The following op-ed appears in the August 17, 2016, edition of the Houston Chronicle.
The Paris agreement signed earlier this year by world leaders showed the global community’s resolve to address climate change risks.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades amounts to one of society’s most important challenges. Similarly, society must continue to produce the energy sources that drive progress and provide the underpinnings of modern life.
That latter point has been impressed on me in my travels around the world with ExxonMobil, informing how I view the former.
I have seen how access to modern energy sources and technologies can lift whole regions out of grinding poverty. Reliable electricity allows a child in Africa to study and read in the evening. Energy is the lifeblood of hospitals, businesses, schools, and universities – from Asia to the Middle East to South America. Our products move goods to market and move people around an expanding world. And energy powers the pumps and filtration systems that offer clean streets, consistent sanitation, and clean water.
There are parts of the world that don’t yet reap the benefits of modern energy technologies. In fact, according to the International Energy Agency, 1.2 billion people are without access to electricity, meaning they go without lighting, refrigeration, and other basic needs. More than 2.7 billion people lack clean cooking supplies, relying instead on wood, charcoal, or other sources of biomass. Household air pollution from sources such as these can have profoundly harmful effects on people’s health.
So when we think about the two great challenges of providing energy for a growing world while at the same time reducing emissions, we at ExxonMobil focus on marrying thoughtful public policy to innovative technology development. It’s an approach differing markedly from that offered by vocal critics who have launched a coordinated campaign to misrepresent our company’s climate research history – class-action lawyers, extreme environmental activists, and certain politicians.
For our part, ExxonMobil is proud of the role we have played so far in developing technologies and processes that increase energy efficiency and lower emissions.
Investments we’ve made during the past decade have made us the country’s top producer of cleaner-burning natural gas. When used for power generation, natural gas has half the carbon dioxide emissions of coal. So we have been part of helping reduce U.S. emissions to levels not seen since the 1990s.
ExxonMobil is also investing in new technologies, such as using fuel cells to cut the cost of capturing carbon for permanent storage. We are pioneering development of a portfolio of next-generation biofuels, including sources like algae, which could reduce emissions without competing with food and water resources. And by installing equipment at our refineries and chemical plants to generate electricity from waste heat –called cogeneration – we are eliminating 6 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year.
All told, ExxonMobil has spent $7 billion over the last 15 years to develop lower-emission energy solutions.
We have also publicly supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax since 2009 as the best of the policy options being considered by governments.
According to North Carolina State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center, there are about 3,000 separate laws, policies, regulations, and incentives in the United States designed to target emissions. More and more added every year.
This patchwork of policies already represents a hidden and inefficient carbon tax on greenhouse gas emissions. A properly designed carbon tax that substitutes for and clears away this thicket of existing emissions regulations would have obvious benefits both for our economy and our effort to minimize climate risks.
So it’s ironic that there is a movement under way to demonize our corporation as somehow denying the existence of climate change when we have acknowledged those risks for years.
The #ExxonKnew effort by anti-oil and gas activists – and cheered by the senators who authored the adjacent op-ed* – has resulted in inaccurate media reports and government investigations into our nearly 40-year history of climate research. To accept their arguments is to wilfully turn a blind eye to our corporation’s actual record.
What this campaign makes clear is that there is yet one more requirement if society is to make real progress on climate, and that is a healthier and more honest public dialogue.
Climate change is a serious topic. It demands a serious approach and a fidelity to facts, not sloganeering and hashtag histrionics. ExxonMobil is proud to be part of that discussion, and we will continue to be in the years ahead.
Suzanne McCarron is vice president of public and government affairs for Exxon Mobil Corp. Twitter: @SuzanneMcCarron