“Right after we got there,” she says, “a woman pumping gas asked what was going on. After we explained, she stopped pumping gas and said, ‘Oh, I won’t come here anymore,’ and drove off.”
Fifelski and her colleagues were among more than 50 groups across the country who rallied against Exxon this summer, urging their members and the public not to purchase ExxonMobil’s gasoline or other products, invest in ExxonMobil stock, or work for the company.
Why? For starters, there’s the $12 million ExxonMobil has spent to fund “climate skeptics” who proclaim that global warming science is “uncertain.” And then there’s ExxonMobil’s active support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Last but not least, ExxonMobil has refused to pay $4 billion in punitive damages to fishermen, natives, and others harmed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
Exxpose Exxon grew out of discussions after the elections, says Dave Hamilton, the Sierra Club’s director of global warming. “With the Congress even worse than last year, we wanted to take a new look at what people could do and Exxon absolutely exemplified what’s wrong with our energy policy and the politics around energy.”
Hamilton says the campaign is not a boycott, which specifically intends to affect the bottom line of a company, but it’s aimed at educating the public about all the ways “Exxon is working in their own interest and against the national interest.”
“For example, it’s in our national interest to reduce dependence on oil and protect the environment,” says Hamilton. “Exxon is actively working against those goals.”
In a May Reuters story, Exxon spokesperson Scott Nauman dismissed renewable energy as “an uneconomic niche” that the company would not be investing in.
Like other Club organizers, Fifelski started her day by delivering a letter to the manager of the gas station to let him know why the protesters were gathering. “He was just ‘whatever,’ but after a bunch of people came and went and we handed them our literature, he called me inside and said the station owner was on the phone and wanted to talk to me. The owner was unaware that ExxonMobil was part of Arctic Power and in support of drilling the Arctic, and when I asked him if he’d be willing to write a letter to Exxon, he said he would.”
Club organizers all over the country garnered positive responses from passersby. In Atlanta, says organizer Natalie Foster, protesters leafleted at a downtown Exxon station, chanting, “The word is out, the heat is on. We want the truth, expose Exxon.” In Colorado, where the only two Exxon stations are near Durango, the coalition focused on a “Don’t Invest in Exxon” theme, rallying in front of Union Station at the foot of Denver’s “Wall Street.” In Little Rock, the Exxpose Exxon campaign mounted an oil derrick on the Capitol steps. The Exxpose Exxon coalition, which includes the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Alaska Wilderness League, and nine other groups, also released a report—“ExxonMobil Exposed: More Drilling, More Global Warming, More Oil Dependence.”
A few days after the Exxpose Exxon campaign kicked off, ExxonMobil announced second quarter earnings of almost $8 billion. “Don’t ask ExxonMobil what we should do about global warming or oil dependence,” says Hamilton. “They like things just fine the way they are. Meanwhile, Americans continue to lack real energy alternatives and ExxonMobil continues to pull the strings of America’s energy policy.”
In August, ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond announced he would retire at the end of the year. Whether this will make a difference in Exxon’s practices is too soon to tell, but as Andrew Logan, oil program manager at CERES, a coalition of investors and environmentalists, told Reuters, “You couldn’t imagine anyone worse on the issue of climate change than Lee Raymond, so there’s really nowhere to go but up with his successor.”
photo by Jennifer Rudolph Nance
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