Today on Think … a conversation about climate change. What responsibility does the world’s largest oil company have when it comes to the Earth’s future? Krys Boyd explored the question with a reporter who writes about climate change and an official from ExxonMobil. Here's a recap:
The United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris at the end of the month. Officials from nearly 200 countries will try to hammer out a deal to limit carbon emissions.
Depending on what is agreed upon, those talks could affect companies like Irving-based ExxonMobil, the largest publicly-traded oil company in the world.
Also affected - everyday consumers. Ken Cohen is vice president of public and government affairs for ExxonMobil.
“We actually have a moral imperative to help increase access to modern forms of energy. What has made modern life sustainable and possible," he said, "is access to reliable and affordable energy, which at the present time, about 80 percent of that modern energy supply is from fossil fuels.”
The company’s actually been thinking about climate change since at least the late 1970s. A recent eight-month investigation by InsideClimate News – a non-profit that covers energy and the environment – reports that Exxon scientists were briefing the company brass about environmental research nearly 40 years ago.
Over the ensuing decades, InsideClimate News reports, Exxon began to alter its approach to climate science.
“Scientists in the '70s and '80s were the ones who were the public face of Exxon on the emerging climate discussion. By the late '80s and through the '90s, it was executives and public affairs people and a couple of scientists who all hewed to a particular vision. And that was that the science was too uncertain to warrant action," said Neela Banerjee, one of the reporters on the series. "Now this was at a time when the science was growing more certain. So as the science was getting more certain and the scientific community was saying one thing, Exxon was diverging from that. … Why that actually happened is not clear to us.”
Cohen, the ExxonMobil official, said the company never ceased research into climate change and acknowledges the risks of increased CO2 emissions. And he says Exxon has what he calls a “three-pronged” challenge going forward.
“One is to continue to provide the energy that makes modern life possible," he said. "While we do that, we need to be looking at ways to reduce our environmental footprint. And third, we need to be heavily engaged in research and development activities … to search for new forms of energy – or improvements on current forms of energy.”
After all, he says, the world will add another 2 billion people in the next 30 to 40 years, which will only increase the demand for energy.