When Will Exxon Be Worthless? Not If.

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When Will Exxon Be Worthless? Not If.

'Big Oil doesn’t have a future in a carbon-constrained world that stays within safe climate limits.' (Photograph: Matt Brown/AP)

These are dizzying days.  Our best advice is to stay woke, and pay attention.  As we prepare for a day that will revolve around Trump’s Rose Garden speech to Make America Guzzle&Gush Again, it is worth taking a moment to focus on the amazing events in the background over the last few days:

  • Kinder Morgan’s Transmountain tar sands pipeline got politically flattened when the province of British Columbia elected the social democrats and the greens on their promise to kill the project;
  • China and Europe lept out of the gate announcing major new joint cooperation to take climate ambition to a new level in response to reports that denier-in-chief Trump is pulling out of the Paris agreement. A veritable “we won’t hesitate to leave you behind” was the message resonating around the world shortly after the news dropped;
  • The cautious, conservative, Financial Times trumpeted the “unstoppability” of renewables and the end of fossil fuels; and
  • ExxonMobil shareholders – lead by mainstream investment firms – voted decisively to demand the company disclose the risks of its massive fossil fuel reserves to the climate.

And this is just a sampling of what is becoming a very clear picture of a world that is changing faster than most can keep up with.

Vote by Exxon shareholders "is a striking example that the mainstream financial world is getting closer to a meaningful understanding of the end of oil."

Let’s take a closer look at the ExxonMobil vote. To be clear, Exxon still hates your children, but now their shareholders are demanding that they stop lying about it. Investors voted with an astounding 62.3% majority to require the fossil fuel giant disclose the impacts their massive oil reserves will have on the climate.

Just as groundbreaking is that the measure was reportedly supported by some of the world’s biggest financial firms: BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. When firms like these start to come around, you can be pretty sure the tide is turning.

In addition to getting slammed on this vote (in spite of the company urging its shareholders to reject the resolution) ExxonMobil is also facing a suite of lawsuits at various levels (including by multiple Attorney Generals’) on its history of lies and deception covering up and discrediting climate science. The climate bad guys aren’t lurking in the shadows anymore, they have been pushed into plain sight and in response, investors are revolting, courts are pouncing, and people are finally starting to see past the spin.

It is important to note that acting on this resolution will come nowhere near to making Exxon a climate good-guy. They are not the first to deal with this shareholder demand, and those who have come before them have found ways of pulling rabbits out of hats by making in-house models work to show that their oil will somehow survive in a world that needs to decarbonize.

The bottom line is that Big Oil doesn’t have a future in a carbon-constrained world that stays within safe climate limits. This reality is a much tougher pill to swallow, but this is a striking example that the mainstream financial world is getting closer to a meaningful understanding of the end of oil. It is our job to push them to get there faster. After all, a worthless Exxon is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when, and no one is going to want to go down with that sinking ship.

(with thanks to Hannah McKinnon for her contributions)

Stephen Kretzmann

Stephen Kretzmann is founder and executive director and founder of Oil Change International.

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