Next week, I’ll be joined inside the ExxonMobil and Chevron annual meetings by scientists, environmental justice advocates, and UCS colleagues—all of us representing shareholders concerned about climate change. These meetings are the one time every year that corporate CEOs, board members, and top management have to face their investors—and thus a rare opportunity for us to spotlight the impact of corporate decisions made behind closed doors. Those of us attending the meetings will have plenty of questions about both companies’ failure to plan for a carbon-constrained world, their outsize responsibility for global warming impacts, and their lobbying against climate action.
But why should a handful of us in Dallas, Texas, and San Ramon, California have all the fun? (Indeed, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse raised serious questions about the assumptions underlying ExxonMobil’s recent climate risk report in a floor speech this week).
We wanted to know what questions other experts would ask if they had two minutes in front of the decision-makers of ExxonMobil and Chevron and the people they care most about—their shareholders, employees, retirees, financial analysts, and the business media.
Three early career scientists stepped up to the virtual mic:
- Benjamin Franta is a PhD student in history at Stanford University. His research focuses on the history of climate science and the American petroleum industry. He has a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University and is a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
- Ploy Achakulwisut is a Postdoctoral Scientist at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She has a PhD in Atmospheric Science from Harvard University.
- Leehi Yona is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is an incoming PhD candidate in environment and resources at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences. Leehi, who was named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25, is a coauthor of “The role of college and university faculty in the fossil fuel divestment movement,” published this week in Elementa.
Here are their questions. What are yours? Share them on Facebook and Twitter using #ExxonAGM or #ChevronAGM. We’ll be highlighting some of your responses during ExxonMobil’s and Chevron’s annual meetings next week.
Dr. Benjamin Franta: Will Chevron renounce its history of deception by leaving the American Petroleum Institute?
Chevron and other major oil companies are members of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s largest trade association. The catch? For decades, the API has promoted disinformation about global warming, despite its extensive knowledge of the problem. That fraudulent behavior is owned by Chevron too—a connection that may haunt the company as fossil fuel litigation grows.
Consider this. In 1959—almost sixty years ago—the API and other heads of the oil industry were warned by the physicist Edward Teller that their products would cause global warming and sea level rise. Even at that time, the basic chain of cause and effect was clear: fossil fuels would contaminate the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, global warming would result, and the results for humanity would be serious. The API even commissioned its own private study on the problem in 1968, which confirmed the warning. And in 1980, its secret CO2 and Climate Task Force (which included members from across the oil industry) was informed that fossil fuels would cause global warming by the 2000s and “globally catastrophic effects” by the 2060s.
So the American Petroleum Institute (and its members) knew about the harms of its products for decades. What did it do with this knowledge? First, for years, it kept mum. Then, when states around the world made plans to reduce fossil fuel use, it led the charge on denial and disinformation. It helped lead the Global Climate Coalition, the ironically-named industry alliance that denied climate science, deceived the public, and blocked or neutered climate policies like the Kyoto Protocol (Chevron was also a member). And it cultivated a crop of economists-for-hire, who for decades provided misleading reports used to convince Congress, the nation, and the world that it couldn’t afford to reduce fossil fuel use. (Trump’s Paris pullout–involving the same economists–is simply the latest in this long-running strategy of deception and delay.)
The American Petroleum Institute knew about the dangers of its products. Then it lied about them. That’s called fraud. And Chevron participated in that fraud. As lawsuits target the company, will it renounce this history of deception by leaving the American Petroleum Institute?
Dr. Ploy Achakulwisut: How will ExxonMobil and Chevron incorporate the co-benefits of reducing air pollution into their planning for a carbon-constrained world?
Each year, 6.1 million lives are lost prematurely due to air pollution. A significant contributor to this global public health crisis is fossil fuel combustion. Decades of research have revealed that exposure to air pollution is associated with a wide range of adverse human health impacts, including asthma, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and premature birth. There is also emerging evidence that pollution from coal combustion and motor vehicles can cause development delays, reduced IQ, and autism in children. In planning for a low-carbon future, fossil fuel companies should also take into account the societal and economic costs of air pollution resulting from reliance on their products.
What will ExxonMobil and Chevron do to ensure that in planning for a 2° C scenario, they recognize that faster emissions reductions have immediate co-benefits in reducing the burden of human death and disease from air pollution?
Leehi Yona: How do ExxonMobil and Chevron plan to rectify their misinformation and deception, and stop trying to influence academia?
I just received my Master of Environmental Science from Yale University this week and will be pursuing a PhD at Stanford this Fall. As a climate researcher and a young person, I am concerned about the influence of the fossil fuel industry within academia. I have seen the ways in which institutions have been influenced by fossil fuel interests, including ExxonMobil and Chevron. Fossil fuel companies hide behind their relationships with prestigious university research departments in an attempt to improve their image by affiliation—and knowing that industry-funded studies are more likely to produce industry-favored results. This funding often comes with strings attached, or isn’t properly disclosed.
Time and time again, you have deliberately misinformed and deceived the public on climate change. You have used your power and resources to attempt to influence academic institutions. How do you plan to rectify this reckless behavior?
Next Wednesday, UCS will be asking ExxonMobil and Chevron about their inadequate climate risk reports and their ongoing climate deception—and we’ll use the hashtags #ExxonAGM and #ChevronAGM to highlight some of your questions during the companies’ annual meetings.
Many thanks to my colleague Ortal Ullman for their help gathering expert input for this blog.