It’s all over but the chanting, which seemingly will continue unabated until religious shareholder activists bring energy companies to heel. What the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility hyperbolically billed as “a watershed year” trickled into a puddle of disappointment yesterday for shareholder activists’ climate-change resolutions.
The chanting began outside Dallas’ Morton E. Meyerson Symphony Center and the Chevron Park Auditorium in San Ramon, Calif., prior to the annual shareholder meetings conducted, respectively, by ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corporation. Real chanting, dear readers, which admittedly isn’t equal to Abbie Hoffman attempting to levitate the Pentagon, but it does indicate a certain religious zealotry applied to the contested scientific theory of manmade global warming:
2016 is a watershed year for the fossil fuel industry, in particular, oil and gas giants ExxonMobil and Chevron. Pressure is building in the wake of last year’s historic agreement at COP21 in Paris, where nations of the world, global corporations and leading investors achieved consensus on the need to limit global warming to below 2-degrees celcius to avoid catastrophic planetary impacts. Pending investigations by 17 State Attorneys General is also intensifying public pressure for action. The Papal Encyclical, Laudato Si’, continues to grow in significance, and has done much to underline the clear moral imperative to address the 2 degree warming scenario.
Simultaneously, fossil fuel companies face both a moral and business imperative to rethink their long-term business strategies, as these company face impending regulation that will soon force them into compliance. Faith-based and values investors and members of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility have been pressing for this transition for nearly 40 years. This year, proponents of shareholder proposals at both Exxon and Chevron (both on May 25) will be making their cases at the annual meetings of both companies in the hope that shareholders will broadly join them in pressing the companies to change.
Would that the priests, nuns, clergy and other religious affiliated with ICCR exert similar spiritual and physical energy toward championing what philosopher Alex Epstein calls “the moral case for fossil fuels.” Instead, they increase their carbon footprint immeasurably by traipsing around the globe in their buses and planes in efforts to pull the plug on cheap and plentiful energy while lecturing the rest of us on the evils of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and energy-company lobbying. At the same time ICCR extols the imperative of limiting global warming to 2-degrees C by deploying measures that will increase costs – especially for the poor for whom higher prices devour a greater percentage of household assets – while making little to no difference on global temperatures.
Well, for the most part, the ICCR folk received another annual comeuppance from fellow shareholders yesterday. One could metaphorically and ironically say the nominally religious God-flies had their knuckles rapped by a ruler wielded by other shareholders who understand the point of investments isn’t to threaten company profitability but, instead, is to encourage and celebrate it. First of all, proxy resolutions were defeated that would have required ExxonMobil and Chevron to conduct climate-change “stress tests.” The resolution received 41 percent of the Chevron vote and 38 percent at ExxonMobil.
Fortunately, it all goes downhill for ICCR resolutions from there. According to ICCR, an ExxonMobil proposal submitted by the Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ,
[C]alling for a policy that acknowledges the moral imperative to acknowledge the 2° C target received the support of 18.5% of shareholders….
Another proposal from the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia calling on [Chevron] to produce a report that assesses the community and water impacts of its fracking operations improved its outcome over last year’s vote to 31%.
Said Sr. Nora Nash who filed the resolution, “Today’s vote empowers us to go forward and press for greater disclosure from Chevron. We will continue to support communities that have no voice and are subjected to the negative impacts of fracking. We will also speak to the health-related issues being further documented by health and science experts. Children’s lives must not be impaired by exposure to the side-effects of contaminated water and polluted air. Standing with Pope Francis we are shaping “the future of our planet.”
Yeah, she went there, cherry-picking quotes from Laudato Si to back up unsubstantiated scientific and healthcare claims against fracking.
Meanwhile, over at ExxonMobil:
Seventy-nine percent of the shareholders voted against putting a climate expert on Exxon Mobil’s board, 81 percent voted down the proposal to support the Paris climate accord, and 61 percent opposed the resolution for the company to report on how climate change affect its operations….
“This is the biggest risk to the company’s business, not to mention everybody on the planet,” said Father Michael Crosby, a Catholic priest from Milwaukee.
Ummmm, no, Fr. Crosby, the bigger risk to ExxonMobil’s business is corporate God-flies such as yourself who continue to advocate for efforts contrary to the company’s best interests – as well as fellow shareholders and the poorest among us.
Perhaps most satisfying for this writer is the abject meltdown from 350.org founder (and, for a time, sparring partner for your writer in this space and here) Bill McKibben in The Guardian last week:
Even if somehow one of the handfuls of climate-related resolutions were to win a majority of the shareholders’ votes, the resolutions are non-binding; those with the most support merely request annual reports. What more information do shareholders need? Exxon has spent millions on climate policy obstruction, and – scientist’s pleas to the contrary – plans to burn all of its reserves and keep hunting for more.
If this meeting ends with the same dismal failure as the past 25, it’s time to admit the obvious: the Exxons of the world are not going to change their stripes, not voluntarily. It will be time for state treasurers and religious groups to join those students and frontline communities and climate scientists who are saying “No more.” It will be time – past time – to get serious, divest and break free of fossil fuels once and for all.
Normally, your writer would delight in breaking down the flaws of McKibben’s argument, but someone has done it already. Here’s Eric Worrell from the Watts Up with That blog:
As Bill McKibben must be aware, politically motivated divestment is an act of financial self destruction. If the deep green manager of a major fund were to divest from a profitable business, the act of divestment, driving down the share price of the divested asset, would make the divested asset even more attractive for other investors. Everyone else would jump in, to cash in on the financial opportunity created by green stupidity.
By the time the dust settled, the share price of the “divested” asset would be back to normal, and what was left of the major fund would fire the idiot who divested their profits. They would find a new manager, someone who was a little more committed to doing their job.
So Bill suggests that governments, schools and religious groups, organisations managed by people whose jobs might not be so closely aligned to the profitability of their investments, should abrogate their responsibility to the people whose money they manage, throw away potential income, to make what would almost certainly be a meaningless political gesture.
Bill doesn’t seem to pause to consider the harm this would do – the hospitals and schools which would receive less funding, the poor people who would receive less benefits, the increased taxation, the church charities which would be starved of cash. Bill is no fool – surely he knows that the companies he wants to target would not be significantly affected – there are more than enough investors who don’t care about green issues, to snap up the bargain priced assets created by divestment. But inspiring a gigantic exercise in public wealth immolation would sure look great on his next blog post.
Just so. Like the so-called religious shareholders at ICCR, As You Sow and the rest, McKibben cannot see the moral forest for the protest signs of scientism they’ve constructed to the detriment of the poor negatively impacted by their combined agendas. Fortunately, Chevron and ExxonMobil continue successfully to rebuff and weather such efforts.