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The Difference between What You Say and What You Do

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 6:05 AM GMT on January 18, 2016

The Difference between What You Say and What You Do

The New Year got off to a busy start. There was a drive from Colorado to Michigan, and I can report the continued proliferation of windmills and much water in the Illinois River. Then there was a cameo appearance at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in New Orleans. And, of course, school has started and this year we are going to analyze the realities of the Paris Agreement. Spent one night in Grinnell, Iowa, where with the benefit of TV, I got to see campaign commercials. Some of the commercials were simply terrifying, and I look forward to people actually voting to provide clarity, if not rationalization.

Before I get started on the body of this entry, I recommend a couple of items. First, there is an opinion piece by Piers Sellers entitled ”Cancer and Climate Change.” It is a personal, reflective piece by Piers, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and how he plans to spend the rest of his life. Second, on Wednesday (Jan 20, 2016) at 7:00 Mountain (9:00 E, 8:00 C, 6:00 P / my Panamanian readers have to figure it for themselves), Kevin Trenberth will be giving a live-streamed talk What’s Going On with El Niño?

I want to finish my little survey of Exxon-ExxonMobil and climate change. Here are links to previous entries:

Review of Climate Research by Exxon
All Fracked Up
Oily, Contradictory, and Logical
Exxon and Paris – 2
Exxon and Paris – 1
2009 piece on Exxon calling for a carbon tax

I have followed Exxon for a number of years in class, and in 2008 there was a student project comparing Exxon and BP’s climate-change behavior. ( and here is link to presentation]One thing that came out of that project was Exxon’s commitment to good management and efficiency – as well as a strong focus on fossil fuels extraction. That project challenged the public perceptions of Exxon’s and BP’s positions on climate change.

It was in the 2006 – 2008 time frame that Exxon seemed to change its management approach to climate change. There was a public announcement that they were ceasing to fund some notable organizations denying anthropogenic climate change (but, see below). This was the same time span that Exxon publically called for a carbon tax. It is, also, the same time when Exxon took an editing role in Human-Induced Climate Change: An Interdisciplinary Assessment.

Building from some of the ideas discussed in my student’s project comparing Exxon and BP, ExxonMobil’s achievements in efficiency were called out in ”Realizing the Potential in Energy Efficiency.” This document is a United Nations Foundation Expert Report, that, “Recognizing the potential of energy efficiency and the importance of spurring decisive action on climate change in the next decade, the United Nations Foundation convened a distinguished international panel of experts to identify the size of the energy efficiency opportunity and strategies for seizing it.” ExxonMobil is mentioned in Strategic Energy Management and, specifically, “Significant improvements and energy efficiency are also possible in the energy-intensive activities of the oil and chemical industry. ExxonMobil achieved a 35 percent reduction in the energy intensity of its global petroleum refining and chemical operations in the period 1974 to 1999. Notwithstanding these achievements, a newly implemented energy management system has identified a further 10 to 15 percent in cost-effective energy savings at nearly all plants around the world.”

There is evidence that this re-positioning of the corporate identity in climate change occurs at a time that ExxonMobil continues to contribute to organizations committed to maintaining doubt about climate change (see also, Huffington Post]. This activity appears rationalized as to provide voters with information about the uncertainty of climate change – an argument of fairness of debate.

Since the Exxon story emerged during the middle part of 2015 (reference here), ExxonMobil has been actively managing their message. They have ”set the record straight”, using, essentially, arguments that would be expected from my series of blogs – citing their research, their support of a carbon tax, their participation in the scientific community. ExxonMobil has actively advertised how they are reducing emissions by providing the world natural gas.

It is important to know how those playing the game are playing. It all cases ExxonMobil works in its self-interest, which should be expected. They manage a public interface; they play on multiple levels behind that interface. They plan their corporate practice, and this appears in conflict with their political position. I think it will be very difficult to find anything criminal in this, only a value system and behavior that supports a massively successful organization.

It will be interesting to see how this all moves forward. The Union of Concerned Scientists will maintain a vigilance on accountability. Organizations such as ExxonSecrets will stay on task. And, it will become more difficult for institutions to argue that fiduciary responsibility is a reason to oppose student divestment movements. I think we may be at the start of a new era.


Figure 1: Barge on Illinois River in Peru, Illinois, January 2016.

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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.