The United States' transition to a low-emissions society powered by renewable energy is not going to be led by its biggest oil companies. At meetings Wednesday, ExxonMobil and Chevron rejected a number of shareholder proposals that would address climate change, be it by setting goal for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions or investing in renewable energy.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, in particular, acted incredulous that anyone would even suggest such a thing. In a departure from previous years, InsideClimateNews reports, Tillerson failed to even mention climate change in his speech. When shareholders brought it up, he ran through the gamut of climate denial talking points: the models aren't good enough to predict global warming's effects; the world isn't going to be able to meet emissions targets; technology will enable us to engineer our way out of whatever crisis may or may not occur as a result of climate change.
"Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity," Tillerson said, acknowledging, "I know that is an unsatisfactory answer to a lot of people."
On renewable energy, however, he was less apologetic. "We choose not to lose money on purpose," Tillerson said, to loud applause. When pressed by an activist shareholder, he denied that fossil fuels receive subsidies (wanna bet?). And he didn't seem to recognize the irony that oil is increasingly becoming a losing bet: as the AP points out, the price of oil fell by about half at the end of last year, causing Exxon's first-quarter profits to drop 46 percent compared to the same period the year before.
Chevron, meanwhile, rejected a novel proposal that would have it stop spending so much on unconventional oil projects and instead increase dividends to shareholders. It would be a move, activists said, that would help shield the company from loss should, say, a global climate treaty make such projects unprofitable. The company said it felt there was a “low likelihood” that the world would actually reach such an agreement.
The way things went down wasn't exactly surprising, but it was disappointing, given the progress that the European oil giants have made in at least acknowledging that climate change is a real and problematic thing that's worth taking seriously: BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Statoil this year all passed climate-related shareholder resolutions.
“No thank you, that would not be us,” Tillerson responded when shareholders brought up the European companies' resolutions. “We’re not going to be disingenuous about it. We’re not going to fake it."
Hey, at least that means we don't have to waste time wondering just how much we can trust Big Oil -- it's depressingly clear where Exxon and Chevron stand.