Exxon "Chose to Mislead": Granddaughter of Former Exxon Climate Scientist


Anna Kalinsky, the granddaughter of former Exxon climate scientist James Black, has berated the company for bankrolling climate change denial despite her grandfather’s attempts to inform the company of the risks of burning fossil fuels for the global climate.

In 1977 my grandfather was a senior scientist at Exxon. He warned Exxon executives that the world was just a few years away from needing to rethink our energy strategy to prevent destructive climate change,” Kalinsky says.

“Instead, Exxon chose to mislead people about the risks of climate change – and continues to mislead people today. The company says they value their scientists and all the work they do, but that’s pretty hard to believe when they continue to fund organizations – both publicly and anonymously – that spread misinformation about the science.”

Kalinsky’s comments came during a call with media prior to ExxonMobil’s May 25 Annual General Meeting in Dallas, Texas, where shareholders will vote on a number of resolutions pertaining to climate change. 

Kalinsky is slated to address ExxonMobil’s executives and speak about her grandfather’s scientific findings which were featured in a September investigative article by InsideClimate News.

As Kalinsky alluded to, Exxon spent $31 million dollars funding the climate change denial machine between 1998 and 2014 — by conservative estimates. 

Among other climate-denying activity, Exxon still funds the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a “corporate bill mill” that has long denied the reality of human-caused climate change. ALEC has been singled out by ClimateTruth.org, which is calling on Exxon to drop its dues-paying membership with the organization. 

Back in 1978, almost four decades ago, Black made ominous warnings about the potential perils of climate change to come if humanity did not stem fossil fuel usage and reverse course.

“In the first place, there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels,” Black told Exxon higher-ups, according to InsideClimate News’ reporting, in a presentation titled “The Greenhouse Effect.” “Present thinking holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Remarking that Black was a “man of science,” Kalinsky offered her thoughts on how Black may feel today, were he still alive, about the direction Exxon took and the “road not taken” once it made scientific discoveries about climate change.

“He told my mother that a company is in trouble when it falls into the hands of the accountants,” Kalinsky stated. “I don’t think he’d be proud of the company he’d worked so hard for.”

25 Years: Nixing Shareholder Climate Resolutions

While best known these days for its “Exxon Knew” investigation, InsideClimate News also published an e-book and an article as part of its “Climate Accountability Project” in June 2015 on ExxonMobil’s intransigence pertaining to shareholder resolutions at its Annual General Meetings. According to their reporting, the types of resolutions slated for votes at the AGM in Dallas routinely get shot down.

Among the climate change-oriented resolutions the company’s top brass has urged its shareholders to vote against:

– Add a member to the board of directors with environmental expertise.

– Increase capital distributions to shareholders instead of investing in development of oil reserves that may never be exploited.

– Change the company’s method of accounting to better position Exxon to adapt to adapt to climate change by exploring non-fossil resources.

– Disclose funding of lobbyists and organizations dedicated to influencing climate policy.

– Acknowledge the moral imperative to limit global average temperature increases to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels and pledge to support the goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees.

Were shareholders to pass any of these resolutions, it would literally be unprecedented in the company’s history, as the “resolutions rarely get the support of more than a few percent of a company’s stock,” according to InsideClimate News. But with increased pressure and public scrutiny on the company and the fossil fuel sector at-large, some climate activists see Exxon’s Annual General Meeting as a tipping point in the climate accountability sphere. 

This year’s shareholder meeting should be a moment of reckoning for Exxon. The company is facing mounting, well-deserved pressure due to its woefully out-of-touch approach to climate change,” said Naomi Ages, Climate Liability Project Lead at Greenpeace USA. “Exxon is being held to account for the years it denied any contribution to runaway climate change by state Attorneys General, regulators, and now even its major shareholders.”

DeSmog will monitor the votes on the resolutions and provide live updates as they receive votes.

Update: Mother Writes, Daughter Speaks

Anna Kalinsky spoke both at and outside of Exxon’s Annual General Meeting, while her mother Claudia Black-Kalinsky wrote an op-ed for The Guardian echoing the statements her daughter Anna made in the May 23 press call. Claudia Black-Kalinsky wrote the following:

When my father first briefed Exxon’s executives about climate change, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stood at 330 parts per million. Now it is 20% higher and Nasa scientists are telling us the first few months of 2016 are so warm we’re almost certain to set another global heat record this year.

What would the world be like today if Exxon executives had listened to my father? If Exxon had led the industry in confronting climate change instead of funding public relations campaigns to disprove its existence? Perhaps sea levels would not be rising as quickly. Perhaps the fires burning across Alberta would not be as destructive. Perhaps we would already be transitioning to cleaner fuels and energy sources.

The daughter, Anna Kalinsky, delivered a petition to ExxonMobil on behalf of 35,000 signatories calling for the company to drop its membership in ALEC.

Update Two: The Guardian Denied Press Pass

The Guardian, another outlet which has published cuttiing-edge reporting on what Exxon knew and when it knew it with regards to climate change, was denied a press pass by ExxonMobil for the Annual General Meeting. 

We are denying your request [to attend Wednesday’s meeting] because of the Guardian’s lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its partnership with anti-oil and gas activists and its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers,” Alan Jeffers, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, told The Guardian.

Nils Pratley, The Guardian’s financial editor, did not take to the decision lightly.

“Exxon…seems determined to resist, just as it refuses to contemplate the possibility that some of its shareholders may sympathise with the Guardian’s reporting and wish to read a firsthand account of the meeting,” he wrote. “Grow up.”

Update Three: Tillerson Addresses ALEC

At the Annual General Meeting, Tillerson responded to a question about ExxonMobil’s membership in ALEC. He said the company, despite public pressure, has no intention to leave the organization. 

ALEC is a collective of state “legislatures and legislators, over 400 members and most of the most productive legislation in this country is passed at state levels,” said Tillerson.

“We have found our engagement with them to be very productive in a number of broad areas, whether its tax policy, other regulatory areas including education reform and that’s why we remain engaged with them. We find them to be a highly competent, very thoughtful policy organization. Whether we agree with the positions they ultimately take or not, we find the engagement to be very useful to our understanding of these issues and we intend to continue.”

Tillerson also referred to its ALEC membership as a free speech issue, akin to a fight for the heart and soul of the First Amendment.

“The only way I know how to respond is to tell you that we will never withdraw our support for people to address their free speech opinions on any free speech matter whatsoever,” Tillerson stated, with the crowd responding with a round of applause. “And the fact that people have different opinions on climate change, they have every right to their opinion [and] whether we agree with it or not I will support their right to say so.”

Update Four: All Climate Resolutions Nixed But One

By overwhelming majorities, all but one of the climate-oriented resolutions proposed by shareholders were nixed.

Among them, shareholders voted against one that called for the company to limit global warming to 2-degrees Celsius, with 18-percent voting for it and 82-percent against it. Further, 79-percent of shareholders voted against a resolution calling for the company to insert a climate expert on its Board.

One of the 11 proposed did pass, though, which allows minority shareholders to appoint someone to a seat on ExxonMobil’s Board. As Reuters detailed, this in effect means that a “climate activist could eventually become a director at the oil giant.”

But that aside, climate activist groups like 350.org reacted with dismay in the aftermath of the annual meeting. 

“The recommendation by Exxon’s board to outright reject [nearly] every single climate resolution from shareholders sends an incontestable signal to investors: it’s due time to divest from Exxon’s deception,” said May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, in a press release. “The recommended rejection of shareholder’s climate resolutions today proved that the company’s executives are set on prioritizing profit and greed over our climate and communities.”

Photo Credit: Johnny Silvercloud

Steve Horn is the owner of the consultancy Horn Communications & Research Services, which provides public relations, content writing, and investigative research work products to a wide range of nonprofit and for-profit clients across the world. He is an investigative reporter on the climate beat for over a decade and former Research Fellow for DeSmog.

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