ExxonMobil shareholders in Dallas once again failed to pass several resolutions that would force the oil giant to address climate change. The Irving-based company has been under scrutiny for how it’s handled environmental issues. And while environmentalists are disappointed, they're not surprised.
Outside the Meyerson Symphony Center in Downtown Dallas, hordes of protesters marched up and down the street. They waved signs that read “Exxon Knew,” “Arrest Exxon,” and “Save Our Earth," while others chanted environmental slogans into a megaphone.
Amid mounting global pressure to combat climate change, following the landmark Paris agreement in December, these protesters say the largest publicly traded oil company in the world needs to answer to its investors and the public about its weak stance on climate change.
RL Miller, an environmental activist and chair of the California Democratic Party’s environmental caucus, was among the 100 or so protestors. She said the company needs to be investigated for allegations that it purposely misled investors about climate change risks. A recent report from InsideClimate News found that ExxonMobil scientists had warned the company about global warming as early as 1977, but that executives led efforts to block solutions to continue profiting from fossil fuels.
Miller said because of this, ExxonMobil shareholders should invest elsewhere.
"Divestment is a direct attack on the company’s business model, and it is the only possible, effective result in the face of a company, whose business model is wrecking the planet," she said.
Inside the shareholders meeting, it’s clear climate change had the mic. Speaker after speaker brought up the importance of combating carbon emissions, referenced the landmark climate change accord in Paris and implored the company's executives to consider ExxonMobil's viability in the energy sector.
"Climate change is real. The desire of global governments to restrict warming to below two degrees is real," said Edward Mason.
"Our company has chosen to disregard the consensus of the scientific community. As the world moves forward, ExxonMobil stands still," said Sister Patricia Daly.
Mason and Daly, along with numerous others, spoke on behalf of some of the company's shareholders, presenting proposals that would press ExxonMobil to adopt climate mitigation policies. One proposal would put a climate change expert on the board. Another called for the oil company to publish an annual report that examines the economic impacts of environmentally friendlier policies.
But time after time, CEO Rex Tillerson encouraged shareholders to vote against them. And he succeeded.
One key proposal did pass, though. It would allow even small-scale investors to have more influence over who gets put on the board. The company has tried to suppress this so-called "proxy access" measure in the past, saying it would make the company more vulnerable to special interest groups. Environmental activist shareholders could potentially restructure the board and force the oil company to drift away from fossil fuels, its core revenue stream.
Tillerson said ExxonMobil takes climate change seriously, and has managed to reduce carbon emissions in its own operations, but doesn’t see a world without oil and gas.
"There is no alternative energy source known on the planet or available to us today to replace the pervasiveness of fossil fuels in our global economy, our quality of life and I would go beyond that and say our very survival," Tillerson said to shareholders. "It is a judgment of balance between future climatic events, which could prove to be catastrophic but are unknown, and more immediate needs of humanity today."
ExxonMobil’s rejection of the climate proposals doesn’t come as a surprise to many. Measures like these have floated around the company before, but haven’t gained any traction. Shareholders and activists say, though, they're worried ExxonMobil isn’t prepared to adapt to a world less reliant on fossil fuels. David Hawkins with the Natural Resources Defense Council said the company needs to consider alternative energy.
"There’s nothing magical about ExxonMobil as a company that says it has to define its business as fossil fuels and only fossil fuels," Hawkins said in a phone interview. "It has the opportunity to change, to open its eyes."
Some say if ExxonMobil does not evolve, it could have its “Kodak” moment – that the oil company could go bankrupt and become obsolete just as Kodak did when it failed to capitalize on the digital camera.