Since the 1990s, the wisest oil-producing countries and companies have regularly reminded themselves of the oil patch adage that the Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stones; it ended because we invented bronze tools. When we did, stone tools became worthless — even though there were still plenty on the ground.
And so it will be with oil: The petroleum age will end because we invent superior technology that coexists harmoniously with nature. When we do, there will be plenty of oil left in the ground.
So be careful, wise producers tell themselves, don’t bet the vitality of your company, community or country on the assumption that oil will be like Maxwell House Coffee — “Good to the last drop” — and pumped from every last well. Remember Kodak? It underestimated the speed at which digital photography would make film obsolete. It didn’t go well for Kodak or Kodachrome.
Alas, though, not every oil company got the memo.
One that most glaringly did not is the one that in 2013 was the biggest public company in the world! It’s ExxonMobil. Today, it is no longer the biggest. As a result of its head-in-the-oil-sands-drill-baby-drill-we-are-still-not-at-peak-oil business model, Exxon lost over $20 billion last year, suffered a credit rating downgrade, might have to borrow billions just to pay its dividend, has seen its share price over the last decade produce a minus-30 percent return and was booted from the Dow Jones industrial average.
But last week — finally — Exxon got the memo, in the form of a shareholder revolt in what was one of the most consequential weeks in the history of the oil and gas industry and shareholder capitalism.
I’ve long argued that if environmentalists want to have an impact on the climate they can’t be “nice greens.” They have to be “mean greens.” They have to be as mean and tough, as diligent and vigilant, as the industry they’re trying to change.
Well, last week a little hedge fund called Engine No. 1 delivered an unprecedented master class in mean green using the tools of democratic capitalism. A plucky, purpose-driven investment fund, Engine No. 1 set out to force Exxon to improve its financial returns by getting much more serious about gradually transitioning — through innovation and acquisitions — into being an energy company, not just an oil and gas company.
At Exxon’s annual meeting, Engine No. 1 offered up a slate for four new members of Exxon’s 12-member board. The four represent deep energy expertise and climate solutions. The slate committed to push the oil giant to a net-zero emissions strategy by 2050, more investments in clean energy systems and more transparency about Exxon’s energy transition, with metrics and milestones, as well as disclosure of its lobbying payments and partners, suspected of undermining the science around climate change.
And darn if half the slate — Gregory Goff and Kaisa Hietala — wasn’t immediately elected by wide margins, and at least one other member might be as well when ExxonMobil finishes counting the votes from its very, very bad day.
Engine No. 1 was successful because it got three of the four biggest pension funds in America — fed up with Exxon’s relentless value destruction — to vote for its nominees. We’re talking about the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the California State Teachers’ Retirement System and the New York State Common Retirement Fund. Also, three of the world’s biggest fund managers, Vanguard, State Street and Black Rock, which together own more than one-fifth of all Exxon stock, each voted for part of the dissident slate.
And if you are keeping score at home — on your Stone-Age-ending-before-we-run-out-of-stones scorecard — on the same day that Engine No. 1 landed at least two energy/climate experts on the Exxon board, Barron’s reported: “A Dutch court ordered European energy giant Royal Dutch Shell to slash its carbon emissions by a net 45 percent by 2030. And, at Chevron’s annual meeting, shareholders supported a nonbinding proposal to ask the company to cut carbon emissions generated by the use of its products.”
Engine No. 1 and its allies are not playing around, and for good reason. As CNN reported a few days earlier, citing a newly published Harvard study, “For decades, ExxonMobil has deployed Big Tobacco-like propaganda to downplay the gravity of the climate crisis.”
“The study used machine learning and algorithms to uncover trends in more than 200 public and internal Exxon documents between 1972 and 2019,” according to CNN, which quoted this statement from the study: “These patterns mimic the tobacco industry’s documented strategy of shifting responsibility away from corporations — which knowingly sold a deadly product while denying its harms — and onto consumers.”
Exxon’s existing board was noteworthy for one thing: Other than the C.E.O., it had one member — appointed only this year — who I would call an energy expert, and none steeped in climate expertise that could help the company adapt.
The two new directors will definitely help, but getting the third — conservationist Andy Karsner — would really shake things up. Exxon says the voting results are too close to call, and it needs more time to certify if Karsner won a seat.
Bloomberg reported: “Exxon telephoned investors the morning of the ballot — and even during an unscheduled, hourlong pause during the virtual meeting — asking them to reconsider their votes, according to several of those who received calls. Some said they found the last-ditch outreach and halt to the meeting unorthodox and troubling.”
I first got to know and respect Karsner watching him in action in 2007, when
he was an assistant secretary of energy for George W. Bush. He oversaw the U.S.’s National Laboratories’ applied science programs and negotiated America’s re-entry into the U.N.’s Convention on Climate Change at the Bali conference, which laid the pathway for the Paris global climate deal. Before that, Karsner built power plants in Pakistan and solar plants in Morocco.
He has been a longtime member of the board of Conservation International, as was my wife. In full disclosure, Karsner and I are now friends, but it’s his experience and outlook that recommend him here. If there were a picture in the encyclopedia of a “mean green,” it would be Karsner: tough as nails and green as grass.
Karsner, the other Engine No. 1 nominees and Engine No. 1 itself are out to strengthen Exxon, not destroy it. They view it as one of the world’s greatest collections of scientific and engineering talent. They welcome Exxon’s sudden enthusiasm for the idea of creating a $100 billion public-private carbon-capture facility along the Houston Ship Channel to sequester planet-warming carbon dioxide. They also know that demand for oil and gas for transportation, power generation and plastics is not disappearing overnight. Wisely managed money will be made there.
But in a world where Ford just unveiled an all-electric version of its F-150 full-size pickup truck, one of its top-selling vehicles, and says that it envisages electric cars and trucks making up 40 percent of its production by the end of the decade, they think Exxon has got to stop betting that the good ole days of oil and gas profits will return — and start becoming a more diversified energy company. That means not only investing more in future carbon capture, batteries and other renewables, but also using its engineering prowess to invent that future — while it still has an income stream from oil and gas.
Everyone knows it won’t be easy. Making the kind of profits that Exxon once piled up from oil and gas will be very, very hard as a more diversified energy company. But it beats becoming a corporate fossil by betting the house on increasingly unprofitable, increasingly obsolete, increasingly unhealthy fossil fuels.
There was always a yin-yang thing to conservatism. Its hard-headedness and philosophical realism about human nature and the limits it imposes on utopian schemes appealed to some and repulsed others. For those who see politics as a romantic enterprise, a means of pursuing collective salvation, conservatism seems mean-spirited. As Emerson put it: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.” That’s what Ben Shapiro is getting at when he says “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” The hitch is that the reverse is also true: Feelings don’t care about your facts. Tell a young progressive activist we can’t afford socialism and the response will be overtly or subliminally emotional: “Why don’t you care about poor people!” or “Why do you love billionaires!?”
.. What Is Neoconservatism?
Here’s the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia page for neoconservatism:
Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon when labelling its adherents) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among liberal hawkswho became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party, and the growing New Left and counterculture, in particular the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society.
.. The first neocons were intellectual rebels against the Great Society and the leftward drift of American liberalism (The Public Interest, the first neocon journal, was launched in 1965. It was dedicated entirely to domestic affairs, not foreign policy). Unable to reconcile the facts with the feelings of liberalism, a host of intellectuals decided they would stick with the facts, even if it meant that former friends and allies would call them mean for doing so.
.. The Harrington essay that cemented the term “neoconservatism” in American discourse was titled “The Welfare State and Its Neoconservative Critics.” In other words, the original neoconservative critique wasn’t about foreign policy, but domestic policy.
.. According to William F. Buckley, the neoconservatives brought the rigor and language of sociology to conservatism, which until then had been overly, or at least too uniformly, Aristotelian. The Buckleyites (though certainly not folks like Burnham) tended to talk from first principles and natural laws and rights. The neocons looked at the data and discovered that the numbers tended to back up a lot of the things the Aristotelians had been saying... The idea that neoconservatism was primarily about foreign policy, specifically anti-Communism, further complicates things. Part of this is a by-product of the second wave of neoconservatives who joined the movement and the right in the 1970s, mostly through the pages of Commentary. These were rebels against not the welfare state but détente on the right and the radical anti-anti-Communists of the New Left (National Review ran a headline in 1971 on the awakening at Commentary: “Come on In, the Water’s Fine.”) Many of those writers, most famously Jeanne Kirkpatrick, ended up leading the intellectual shock troops of the Reagan administration.
It is certainly true that the foreign-policy neocons emphasized certain things more than generic conservatives, specifically the promotion of democracy abroad. In ill-intentioned hands, this fact is often used as a cover for invidious arguments about the how the neocons never really shed their Trotskyism and were still determined to “export revolution.” But for the most part, it can’t be supported by what these people actually wrote. Moreover, the idea that only neocons care about promoting democracy simply glosses over everything from the stated purpose of the First World War, the Marshall Plan, stuff like JFK’s inaugural address (“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”), and this thing called the Reagan Doctrine... And then there are the Joooooz. Outside of deranged comment sections and the swampy ecosystems of the “alt-right,” the sinister version of this theory is usually only hinted at or alluded to. Neocons only care about Israel is the Trojan horse that lets people get away with not saying the J-word. Those bagel-snarfing warmongers want real Americans to do their fighting for them. Pat Buchanan, when opposing the first Gulf War in 1992, listed only Jewish supporters of the war and then said they’d be sending “American kids with names like McAllister, Murphy, Gonzales and Leroy Brown” to do the fighting. Subtle... In his memoir, Irving Kristol, “the Godfather of the Neoconservatives,” argued that the movement had run its course and dissolved into the conservative movement generally.So today, neoconservatism has become what it started out as, an invidious term used by its opponents to single out and demonize people as inauthentic, un-American, unreliable, or otherwise suspicious heretics, traitors, or string-pullers. The chief difference is that they were once aliens in the midst of liberalism, now they are called aliens in the midst of conservatism. And it’s all bullsh**... The editor of American Greatness, a journal whose tagline should be “Coming Up with Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Sh** Doesn’t Stink 24/7” opens with “Neoconservatism is dead, long live American conservatism” and then, amazingly, proceeds to get dumber... A bit further on, he asserts that “for years, neoconservatives undermined and discredited the work of conservatives from Lincoln to Reagan . . .” This is so profoundly unserious that not only is it impossible to know where to begin, it’s a struggle to finish the sentence for fear the stupid will rub off. Does he have in mind the Straussians (Walter Berns, Robert Goldwin, et al.) at that neocon nest the American Enterprise Institute who wrote lovingly about Lincoln at book length for decades?
And what of the scores of neoconservatives who worked for Ronald Reagan and helped him advance the Reaganite agenda? Were they all fifth columnists? Or perhaps they were parasites attaching themselves to a “host organism,” as Buskirk repugnantly describes Kristol?
He doesn’t say, because Buskirk doesn’t rely on an argument. Save for a couple of Bill Kristol tweets out of context, he cites no writing and marshals no evidence. Instead, he lets a wink, or rather the stink, do all of his work. He knows his readers want to hear folderol about neocons. He knows they have their own insidious definitions of what they are and crave to have them confirmed. Bringing any definition or fact to his argument would get in the way of his naked assertions and slimy insinuations... American Greatness ran a piecefloating the idea that Trump’s “covfefe” tweet just might have been a brilliant piece of historically and linguistically literate statecraft. That’s actually plausible compared to the idea that Trump is Moses saving conservatism from a “a purified strain of backward idolatry.”
.. Who is in conflict with the best principles of America: the magazine that for 23 years lionized the founders, Lincoln, and Reagan or the website that rationalizes literally anything Donald Trump does — from crony capitalism to denigrating the First Amendment to paying off porn stars — as either the inventions of his enemies or a small price to pay for national greatness? Not every contributor to American Greatness is dedicated to the art of turd polishing, but that is the site’s larger mission.
.. Trump’s sense of persecution is as contagious as his debating style. Facts are being subordinated to feelings, and the dominant feelings among many Trumpists are simply ugly. And even those who have not turned ugly see no problem working hand in hand with those who have. And how could they, given who they herald as their Moses.
Why had she stayed mute for so many days about the torment her father was inflicting on thousands of immigrant children? What will happen to her if Michael Cohen flips?
.. doomed never to return to her privileged perch as a Manhattan society darling?
.. “It’s really easy for someone whose sole job in the White House is women and children to issue a statement — even Melania did it,”
.. “It just shows how fake Ivanka is,” Fox continued. “She’s crafted this whole image of herself that’s not actually her. And the real her is cooler, slightly more interesting, funnier. She curses like a sailor. She partied a lot when she was younger. She flashed a hot dog vendor when she was in eighth grade. She chain-smoked. Which is so opposite of the image she put out there.
.. “What you’re seeing now is the unmasking. She can’t control the narrative anymore because she’s so inauthentic. It has really come back to bite her.”
.. as the echoes of sobbing children snatched from parents fleeing violence collided with images of a whining, pampered child-president bragging about his crowd size and his bank account, all while he callously used helpless kids as hostages to get his wall.
.. Which means the first lady is like her husband in one unfortunate respect: In times of national turmoil, she makes it about herself.
.. “She was infatuated with the Kennedys,” Fox said.
.. She tried to present her brand as luminous, caring and classy — a champion of women and children with a carefully curated image over the years on Instagram, in a blog and in books.
Amid the dark hailstorm of her father, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, she sold herself as the sunny morning — the one who would temper her father’s retrogressive and sometimes wretched moves.
.. Introducing him at the 2016 Republican convention, Ivanka assured the crowd that he had “empathy and generosity,” as well as “kindness and compassion.”
.. it seemed like fan fiction.
.. a former top Trump administration official recently told me, “Donald Trump is the meanest man I’ve ever met.”
.. After her panic when he left her mother for Marla Maples — Ivanka worried she wouldn’t be able to keep the Trump name, and called him constantly — she spent her life fashioning herself, “Vertigo”-style, into his ideal.
.. no matter how hard Ivanka tried, Donald Trump thought she could be even more ideal. When she was a model, Fox writes, her father “suggested to friends that breast implants might help her along.
.. Maryanne Trump, Donald’s sister, urging him to talk Donald out of letting her get plastic surgery that young.
.. When his friend confronted him about it, he denied that she was getting implants. At the end of the call, he asked, ‘Why not, though?’”
.. Ivanka succeeded in being a Mini-Me. By 16, she trademarked her name with the intention of using it for everything from bras to brow liner to scrub masks. “There is a distinct genetic quality to Ivanka’s preternatural ability to self-promote,”
.. Ivanka ran into split-screen trouble with her gauzy and glam mommy-of-the-year Instagram posts during the refugee ban, the migrant crisis and the Palestinians dying at the Israeli border during her visit to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
.. Her father is the all-consuming maw, what Fox calls “an infinite pit of need — a time-sucking vampire who fed off those around him to sustain his own vanity.”
.. Ivanka backed up the president’s fake narrative that it was Congress’s fault. When Daddy finally ended the pitiless policy that he imposed, she congratulated him on Twitter for white knighting it
.. The Trump family, of course, was seeing the problem as optics, not as a barbaric flouting of American values.
.. Donald and Ivanka are consumed with protecting their own brands. America’s? Not so much.
President Trump said on Monday that he would oppose any effort to reduce the amount of pretax income that American workers can save in 401(k) retirement accounts, effectively killing an idea that Republicans were mulling as a way to help pay for a $1.5 trillion tax cut.
The directive, issued via Twitter, underscored a growing fear among Republicans and business lobbyists that Mr. Trump’s bully-pulpit whims could undermine the party’s best chance to pass the most sweeping rewrite of the tax code in decades.
.. Mr. Trump hosted House Republicans in the Rose Garden to celebrate passage of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, only to call the same bill “mean” later.
.. Mr. Trump “can shift on a dime, and he has many unformed policy positions,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania. “We have to worry about him shifting positions.”
.. Republicans are also discussing whether to raise the top income tax rate for top earners and jettisoning a proposal to eliminate the estate tax.
.. Reducing 401(k) contribution limits would force retirement savers to pay more in taxes today, as they sock away money, but less in the future, when they begin withdrawing retirement funds.
.. “Trump engages in fits and starts and then undermines his side’s negotiating positions half the time,”
.. “He doesn’t care about the details of tax reform, or Obamacare repeal and replace, and thus inserting himself into the negotiations has been largely counterproductive to date.”
.. What privately alarms even supporters of Mr. Trump’s on Capitol Hill is the possibility that he cannot stomach unpopular issues. Such supporters often point to President Ronald Reagan’s championing of the 1986 tax reform bill, which eliminated many business tax preferences, as a contrast to Mr. Trump’s recent actions.
That same dynamic could also be a benefit for industry groups, which may be able to rout a proposal by portraying a change as going against public sentiment.
.. Many observers in Washington say Mr. Trump has frequently promised more than he can deliver, again pointing to the health care debate, where he campaigned on a promise to provide better, lower-cost coverage to more Americans.
Others point to Mr. Trump’s promises on the budget, where he vowed to
- reduce the federal deficit and
- pay down the national debt, while
- both cutting taxes and
- leaving two major safety-net spending programs, Medicare and Social Security, untouched.
.. “the president has never met a hard choice he was willing to make.”