Saturday, March 28, 2015

Climate Warrior

Arjuna, warrior hero of the Mahabharata, includes among his epithets Bhibatsu, meaning 'he who fights fair.' According to the website of Arjuna Capital, a small Massachusetts-based sustainable investment management firm, Arjuna, a skilled archer, stood for enlightened engagement in society, and so does Arjuna Capital. In that spirit Arjuna (the company) joined non-profit As You Sow to introduce a shareholder resolution at last year's ExxonMobil annual meeting, requiring that the petroleum giant acknowledge the declining value of its potentially stranded assets, i.e. carbon reserves that we all know must never be used, in the interest of human survival. ExxonMobil fended off the resolution by noting the hypothetical possibility of stranded fossil-fuel assets, while rating it "highly unlikely" that it will be constrained to leave those assets in the ground.

So this year Arjuna was back with a new resolution, calling on ExxonMobil (and also Chevron) to divert funds from new exploration--the search for even more reserves it would be species-suicidal to exploit--back to shareholders in the form of buy-backs or increased dividends. Alas, the SEC--which has power to restrict shareholder resolutions--blocked the ExxonMobil resolution while inexplicably allowing the quite similar Chevron one to move forward.

So does it help to have the keen-eyed archer Arjuna on our (human) side? What these resolutions make clear is how determined the oil titans are to carry on, building bigger reserves, exploiting them at the most profitable pace they can, while funding pseudo-scientific research to 'prove' they aren't intending to destroy the planet as they pocket billions of dollars in profits. Actions like Arjuna's neatly frame the problem, in much the same way as the divestment movement does. Of course the mega-corporations are right: we can't just stop exploiting fossil fuels without replacement energy sources. This claim is disingenuous, though, when coupled with efforts--well-documented now--by the oil companies to sabotage the development of alternatives, starting with the adversarial research they fund. We have to approach the problem from the other end, developing efficient alternatives and taxing carbons at their real cost, before it will make financial sense for those reserves to stay in the ground where they belong. Meanwhile, keen-eyed Arjuna is taking aim at new exploration, the most outrageous aspect of corporate climate denial. Let's hope the SEC will change its mind and let him shoot. 

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