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With Exxon, the more things change the more they stay the same

Exxpose Exxon's Shawnee Hoover reports from the Dallas shareholder meeting, May 31, 2007

So here we were in Dallas again, for another round of ExxonMobil spin.

It was 8.00 a.m and already dozens of people had turned out from the local community to help us voice our protest at this company's misleading of its own shareholders - and the public. We had our scheduled press conference outside but Exxon jumped all over us by scheduling theirs at the same time - usual nasty tricks.

However, that didn't stop us - Tim Greef from NRDC, Juan Parras, Citizens League for Environmental Action Now, a Houston group and Gary Stuard, from the Dallas Interfaith Environmental Alliance all joined me in talking to the crowd of devoted demonstrators and media about the ways that ExxonMobil was lying, polluting and undermining local communities.

That was outside.

But inside, it quickly became clear that despite Exxon's rhetoric that it has been "misunderstood" and that "the debate is over" on climate change, things really haven't shifted at all.

There were some heavy hitters in the meeting, with shareholders worth millions, including the State Controller of California, the State Treasurer of Connecticut, Alumni of Stanford University - all backing shareholder resolutions. But while the resolutions were on a range of issues, almost the entire focus of the discussion at the meeting was on the company's shameful policies on global warming.

The good news: shareholders voted a massive 31% in favor of Exxon setting a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. (The highest shareholder vote ever on global warming was 39.5%, and that wasn't an oil or gas company.) Last year Exxon's emissions rose by 5.4%.

After CEO Rex Tillerson had given his presentation on how great Exxon is, the microphone was opened for discussion of the resolutions. One of the institutional investor reps, Andrew Logan, asked why Exxon made itself public enemy no. 1 by refusing to consider environmental policies.

Tillerson responded that there's still a lot of uncertainty around global warming and that Exxon is focusing on those uncertainties. When he said he couldn't understand why people were so threatened by debate, I took that as my cue.

Handed the mic, I reminded him of what he had said in Davos, Switzerland in January when he told a crowd of business leaders: "there's no longer any need to debate (the issue)."

Rex continued throughout the whole session to emphasize scientific uncertainty on global warming and talk about the debate required on the issue. Never mind that the global scientific body, the IPCC, says now that it's 90% certain that humans are causing climate change.

I closed with a quote by The Heartland Institute, funded $115,000 by Exxon last year. "This is the kind of 'debate' you're funding," I said. "From their 2007 State Legislative Guidebook they write, 'warming is likely to be very modest relative to natural variation, benefits are likely to outweigh costs, and taking action now in the name of fighting "global warming" is unnecessary.'"

Rex continued to claim "we don't fund junk science." That is a claim he can make - but we all know that Exxon funds the groups that push the junk science. That he cannot deny. But with Exxon, the more things change the more they stay the same. The questions on climate, renewable energy and funding sceptic groups were relentless - and pushed Tillerson to revert straight back to Exxon's old line about uncertainties. His statements pretty much threw the company's latest multi-million dollar PR campaign on climate into the toilet. He even went so far as to say that some people who talk about ice caps melting don't know the science. I was reminded of that quote by Upton Sinclair who said: "it's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it." I know that our work during and leading up to this meeting is keeping up the pressure on Exxon. I know that our work in continuing to hold Exxon accountable for its greed and irresponsibility - and exposing its lies - plays an integral role in reducing its influence over the direction of our future. Click here to see photos and read more.
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