Big Oil’s bad day – for a change

Climate change activist, guru and New Yorker contributing columnist Bill McKibben called it the “most cataclysmic day so far for the traditional fossil-fuel industry.” Shareholders at the major oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron have long tried to push the oil giants to change their ways and address the damage to the climate they have caused over many decades.  McKibben, in a recent article, wrote that a “remarkable set of shareholder votes and court rulings have scrambled the future of three of the world’s largest oil companies.”

Last week, a court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to dramatically cut its emissions over the next decade—a mandate it can likely only meet by dramatically changing its business model. Then, a few hours later, 61% of shareholders at Chevron voted, over management objections, to demand that the company cut so-called Scope 3 emissions, which include emissions caused by its customers burning its products.

Oil companies are willing to address the emissions that come from their operations, but, as Reuters has pointed out, the support for the cuts “shows growing investor frustration with companies, which they believe are not doing enough to tackle climate change.”

Powerful proof of those frustrations also occurred when ExxonMobil officials announced that shareholders had (over the company’s opposition) elected two dissident candidates to the company’s board, both of whom pledge to push for climate action.

McKibben wrote:

“The action at ExxonMobil’s shareholder meeting was fascinating: the company, which regularly used to make the list of most-admired companies, had been pulling out all stops to defeat the slate of dissident candidates, which was put forward by Engine No. 1, a tiny activist fund based in San Francisco that owns just 0.02 per cent of the company’s stock, but has insisted that Exxon needs a better answer to the question of how to meet the climate challenge. Exxon has simply insisted on doubling down: its current plan actually calls for increasing oil and gas production in Guyana and the Permian Basin this decade, even though the International Energy Agency last week called for an end to new development of fossil fuels. Observers at the meeting described a long adjournment mid-meeting, and meandering answers to questions from the floor, perhaps as an effort to buy time to persuade more shareholders to go the company’s way. But the effort failed. Notably, efforts by activists to push big investors appear to have paid off: according to sources, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, backed three of the dissident candidates for the Exxon board.”

The court case involving Shell is noteworthy. The Dutch court found that, though Shell has begun to make changes in its business plans, they are not moving fast enough to fall in line with the demands of science, and that it must more than double the pace of its planned emissions cuts. “The court understands that the consequences could be big for Shell,” Jeannette Honée, a spokeswoman for the court, said in a video about the ruling. “But the court believes that the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests.” Honée continued, “Severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life. And the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights.” Shell plans to appeal the court decision.

McKibben concluded, “It’s clear that the arguments that many have been making for a decade have sunk in at the highest levels: there is no actual way to evade the inexorable mathematics of climate change. If you want to keep the temperature low enough that civilization will survive, you have to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground. That sounded radical a decade ago. Now it sounds like the law.”

Maybe the times are truly changing.

A Keystone Moment

Stephen Melkisethian via Flickr CC
DC Says No Keystone XL 12

Actually, much more than a moment, President Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline permit is a milestone event in the on-again off-again, anti-climate history of this project.

Writing in the New Yorker on 21 January, Bill McKibben says the action “settled—almost certainly, once and for all—one of the greatest environmental battles this country has seen.”

Keystone XL is/was a project of the TransCanada Corporation (now TC Energy) and was designed to carry oil from Alberta’s tar sands across the country to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. President George W. Bush approved the original Keystone pipeline, and it went into service early in the Obama years. But the new XL version, announced in 2008, was larger and took a different course across the heartland. It caused major opposition from virtually everyone concerned with protecting the climate. It came first from indigenous people in Canada, who had watched tar-sand mines lay waste to a vast landscape, to Native-Americans in America. Eventually President Obama announced a delay in the permit process in order to consider the question more closely, but President Trump revived the pipeline during his first days in office by Executive Order.

Now President Biden, also by Executive Orders, has cancelled the Keystone permit and has the US rejoining the Paris Climate agreement during his first days in office.

A great start for the new administration. There’s still much work to do and battles to be fought but can we at long last focus on creating jobs through renewable infrastructure projects, and not on pumping filthy tar sand oil into the US?

It is past time to transition away from fossil fuel jobs and transform those jobs to renewable industries.


Greta Thunberg Tweeted this on 24 January: “This week Norway awarded 61 new oil and gas exploration rights to 30 oil companies. Sweden’s Lundin Oil was awarded stakes in 19 licenses. It’s 2021 and when it comes to facing the climate emergency the world is still in a state of complete denial.”

Further Reading:

12 new books explore fresh approaches to act on climate change

Yale Climate Connections

4 ways the US can reassert leadership on climate change | Bill Gates

Gates Notes

Playing Catch-up

In a few days the work begins to undo four years of neglect, incompetence and horrific awfulness on addressing climate change.

For one thing, the U.S. will rejoin the Paris Agreement, which is a good thing but that pact is probably already virtually useless and in need of a major update. Even with a new, updated agreement, which seems unlikely, it may be too late because global warming and climate catastrophe adheres to no timeline but its own.

But much work is needed right now, especially in the U.S., and the new president appears to understand this and the necessity of tying progress on climate, infrastructure, jobs and the economy in a coherent and workable plan.

Referring to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Greta Thunberg, said this week that it’s “a huge problem that nations are failing to meet their climate- and ecological targets. The main problem however, is the fact that their targets are completely insufficient in the first place. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it like a crisis.”

For those in need of a refresher on the Paris Agreement here’s a link. A status report on the agreement from Vox, published last month (Dec. 2020) offers some good information on where we are now.

While we play catch-up, here a couple recent articles to consider, courtesy of Google alerts:

The Economic Costs of Climate Change

European Corporate Governance Institute

The fight against climate change should focus on reaching positive climate tipping points

Fast Company

Let’s do this.

American isolation

Climate Change by Jan via Flickr CC

While wildfires spread in California, glaciers continue to melt and species extinction continues apace, the Trump Administration this week took the first step to officially withdraw the United States from the Paris agreement on climate change. Lest we forget, every other country on the planet has signed the agreement that we wrote.

We also know that Trump promised to do this in 2017, but one might have hoped this particular move would be forgotten out of the sheer incompetence of this crew of idiots. But no.

“This is not America first; once again, it’s America isolated,” said John F. Kerry, former secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel, former U.S. defense secretary, in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post.  

They wrote:

“Climate change is already affecting every sector and region of the United States, as hundreds of top scientists from 13 federal agencies made clear in a report the White House itself released last year. The past five years were the warmest ever recorded. Without steep pollution reductions, climate change will risk tens of thousands of U.S. lives every year by the end of the century. Rising seas, increased storm surge, and tidal flooding threaten $1 trillion in public infrastructure and private property now along U.S. coastlines. The United States has experienced at least $400 billion in weather and climate disaster costs since 2014. The recent hurricanes that slammed America’s southern coasts, as well as historic wildfires in California, resulted in more American victims of severe weather juiced by climate change than ever before.”

They also noted climate change threatens national security. “This link has been clear for decades. Our military bases, and hence our security preparedness, are threatened by sea-level rise and other impacts. If you put a map of places with high political instability today over a map of places with high climate vulnerability, the two would be nearly identical.”

The Paris climate accord is not the final answer by any stretch, but it is a good and necessary start to mounting the actions needed. For the U.S. to bow out is shameful and yet another example of the nation’s abandonment of world leadership.

There is a ray of hope. The paperwork to exit the Paris agreement is submitted, but that sets off a year-long process: the U.S. won’t officially leave the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020.

The 2020 election is Nov. 3, 2020. “The United States can rejoin the agreement at any time once we have a leader willing to do so,” said Kerry and Hagel.