better for billions of the world’s inhabitants. Who needs that?

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.