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ExxonMobil’s 2007 Citizenship Report June 21, 2008

Posted by davidzweig in Uncategorized.
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Tortuous, adj. [M.E. Anglo-Fr.: L. tortosus < tortus, pp. of torquere, to twist], 1. full of twists, turns, curves, or windings; winding; crooked; hence, 2. not straightforward; devious; specifically deceitful; immoral, n. the 2007 ExxonMobil Corporate Citizenship Report.

English gives us two words, torturous and tortuous, that don’t mean quite the same thing although they share identical etymological DNA. It doesn’t take much to see how our enlightened European forebears could derive the word “torture” from the verb meaning “to twist.” But now, one beeswax-candle-fueled Enlightenment later, we have ExxonMobil, and the subject on the rack is the not some heretic’s shoulder joint, but the truth and, many would argue, the survival of Planet Earth.

ExxonMobil’s 2007 Corporate Citizenship Report (printed on 100% recycled paper, but NOT with soy inks) landed in my mailbox from the CorporateRegister in London, the world’s largest distributor of sustainability reports. Presumably, it also mails coal from Alequippa, Pennsylvania to Newcastle, England, but I have no evidence of that.

Since we are on the fourth grade subject of “citizenship”, let’s carry through with the infantilization theme and use “tortuous” and “torturous” in one sentence. Here’s my offering: “Reading the tortuous 2007 ExxonMobil Corporate Citizenship Report is a torturous experience.”

Why? Let’s open the cover….

On Environmental Performance:

Companies are responsible for managing the environmental impact of their operations. The issue of greenhouse gas emissions is being considered by a broader community that includes not only energy companies, environmental groups, and scientists, but also energy consumers, policy makers, and the media. ExxonMobil supports an increased awareness of how energy shapes our world as well as discussions on policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and to develop new technologies that enable more efficient energy use. We are also committed to participating in the continuing public dialogue on this important issue.

What a circumlocution of a circumlocution! I already am in orbit!

Companies are responsible for managing the environmental impact of their operations. The issue of greenhouse gas emissions is being considered by a broader community that includes not only energy companies, environmental groups, and scientists, but also energy consumers, policy makers, and the media. ExxonMobil supports an increased awareness of how energy shapes our world as well as discussions on policies that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We continue to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and to develop new technologies that enable more efficient energy use. We are also committed to participating in the continuing public dialogue on this important issue.

Diffuse, deny, deliberate. Have you ever sat through a freshman philosophy seminar? I have, and 30 years on, the recovery progresses. One would expect something more beefy from gung-ho oilmen. Simone de Beauvoir, no wildcatter she, wrote with much more conviction (and more transitive verbs and concrete nouns) than these reticent roustabouts. They treat this subject as if they were tiptoeing through a landmine-laden oil field in 1991 Kuwait. What do they fear might explode?

Now, to this mushspeak let’s add a dash of courage, a sprinkling of principles, respect for truth, and passing concern for something beyond self-interest. Our ExxonMobil makeover would read as follows:

Companies [Say “ExxonMobil.” There are no people in this paragraph! Is anyone home? Exxon seems intent on stepping away from this topic. Why might they see the topic “environment” as a gruesome traffic accident?] are responsible for managing [reducing] the environmental impact of their operations [and products]. The issue [It’s a little more than an issue at this point. The elimination of the one-cent piece is an “issue.” Environmental collapse in the air, on land and in oceans, the empowerment of evil dictators, collapsing economies, out-of-control defense spending, wars and genocide over oil, a horrific balance of payments, sacrifice of national principles in pursuit of oil–those are more than “issues”. Most of the informed world believes “planet-threatening disaster in the making” would be more apt, and not strident enough.] of greenhouse gas emissions [climate change] is being considered [acted on with desperate resolve] by a broader community that includes not only energy companies [with ExxonMobil hopelessly in the rear], environmental groups [that Exxon habitually combats], and scientists [whose work ExxonMobil has been caught paying to pervert or thwart], but also energy consumers [who have no choice], policy makers [who are recipients of Exxon’s self-serving largesse], and the media [which are mostly asleep]. ExxonMobil supports an increased awareness [no, action] of how energy shapes our world as well as discussions [the time for which has long since passed] on policies [though not actions] that seek to [will] reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We continue to take action [Do tell!] to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our operations [But not beyond our operations; and only because oil is so expensive and this will increase profits] and to develop new technologies that enable more efficient energy use. [Last year Exxon spent $34 billion of its $38 billion windfall profits on stock buybacks and dividends. Dear reader, do you see any technologies in there? ExxonMobil is less transparent on this subject of new technologies than the rest of the Big 5.] We are also committed to participating [leading] in the continuing public dialogue [More talk! how about "urgent search for solutions"] on this important issue [planet threatening-crisis].

Under the environment section of the report, the only achievement noted is the assertion that the company has spent $1 billion to improve efficiency and reduce emissions since 2004. In perspective, that's 1/140th of its profits over this period. There is nothing in there about building the next planetary fuel system, which, in the face of peak oil would lead to...

...the next section of this report, which bears the ironic heading "a long-term perspective." This is an odd choice, not only because Exxon's actions and inactions imperil all our our long term perspectives, but more narrowly, because Exxon has been unable to replace its annual oil consumption with new discoveries for most of the last 30 years.

We next see a section called "communication and engagement." Last week, when I attended the Yale Governance Forum, an officer of the State of Connecticut's pension fund asked a recently retired Exxon official on a panel why his company had failed to respond to her governance inquiries for three years' running. He said, "It's an issue we talk about and take seriously."

The "talk about" piece is somewhat true. One needs only read about the recent Rockefeller uprising to see how hollow the rest of this claim, like many of ExxonMobil's positions, truly are. I could not read more. It was like torture.

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