Tag Archives: ExxonMobil

Why fossil fuel corporations killed us

Sometimes, when I look at the things the Republicans and their leader, Donald Trump, are doing, I think of that poignant line in so many actual and fictional moments: “You have killed me.”

Someone says that because the killing is done, but they are not yet dead. The knife is driven deep, the car is heading for the cliff, the contract killer is closing in. Then the person dies, but not before they get to say, “You killed me.”

Today, I look at Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Rex Tillerson, the petroleum industry, the Heartland institute. They didn’t kill me, but they have killed my daughter, and they have killed my son.

And I wonder, why the hell did they do that?

Wondering leads to thoughts, and thoughts lead to blog commentary, so this:

ExxonMobil, to take one example, made a very significant mistake and essentially killed themselves as a corporation. They did this by choosing to not shift their corporate activities to follow, if not actually lead, in the energy transition that is absolutely required if our global civilization is expected to survive into the future, decades hence. ExxonMobil and the other petroleum corporations can not exist 100 years from now, though they could have made decisions over recent decades to ensure that they do.

I’m reminded of my deceased mentor’s comments (before he ceased) on patrilines. Irv Devore, when discussing patriliniality and kinship systems, would note that patrilines and corporations, unlike people, are expected to exist for all eternity, or at least, up until the day they stop existing. Once you grasp that idea, it is possible to understand why either does what they do. An elder man in a patrilineal kinship-based society will go to great lengths to preserve the patriline. The very strong often heinous preference for male over female children is part of this. Since only sons carry on the patriline, too many daughters are a threat. Infanticide of daughters is therefore significantly more common than infanticide of sons. And so on.

(Hell. My writing is interrupted by an Amber Alert. An ex-boyfriend stabbed the mother of his son, took off with the son. A male associate assisted. Long life the patriarchy. Fuck the patriarchy.


But I ever so slightly digress…)

This should mean that decisions by corporations are made with very long term consequences in mind. When ExxonMobil and the other Big Oil corporations realized, in the 1980s, that continued use of fossil fuel would eventually a) be curtailed by regulation and/or b) cause the end of civilization and thus corporations, they should have started on plans to change what they do. A big energy company could have developed non-fossil fuel burnable materials, they could have muscled their way into the electricity industry, figuring that electric motors, already the preferred means of running a lot of machines that could have been run with IC engines, were part of the future. They could have done a lot of things to usher in a new age of reduced fossil fuel use and expanded use of other energy sources.

But no. They didn’t. Instead, they’ve killed us.

They, the big energy companies, the corporate sycophant-parasites known as Republicans, and their allies and puppets like the Heartland Institute and others chose to kill us all rather than do the right thing.

So why would someone like Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of a major oil company, make decisions like this?

A lot of you will say: they do it for the short term profits, for the quarterly earnings report, because the corporation is beholden to the stockholder, etc. etc.

I do not disagree with any of that, all of that is true. But, there is another element that I think needs to be considered.

Even though all those reasons are true, there is something else that should be going on, and that in fact HAPPENS ALL THE TIME in other corporations. Not all corporations fail to consider the long term. Leaders of many corporations make decisions that positively affect the long term. They recognize that short term reduction in earnings can have long term positive effects on earnings. They choose sensible investment in the future, in all the future quarterly earnings.

But in some industries, I suggest, this is much less likely because of the interplay between risk and compensation.

If you run a company that makes shirts, nothing is going to happen in your corporation that causes the entire world to suddenly focus on you as the person in charge of a deadly disaster. Well, OK, in the past that did happen for shirt companies now and then, but not any longer. But if you run a company with offshore rigs, chemical factories, refineries, giant ships full of oil, a fleet of passenger carriers, and so on, then there is a risk of a sudden and singular disaster that will attract everyone’s attention, cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and that may become truly notorious. Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, Deep Water Horizon. Unforgettable disasters.

(I think we actually do forget about some of the disasters, if they are in a category with frequent events over decadal times scales. So, even if you don’t remember Tenerife, you know that plane crashes are bad.)

If you are a Rex Tillerson in charge of an ExxonMobil, or the CEO of any of these high risk corporations, there is a distinct possibility that you will wake up one morning to the news that a chemical leak in one of your factories just killed thousands of townspeople, with thousands more to have permanent debilitating injuries. You might be informed, just before picking up your bonus check, that one of your ships ran ashore and dumped 41 thousand cubic meters of crude oil on a formerly pristine natural coastline. You might get the news just before going to bet that one of your off shore rigs has exploded and is burning, eleven dead, three months of oil blowing into the sea, the worst environmental disaster ever, and on your watch. Or perhaps you’ll learn that one of your aircraft just colided with another at an obscure airport in the Canary Islands, and nearly 600 died in the fiery crash.

Most of us would be able to live for years off of a single year’s salary of any of the top CEOs in the oil industry. And, by years, I mean hundreds of years. But from the CEO’s point of view, the relevant balance is between getting a huge salary and bonus this year, allowing one to never have to work a day again, to cover high end living expenses for the whole family and their offspring, vs. the long term health of a corporation that might fire you at any day if something really terrible goes wrong.

Why would a corporate executive choose to stop earning an income forever? Well, if your company kills a few thousand people or destroys a major habitat under your watch, you might not be working for a while.*

The bottom line: In an industry that can spit out major career ending disasters, the foresight of corporate leaders becomes myopic, and long term prospects become invisible, much more easily than in most corporations. This strongly biases the already myopic focus on short term earnings reports. The result: corporate, or any, sustainability goes out the window.

It is ironic that the biggest petroleum related disaster ever was the sinking of a rig named Deepwater Horizon. There is nothing deep about the time horizon considered by Big Oil. Yes, that is because of the quarterly report fetish, but the mitigation of short term thinking is obviated by the grotesquely imbalanced comparison of likely disaster vs. outlandish salary and bonuses.

FYI: The top paid oil company execs get between 15 and 150 a year in salary, and between 4 and 10 extra in bonuses.


*Note: People in charge of major corporations when there is a major disaster don’t necessarily lose their jobs or become unhirable. But it does affect them. Lawrence Rawl was in charge of Exxon when the Exxon Valdez crashed into Alaska, and he was criticized for badly handling the response. He kept his job for four more years and retired, and I don’t know if he got very many more bonuses. But, he is officially “known for the Exxon Valdez spill.” That is his legacy. Warren Anderson was in charge of Union Carbide when Bhopal happened. He was charged with manslaughter. He remains a fugitive. Other higher ups in the Indian part of that company were tried and convicted of various charges. Tony Hayward, CEO of BE at the time of Deepwater Horizon, was not fired but then was replaced, and that disaster and his handling of it has left him a very controversial figure. He is dogged by protestors and companies and institutions that have anything to do with him find themselves shunned. So, no, this is not a simple formula: I will be fired if there is a disaster. But there are consequences, and I suspect, a perception of fear of consequences is very real.

Examples of “You killed me”:

SEC goes after Exxon over Climate Change?

For some time now ExxonMobil Corporation has been under scrutiny for having a) known about climate change, yet b) helped cause climate change, while c) investing corporate resources into getting people and the government to not take climate change seriously.

Worst case allegation: ExxonMobile has taken material steps, knowingly and intentionally, that will cause the end of civilization as we know it.

That, of course, is not illegal. But along the way, perhaps some laws have been broken, and some in the legal biz have been looking into this.

Now, suddenly, we hear from the Wall Street Journal that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is looking into the way ExxonMobile has valued assets under conditions of falling energy prices in the context of expected increasing regulations. In other words, the climate change crisis will (and has) freeze assets held by giant corporations, and that makes those assets of relatively little value. I assume the question here is, has Exxon addressed that impending shift in value?

Apparently, the SEC has been digging into this since at least mid summer.

Also, this is apparently part of a broader shift by the SEC in how they look at the disclosure of information pertaining to the same basic problem, more broadly.

It is all very complicated, and the implications are potentially profound. Check out this piece in the Wall Street Journal, and report back with your opinion.

Sheldon Whitehouse and Ted Lieu Demonstrate Superior Climate Change Activism

Subtitle: Politicians School Scientists In How To Do It

Alternative Title: Where were Bernie and Hillary????

You need to know right away that the Lede to this story is buried way the hell down the page.

That’s OK, though, because others are covering this, and the point of my missive is to put the current situation into a somewhat larger context. Ultimately, the point I want to make is this: Even when a problem is mired in deeply entrenched corporate interests, small groups of tenacious heroes can make the world measurably better, and there is such a thing happening right now in the interaction between scientists, one of the world’s largest scientific organizations, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and a handful of elected officials who are doing the right thing.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”


A handful of citizens recognize some sort of economic or social injustice involving a corporation. They organize on their own time (they have day jobs) to fight the injustice, and have some success.

A handful of employees of those businesses, or trade organizations that are funded by those businesses, are in charge of public relations and lobbying. They fight the citizens on both fronts, but the citizens were too well organized and the citizen efforts took them by surprise.

The citizens go home at the end of the day, have a party to celebrate their victory, and go back to their day jobs.

The public relations and lobbying employees go home at the end of the day, play with their kids and binge-watch something on Netflix. Then, they also go back to their day jobs. The thing is, their day jobs are to make sure that nothing like this happens again. And, if they can eventually undo the citizens’ group’s success, and maybe even push back a step or two, they get to keep those day jobs.

While the citizens are busy being librarians, sales people, school teachers, and union electricians, the public relations and lobbying employees are busy making sure that the next time a group of citizens comes out of nowhere to effect change, they won’t be able to. It may take a bit of time, but laws will be passed, regulations adjusted, and details of the the inner workings of the corporations and the think tanks and trade organizations that they fund will be updated.

If you’ve ever spent any time in a coffee house in an iffy neighborhood, you know about this problem, because at some point (this may have been more true back a few decades) you were approached by a young man or woman, or even a couple, carrying a clip board and a short stack of tabloid format newspapers. You had a conversation, and you and this person found yourselves in nearly complete agreement on all the issues: education, workers’ rights, health care, military spending, voting rights, women’s rights, social justice, and all of it.

But then the conversation takes an unexpected turn. The person you are talking to points out that every time the people (and you and this person are the people, as are the citizens in the story I related above) manage one step forward, pull off some sort of success, put into effect a small but meaningful incremental change, the corporations and their allies in government change the system to make sure that doesn’t ever happen again. And, for a bonus, they anticipate the next one or two possible incremental changes and make sure they don’t happen either. One step forward, two steps backwards.

Actually, that is not the unexpected turn in the conversation. You actually were already thinking that before the person in the coffee shop mentioned it. Once you think about how things actually work, you realize that incremental change is often the product of temporary and short term efforts by people otherwise involved in other things, but the efforts to stop such change is the product of well trained, richly resourced, and highly effective experts with full time employment with the job description of stopping future incremental change that is not in the interest of the corporation.

Then, the truly unexpected part of the conversation happens. The guy in the coffee shop makes the observation that incremental change will not only always ultimately fail, but it will generally strengthen the establishment and make future change increasingly difficult, so the only way to effect real change is to totally overthrow the government and their corporate overlords.

The only way to make the world work for regular people is a full scale bloody revolution.

The scary part of this conversation is that for a moment it makes total sense to you.

You realize that your new friend in the coffee shop, who by the way has the clip board out and is trying to sell you a subscription to Socialist Worker Monthly, is right. For a moment you imagine yourself wearing all black, with a beret, meeting in the basement of the pet shop down the street, learning how to make bombs or disassemble and reassemble an assault rifle. If you are a young straight unattached male and the guy in the coffee shop is an attractive girl, you may be liable to actually join the revolution for a few months.

But, most likely, that fantasy of overthrowing the government will be soon replaced with memories of some of your history lessons and Wikipedia readings. You’ll realize that these violent revolutions generally take decades, everybody dies, and the scenario, with the establishment cronies managing the opposition, also works at a much larger scale. For example, huge proto-corporate (and Royal) interests manipulated the government and military to maintain the lucrative Triangle Trade in the 18th century, with the American Colonists getting screwed on taxes and expected to be grunts in their colonial wars. The American Revolution put an end to that. But today, Big Energy, Big Ag, Big Pharm and all the rest are capable of pulling the strings of the government marionettes, exploiting the post-Revolutionary free American workers to do their bidding. In the words of Bono, F*ck the revolution.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”

-Desmond Tutu

Sounds pretty bad. Like there is no hope.

Hope does come along now and then, though. Bernie Sanders was hope for a lot of people, who saw his possible presidency as a full on revolution that would totally change the system, and contrasted that with a Clinton presidency, focused on incremental change.

But Sanders would have been one person, in one of the three equally powerful parts of our government, against 535 members of Congress whose careers require funding from the established corporations. And he’s not going to win anyway. So maybe we need to make the best of incremental change.

“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

-The lede of this post

The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is one of the largest scientific organizations in the world. The AGU runs an annual meeting as well as a number of other programs that cost money, and there are many sponsors. One of those sponsors is ExxonMobil. This makes sense, because ExxonMobil, and other petroleum companies, rely on the science practiced by many member of the AGU. Not only does it make sense, but it is right and just that major corporations that benefit from a particular area of science spend money on that science. That expenditure can take many forms, including having well funded research laboratories staffed by excellent scientists within the corporation, supplying grants to scientists working at universities or think tanks, and pitching in with the AGU to help fund their conference.

But, remember those full time employees who were briefly bested by that organized group of citizens? Well, ExxonMobil has that. They have people who are focuses on managing their corporate interests at many levels. And, it recently became apparent that the excellent scientists who worked in the ExxonMobil (the name of the corporation was different then) decades ago had discovered, verified, and documented the important fact that Big Oil’s corporate activities would ultimately lead to catastrophic change in the planet’s environment because of the release of previously trapped carbon, though the burning of oil and gas (and coal as well).

Decisions were made to suppress that research. This is a little like a company making an unsafe car seat keeping their own research indicating this danger under wraps. But it is different from that example because car seats are inherently a safety device. So it is a little more like producing a profitable kind of food that has a serious, but hidden, health effect.

But really, those analogies are weak and, frankly, not needed. What it is like is producing the energy that runs our society and economy and knowing full well that using this form of energy to do so many things will, itself, be a civilization ending enterprise, while at the same time being aware that there are alternatives. But, those alternatives are the business interest of other corporations. So you keep that information under wraps.

The suppression of this important research became known just recently, and a highly specialized set of citizens – scientist associated with the American Geophysical Union – agitated to get the AGU to stop taking funding from ExxonMobil.

The higher ups in the AGU considered this possibility, and eventually decided that “it is not possible for us to determine unequivocally whether ExxonMobil is participating in misinformation about science currently, either directly or indirectly.”

A lot of people saw that as a ridiculous justification for a bad decision. Some might even figure that the previous acts of an earlier incarnation of this giant corporation would be sufficient for the AGU to refuse future sponsorship. But, one could argue that they were bad guys back then but now are good guys, so, well, the AGU needs the money anyway, so why not forgive and forget and get on with it?

Graham Readfearn at Desmog now tells us that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and House Representative Ted Lieu, have written a letter to the AGU explaining how ExxonMobil has pulled the wool over the AGU’s eyes, causing us to take a step or two backwards with this decision to continue receiving funds.

The letter is to AGU president Margaret Leinen (quoted above) and expresses disappointment with the AGU’s decision.

Here’s the key fact. The AGU has a policy to not accept funding from entities that spend money to promote science disinformation. The AGU had determined that they could not unequivocally know if ExxonMobil was doing so. Part of the reason the AGU determined this is because ExxonMobil told them that they were not funding science misinformation.

The letter from Senator Whitehouse and Representative Lieu states:

EM gave money as recently as 2014 to several organizations that cast doubt on climate change, so we are surprised at AGU’s conclusion. According to EM’s most recent Worldwide Giving and Community Investments report, in 2014, EM funded several organizations that publicly promote misinformation of science, including:

  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) ($61,500): ALEC has promoted model legislation with a finding that human-induced global warming “may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes.”[1]
  • Hoover Institution ($50,000 to its Arctic Security Initiative): Hoover Senior Fellow Terry Anderson, who is not a climate scientist, argued that climate data since 1880 supports a conclusion that it would take as long as 500 years to reach 4 °C of global warming.[2]
  • Manhattan Institute of Policy Research ($100,000 to its Center for Energy Policy): Institute Senior Fellow Robert Bryce stated, “The science is not settled, not by a long shot…. If serious scientists [at the European Organization for Nuclear Research] can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere. Furthermore, even if we accept that carbon dioxide is bad, it’s not clear exactly what we should do about it.”[3]
  • National Black Chamber of Commerce ($75,000): Chamber President and CEO Harry Alford stated, “[NOAA and NASA] have reported that there has been no global warming detected for the last 18 years. That is over 216 months in a row that there has been no detected global warming…. Scientists, as well as NOAA and NASA, call this state of no warming a ‘Global Pause.’ How long it will last no one predicts. For all we know it may last another 20 years or even forever.”[4]
  • Pacific Legal Foundation ($10,000): A senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation attacked EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 because it is a “ubiquitous natural substance essential to life on Earth.”[5]

We have seen no evidence to indicate EM’s behavior has changed since 2014.

You can read the entire letter here.

“There is no comparison between that which is lost by not succeeding and that which is lost by not trying.”

– Francis Bacon

This is obviously a significant development, with respect to the AGU, climate scientists, and all that. But this breaking new story has led me to think about four related but rather extended points.

First, Senator Whitehouse and Representative Lieu are true climate hawks, with records of congressional action on climate change. They are rare birds, too rare. It is not common to be fully active on climate change and have a job in the United States Congress. We need to appreciate their efforts and demand that others join them.

Second, the work done here by these two elected officials should have been done by the AGU. The AGU made weak decision, favoring the financially beneficial status quo and justifying this by not doing the research that was needed. The AGU had its eyes closed, and it is hard to imagine how that could not have been on purpose.

Third, and perhaps tangential to the current issue, but perhaps not: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders didn’t do what Whitehouse and Lieu did. I’m sure it is unfair to accuse them of negligence by not having picked up on this particular story, going after ExxonMobil and correcting the AGU. But think about this for a second. If either one of them had done this – if either’s campaign staff had figured this out and developed a public statement by the candidate that looked a lot like the Whitehouse-Lieu letter – their climate change stock would have gone through the roof, and they would have done something that could actually make a difference.

I don’t fault either of these Democrat’s campaign for failing to do this one specific thing. That would be asking too much. But the fact is that neither candidate has done anything like this during the current primary season, or ever in their previous career. A Sanders supporter might point to Sanders’ prior work on climate change legislation, but it must be understood that Sanders supports a reduction to 80% reliance on non fossil carbon fuel by 2050, which is too little too late. That has been his position for several years, and it is out of date and widely recognized as inadequate, especially following the post-Paris reorientation to a 1.5 degree limit.

A president Donald Trump would probably burn fossil fuel on purpose to piss off the hippies. Either Sanders or Clinton would be a thousand times better. But that stark difference should not lead us to accept mediocracy in our leaders in the issue of climate change.

So the fourth point is this, and it is not about the AGU, but inspired by these recent developments. There are climate hawks in Congress, but only a few, and none of them are running for president. In choosing between Sanders and Clinton to determine which one might have the best climate change policy, it is easy to decide that one of them (or even both of them) have a good policy. But the truth is, neither candidate is where we need them to be on climate change. Both candidates have strong points, and different strong points, backed up by detailed policy positions and enhanced by histories of legislation or activism of one sort or another. And when we list those strong points, we do not find climate change policy among them.

I reject all efforts to compare Sanders and Clinton on climate change, at this point in the primary process, for two reasons.

First, Clinton will be the nominee, based on math. So the comparison is moot. Second, the Democratic Party did not put forth a sustained climate change savvy candidate for us to choose. So, we can’t like what we have now, we can not be satisfied. We have to hold the candidate’s feet to the fire, push, cajole, insist, vigorously engage.

The scientists who asked, in a letter, the AGU to cut ties with ExxonMobil tried to take a step foreword. The AGU caused us to take a step backwards. Let’s help Whitehouse and Lieu push us two steps forward, one against ExoonMobile (by helping the AGU to make the right decision) and one in the current presidential race, by demanding better of our candidates.