Tuesday, March 25, 2014

ExxonMobil and Climate Change

ExxonMobil has agreed to release by the end of March a report detailing how climate change could affect its business. Many people are hailing this as an important achievement. But, without knowing what is in the report I have to be skeptical. Based on ExxonMobil's history, I expect a report that says little to nothing.

ExxonMobil has provided funding to climate change deniers in the past. They claim they no longer do so, but evidence suggests otherwise. One prime example of how the fossil fuel industry in general funds misinformation is Dr. Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Institution that is taking large amounts of funding from various fossil fuel entities. He recently stated that he has received funding from ExxonMobile in the past, but that ExxonMobile will no longer fund him. He does not give a date on when that funding stopped. However, he goes on to say he is still receiving funding from the American Petroleum Institute. API, as it is known, is the largest U.S. trade association for the oil and natural gas industry. One of the companies funding it is ExxonMobil. So, if ExxonMobil is funding API, and API is funding climate change deniers, isn't ExxonMobil still funding climate change deniers? It seems to me that the company is just finding a way to launder the money, so to speak.

Then, take a look at the ExxonMobil webpage where they state,

Rising greenhouse-gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems. Since most of these emissions are energy-related, any integrated approach to meeting the world’s growing energy needs over the coming decades must incorporate strategies to address the risk of climate change.

That sounds very promising. But, further reading shows it to be meaningless because they also state,

Effective strategies must include putting policies in place that start the world on a path to reduce emissions while recognizing that addressing GHG emissions is one among other important world priorities, such as economic development, poverty eradication and public health.
I particularly find interesting how they state,

... near-term objectives should include the following:

  • supporting climate research to help inform the ongoing policy response. 
But, then they say this,

Strategies should promote fundamental shifts toward energy-efficient technologies and practices across the economy, and the more prominent use of fuels with lower carbon intensity — such as natural gas, nuclear energy and renewable fuels — within the overall energy mix. These actions already are making headway in many countries, including the United States. U.S. emissions of energy-related CO2 are reaching a plateau and are expected to begin declining soon. By 2030, U.S. CO2 emissions are expected to be about 15 percent lower than in 2005.

Industry and governments should pursue an integrated set of solutions that include developing new energy supplies, increasing efficiency and advancing energy technologies. For example, new technologies will allow more energy-efficient homes, vehicles and businesses. In 2030, improved efficiency will not only have curbed energy demand significantly, but also reduced related CO2 emissions by approximately 17 billion metric tons.

Throughout the world, policymakers are considering a variety of legislative and regulatory options to influence technology development and consumer choice to affect GHG emissions. If policymakers do move to impose a cost on carbon, we believe that a carbon tax would be a more effective policy option to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions than alternatives such as cap-and-trade. And to ensure revenues raised from such a tax are indeed directed to investment, and to assist those on lower incomes who spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, a carbon tax should be offset by tax reductions in other areas to become revenue neutral for government. It is rare that a business lends its support to new taxes. But in this case, given the risk-management challenges we face and the policy alternatives under consideration, it is our judgment that a carbon tax is a preferred course of public policy action versus cap and trade approaches.

This is more than meaningless political talk. There is some substance to it, particularly when they advocate a carbon tax. Is this a step in the right direction? Or, are they just protecting themselves from blame? Based on their past and current behavior, I tend to believe this is merely a smoke screen put up to protect themselves. But, I will be willing to revise that opinion if they show they are serious.

However, the current situation, reading their statements and looking at their actions makes me think that they have learned their lessons from the tobacco industry. They are not going to come right out and deny climate change because they don't want to be held liable for misleading anyone. But, they will make meaningless, political statements and use proxies to fund alternative science in an effort to "inform the ongoing policy response."

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