The world's biggest oil company emerged bruised but victorious from a bust-up with the billionaire Rockefeller family yesterday as an effort to foist green initiatives on ExxonMobil failed to capture wholehearted support from shareholders.Preliminary figures suggested 39.5% of Exxon's investors backed a motion demanding the appointment of an independent chairman to stimulate debate about global warming on the board. A resolution to limit Exxon's greenhouse gas emissions won 30.9%, while a policy backing renewable energy won 27.4%.
The poll, at the company's annual meeting in Dallas, demonstrated that a sizeable chunk of Exxon's investor base is uncomfortable with the Texas-based company's hardline attitude towards climate change and alternative energy.
But the environmental vote barely rose from last year's level, in a disappointment to the Rockefellers, who have campaigned vigorously for change. The family describes itself as Exxon's longest-standing shareholder - the company's roots lie in the Standard Oil empire founded by their ancestor, John D Rockefeller.
Protesters wielded banners outside the meeting in Dallas with slogans such as "People before profits" and "Oil: the new Black Death". A small plane towed a banner urging a boycott of the firm and police used sniffer dogs amid tighter security.
Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive, said he took critics seriously and insisted Exxon was aware of the threat of climate change: "We have the same concern as people around the world - to provide the world with its energy needs while reducing harmful emissions."
But Tillerson repeated Exxon's mantra that the demand for energy was set to rise 40% by 2030 and that oil and gas would have to meet 60% of this. Arguing that renewables lacked technological scale, he said "meaningful environmental improvements" would come from more efficient ways of delivering existing fuels.
His remarks failed to satisfy environmentalists. One, Stephen Viederman, accused Exxon's directors of leaving their responsibilities at the door. "Exxon is acting like a dinosaur in not adapting ... ExxonMobil-asaurus will disappear," he said.
Exxon's assumptions of future energy consumption were questioned by the Rockefellers, who suggested projected growth in demand from developing countries could not materialise if those nations faced catastrophes from global warming.
Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, an economist, called Exxon's approach "significantly flawed". "If energy technologies develop at the pace demonstrated by telecoms or the internet over past decades, they will seriously undermine Exxon's assumptions in demand for petroleum."
Exxon's board stonewalled almost every question by simply referring shareholders to the company's written responses.
© 2008 The Guardian