As ExxonMobil executives prepare for their May 29 shareholders’ meeting in Dallas, they have much more on their minds than simply pumping gas. Environmentalists are painting Earth’s largest oil producer as the Godzilla of global warming.
Greenpeace has launched StopE$$o, a London-based boycott campaign that mocks the company’s European brand name, Esso. Its website denounces “Exxon’s policy of burning the planet for profit.”
Left-wing protesters, meanwhile, plan to pitch their tents just outside Dallas at the Radical Encuentro Camp. There they will study new ways to raise hell just before ExxonMobil’s stockholders convene. Highlights include Ruckus Society lessons on basic climbing (presumably over fences rather than rocks), a seminar on “exposing corporate greed” and a workshop on “Women in the Zapatista Struggle” taught by Melissa of the Monkeywrench Collective.
Organizers also promise a mock trial called “The People vs. ExxonMobil” and a May 29 “Festival of Resistance” where “puppets, drums, banners, etc. [are] expected,” according to radicalencuentro.org. The fury of these agitators hardly surprises since, as their website declares, ExxonMobil already has “destroyed the environment.”
While these trustafarians portray “bad cops” outside the meeting, shareholder activist Robert A. G. Monks and members of Campaign ExxonMobil will play “good cops” on the inside. They claim that they simply want ExxonMobil to mend its ways to boost shareholder value. While they merely appear to offer constructive criticism, these pro-green investors sound like pinstriped versions of the puppet-wielding rabble rousers who will holler just beyond the exits.
Monks and company sponsored a report by Mark Mansley, head of London’s Claros Consulting. Its demands coolly and calmly parallel those of the rowdy anarchists who survive on veggie burritos.
Mansley advocates “mandatory emissions controls” and urges ExxonMobil to “use its political connections to make them a reality.” Never mind that new regulations will increase the company’s costs while eroding its freedom. ExxonMobil advocates voluntary, market-oriented measures to reduce so-called greenhouse gases. Moreover, its management echoes prestigious physicists such as Harvard’s Dr. Sallie Baliunas and George Mason University’s Dr. Fred Singer, designer of the U.S. weather satellite system. They and at least 17,100 leading scientists nationwide believe that if global warming is afoot, it is minor, manageable and less due to human action than natural causes, such as fluctuations in solar radiation.
The Claros study suggests that ExxonMobil could suffer “reputation risk” including “the diversion of management time” that must be devoted to environmentalists’ complaints. How circular. Monks, Mansley and company attack ExxonMobil, then criticize it for being distracted. This is akin to socking someone in the eye, then complaining that his screams disturb the peace.
Mansley writes favorably of carbon taxes as one anti-global warming measure. He helpfully notes that such levies would not hurt ExxonMobil badly since “the oil and gas industry is able to pass much of the cost of taxes or permits onto consumers” who surely will appreciate higher fuel prices.
Mansley should have double-checked his math before claiming that ExxonMobil’s skepticism on global-warming hurts shareholders. He admitted to journalists in a May 2 conference call that, when it came to calculating the financial impact of ExxonMobil’s climate policies, “it is very difficult to put numbers on this sort of thing…” He added that “I am sure there is a case for more work here. There is a case for much greater analysis and trying to get these numbers down to a much finer level.” Back to the drawing board, Mark.
These dissident shareholders also authored a resolution urging that ExxonMobil’s senior managers’ salaries “take into account disparities between increases in top executives’ compensation and that of the lowest paid workers.” How exactly would this limit carbon dioxide? Paying CEO Lee Raymond the minimum wage wouldn’t work, either.
The future of environmental activism may involve such seemingly benign appeals for companies to “go green” to boost shareholder wealth. But it’s a fair bet that if this makes sense, corporate managers will not need their arms twisted to behave accordingly. That’s why God created CFOs.
Environmentalists have every right under the First Amendment to tell captains of industry whatever they want. But before they listen too carefully to provocateurs in Brooks Brothers suits, business executives should remember precisely what they pay for free advice.