In the pantheon of companies that have destroyed the climate, ExxonMobil has long sat on the throne. It’s spread disinformation for decades even as it knew the risks of its products, is the largest investor-owned source of emissions since 1980, and the third-biggest driver of ocean acidification since 1880. And on Thursday, it made clear that it intends to keep its crown.
Darren Woods, the company’s CEO, used its annual investor day to talk about how it plans to invest billions of dollars in exploration and, meanwhile, trash other oil majors for setting targets to limit their emissions. He called the recent push by European oil giants such as Repsol, BP, and Eni to lower their emissions as a “beauty match.” Which is a pretty weird way to talk about efforts to have a livable planet, but go off, king.
Look, you should treat any aspirational targets set by oil companies with a high degree of skepticism. Their whole business is centered around a product that pollutes the atmosphere, and it’s been spectacularly lucrative. Big Oil is still a multi-trillion dollar industry that wields enormous power and is backed by copious subsidies and the politicians it rewards with massive sums of money. I wouldn’t call the pledges part of a beauty pageant, more just an attempt to look the least ugly. But Exxon is out here stone-cold attempting to avoid anything that could look like aspiration, beauty or otherwise.
“We’re very focused on trying to make sure that we’re talking about this holistically and actually taking steps to solve the problem for society as a whole and not to try to get into a beauty match, beauty competition, around whose sheet looks like what,” Woods said.
Exxon’s business practices have always been abhorrent from climate to human rights. The fact that it won’t engage in setting targets shows that its intent to keep pushing for climate-action delay while doing the bare minimum to remain in good standing in polite society. The company is a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council, a group pushing for a bipartisan solution to climate that includes a carbon tax and import fees as well as “significant regulatory simplification.”
Notably absent is the need for stronger regulations or emissions targets. A carbon tax as a piece of addressing climate change is fine. As the only solution and without binding targets on emissions, it’s a joke.
Meanwhile, Woods said Exxon also plans to pour up to $35 billion into oil exploration over the next five years. That includes the Permian Basin, where Exxon is the largest greenhouse gas emitter from flaring, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. But don’t worry, Exxon has committed to a 25 percent cut in flaring methane emissions by the end of this year.
Woods also noted Exxon sees plastics as a new area to expand into, much like other oil companies. The petrochemical industry as a whole poses a serious climate threat, and the oil and gas industry’s five-year expansion plan includes a heaping helping of plastic. Of the plastic plant expansions planned in the U.S. through 2025, Exxon’s is the third-highest emitting. The company also owns the highest emitting refinery in the U.S.
Exxon’s decision to ignore setting a cap and continue expanding shows it doesn’t imagine a political reckoning is coming anytime soon in the U.S. But the financial pressure on it could force more serious change. The company has seen its stocks slide to a 15-year low, and its valuation has plummeted an astounding $315 billion in just 13 years (yes, with a b).