Update 5/4/20: Last week, JPMorgan Chase disclosed that it will appoint a new lead independent director to replace former ExxonMobil Chair and Lee Raymond by summer 2020. This move is a significant victory for shareholder advocates and climate activists—including UCS supporters and allies in the Stop the Money Pipeline movement—who have campaigned for Raymond’s removal. The next step is for JPMorgan Chase to remove the architect of fossil fuel industry climate deception campaigns from its board altogether.
This year’s Earth Week occurs at a time when the cracks in our economic system are becoming painfully clear. At the same time, fossil fuel companies are seeking to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as fenceline communities adjacent to fossil fuel facilities now face disproportionate risk of COVID-19 in addition to the health impacts of fossil fuel pollution.
That’s why it’s so important to shine a spotlight on their activities right now—and to demand that the economy that emerges from this crisis works for people and the planet, not politicians and polluters. And that’s exactly what youth activists and their adult allies are doing with Earth Day Live.
The second day of Earth Day Live focuses on ending the financing of the climate crisis, a campaign coordinated by the Stop the Money Pipeline coalition. Fossil fuel companies are undoubtedly responsible for polluting our air and water. Yet their actions would not be possible without the banks, investors, and insurers that prop them up. That’s why we’ve joined with the coalition to demand that fossil fuel funders stop writing blank checks to the companies driving us to climate disaster, and why we’re watching how big investors like BlackRock and Vanguard vote at upcoming fossil fuel company shareholder meetings on climate-critical shareholder resolutions.
Here are six reasons not to trust fossil fuel companies or their financiers, and to join the mobilization on Thursday, April 23:
1) They’re still destroying the climate
Emissions from burning fossil fuels are the main driver of climate change. Swift and deep reductions in global warming emissions are necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. (Not the type of reductions we’re experiencing due to the painful cutbacks in economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but planned and sustained declines to protect the climate and public health).
2) They pollute communities and harm people’s health
Not only is this the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, it is also the 10th anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. The explosion killed eleven people and caused the largest oil spill in the history of human oil drilling operations, spewing four million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days.
In commemoration of the deadly spill, our partners at the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy (GCCLP) organized a #BP10 convergence to organize national, regional, and allied support behind a Gulf South frontline. Join the commemoration by posting “We can’t afford a polluting economy” messages on social media.
You can also learn more about the impacts of the oil industry on Indigenous people of Louisiana here, and about the dangers to workers posed by a Trump administration rollback of offshore oil rig safety rules here.
3) They deceived us for decades
Since at least the mid-1960s, major fossil fuel companies have known about the threat their products pose to the global climate. Not only did they fail to adapt their business models for a carbon-constrained world, they conceived and funded deliberate campaigns to deceive the public and block climate action.
4) They’re still greenwashing
Sure, they’ve gotten better at paying lip service to the Paris Climate Agreement and talking about cutting emissions, but none of the largest investor-owned fossil fuel companies has committed to reach net zero emissions from its operations and from the use of its products by 2050.
BP and Shell are starting to talk about net zero, but when you read the fine print, they don’t get there. ExxonMobil and Chevron don’t even bother—in fact, they push back on the notion of taking responsibility for emissions that result from people using their products exactly as the companies intend them to be used.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some major fossil fuel companies are making charitable contributions and stepping up production of much-needed medical supplies. These welcome donations amount to millions of dollars. And at the same time, fossil fuel companies’ largesse during this crisis must be weighed against the harm they cause to people, communities, and the environment and the costs they impose through pollution, subsidies, and (in some cases) tax evasion.
5) They let trade groups do their dirty work
The largest fossil fuel companies in the United States retain membership and leadership roles in the American Petroleum Institute (API), the largest trade group for the oil and gas sector in the United States. Right now, API is using the COVID-19 pandemic to lobby for bailouts with no guarantee the money will reach laid-off workers or affected communities and for regulatory rollbacks that will disproportionately harm communities of color.
BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell have distanced themselves from one or more specific climate-related stances taken by API. But to date, no major oil and gas company has admitted that API’s advocacy runs counter to stated company positions and, on that basis, severed ties with the group. Both BP and Shell decided to stay in API after reviewing their trade associations’ climate lobbying this year. (US oil and gas majors Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil refuse even to publish reports on their trade associations’ climate policy alignment).
One of the fossil fuel industry’s other attack dogs is the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which has wielded the power of its broad corporate membership to fight climate action for decades. Obstruction of climate policy by trade groups such as NAM is one of the reasons UCS joined with ten other organizations to call on US companies to align their climate lobbying with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
In the guise of its ironically named Manufacturers Accountability Project, NAM is going after cities and counties that are suing to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for climate damages. Amid reports that energy companies may be trying to slip a liability waiver into COVID-19 relief packages, watchdogging the activities of trade associations and other industry groups and holding their members accountable is more important than ever.
6) They delay and block climate action while fueling the climate crisis
Major fossil fuel companies continue to drag their feet, even in the face of divestment commitments topping $12 trillion and mounting pressure from climate-conscious investors through the Climate Action 100+ initiative.
Chevron and ExxonMobil have even succeeded in blocking shareholders from voting on proposals asking them to report on how they are meeting climate goals, and (notwithstanding its recent announcement of updated climate targets) Shell is opposing a shareholder resolution calling on the company to align with the Paris Agreement’s global temperature goal.
While fending off concerned shareholders, fossil fuel company executives are staying cozy with the Trump administration. Earlier this month (as most of the country sheltered in place), CEOs Darren Woods of ExxonMobil and Mike Wirth of Chevron joined their counterparts from other oil and gas companies and API at an in-person White House meeting with President Trump seeking access to COVID-19 relief programs. Did Woods and Wirth take this opportunity to push back on the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement? Doubtful.
Stop the Money Pipeline
It’s time to send a message to fossil fuel companies in the language they understand best: money. That’s why Earth Day Live actions this Thursday, April 23, focus on the banks, insurers, and asset managers fueling the climate crisis. Led by JPMorgan Chase, major private sector banks around the world continue to finance and underwrite the fossil fuel industry—totaling a whopping $2.7 trillion since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015. JPMorgan Chase’s “lead independent director” is Lee Raymond, the architect of climate deception campaigns by ExxonMobil and its predecessor Exxon during his tenure as the companies’ Chair and CEO from 1993 to 2005. (Read more in my recent blog highlighting key findings from the Banking on Climate Change 2020 report.)
And large investors BlackRock and Vanguard voted overwhelmingly against climate-critical shareholder resolutions in 2019. At least 16 of these resolutions—including three at ExxonMobil—would have received majority support if these two largest asset managers had voted for them.
As part of Earth Day Live, join the campaign to end the financial sector’s complicity in fossil fuel-driven climate chaos. You can start by demanding that BlackRock vote climate denier Lee Raymond off JPMorgan Chase’s board—take action here.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.