By Anne Polansky
Covering the year 2013, this is our latest installment in a timeline series addressing how the Exxon Mobil Corporation has characterized risks to its business operations associated with climate change (in its annual 10-K reports to shareholders), in light of what corporate leadership knew, or reasonably could have known, regarding anthropogenic global warming and associated climate change impacts. For previous segments, see Part One (1993-2000); Part Two (2000-2008); Part Three(A) (2009), Part Three(B) (2010), Part Three(C) (2011), and Part Three(D) (2012).
In 2013, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in millions of years, marking a milestone that, while symbolic, called greater attention to escalating greenhouse gas levels and a steady global warming trend. Scientists had already been warning that a runaway greenhouse effect could disrupt Earth’s climate system to a point of no return. Climate change impacts continued to worsen in regions across the globe, and few communities were sufficiently prepared for these impacts. Meanwhile, Exxon Mobil was investing its massive $45 billion in earnings in maximizing extraction and processing of oil and gas, including the controversial use of hydrofracturing (fracking) to extract fuel from tar sands and the expansion of offshore oil drilling. Despite pressure from shareholders to address climate change meaningfully, CEO Rex Tillerson stood his ground in suggesting that bringing fossil fuels to those who lack ready access (such as the 1.2 billion people without electricity) was the “humanitarian” thing to do, rather than leading the transition away from an increasingly risky high-carbon energy future. By 2013, nine of the ten hottest years on record had occurred since the turn of the century, and growing instances of harmful climate impacts across the US and the world were impossible to ignore. Yet, these risks were readily discounted by corporate leadership at ExxonMobil.