Through class and recent readings I’ve done, I’ve become exceedingly interested in the effects large fossil fuel companies are having in shaping climate policy and climate change itself. In my last post, I discussed some of the largest carbon emitters in the world, and their massive contributions to our changing climate. Well what many assumed to be true about these companies is apparently true, and at least some people are upset; the SEC and a number of states Attorney Generals have recently launched an investigation into ExxonMobil and whether they deliberately mislead investors as to the effects they were having on climate change. A similar lawsuit could be in the works for oil giant Shell. A recently rediscovered 1991 short film produced by Shell and made for students and other public forums warned of the disastrous effects of increasing global temperatures, how our current energy system was unsustainable, and how carbon emissions were and are the biggest contributor to climate change. As we all know however, both Exxon and Shell have invested billions of dollars into fossil fuel exploration and capture, as well as millions into lobby groups such as the (thoughtfully named) American Petroleum Institute, Global Climate Coalition, and American Legislative Council; all of which seek to undermine policies promoting carbon regulation and taxes, while also working to sway public opinion against the facts of climate science. It is a sad reality that emphasizes short term investor goals and ignores long term global impacts. Thankfully, progressive states and government entities are beginning to take action, which could potentially call to account the actions of these companies, and the disconnect between the climate science they speak of in private and the climate denial they project to investors and the public.
It is also worth mentioning that not all energy giants are soulless in their approach to business. In researching some of the largest energy companies, I was lightened by the example of Statoil, a Norwegian multinational energy company (the 11th largest oil and gas company in the world by profit according to Forbes). Statoil has taken the unusual approach of fully embracing climate change and their role in the crisis. Since 1996 they have invested heavily in reducing their CO2 output and have developed technologies that significantly limit their footprint as compared to other oil and gas companies. For over 20 years Statoil has been refining technology used to separate CO2 from their oil and gas extracts, and then sequestering that CO2 in deep subterranean formations where it will not leak into the atmosphere. No other oil and gas company in the world has adopted such a progressive model, or implemented this type of technology at any sort of impactful scale. Statoil has been so successful that they have been recognized as not only the most sustainable oil and gas company in the world, but the 4th most sustainable company in the world regardless of industry by the Carbon Disclosure Project. Statoil has also promoted and lobbied for increased carbon taxes and funding for climate research and climate impact mitigations.
So there are both sides of the coin. Many of the American driven, solely profit driven companies want to take a back seat to climate change and ride out the fossil fuel glut as long as possible. But Statoil is a great example of how accepting climate change, acknowledging ones role in that change, and in doing so pursuing policy and technology to mitigate those impacts, can still result in huge profits, and maybe more importantly a respectable public image. Sadly, it may take several multi-billion dollar lawsuits for other industry players to come around.