Financial capital and the courts are quietly creating the conditions to stop global warming—if politics does its part, too.
Adam Tooze | Foreign Policy | June 4, 2021
Will the spring of 2021 prove to be a pivotal moment in the climate crisis? Last week, the management of both Exxon Mobil and Chevron lost battles with green activist shareholders. A third oil major, Shell, was ordered by a Dutch court to dramatically step up its climate effort. This followed a damning judgment in April by the German supreme court on Berlin’s plan for decarbonization. The International Energy Agency (IEA), formerly a bastion of the fossil fuel industry, laid out a demanding path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. And to cap it all off, Ford launched its F-150 electric truck.
It is hard to exaggerate the symbolic significance of these events. The F-150 is the most widely used vehicle in the United States. Eight percent of American workers are thought to use an F-series vehicle at their job every day. Making it electric doesn’t make this behemoth any less dangerous to pedestrians. Its huge electric engines still suck vast amounts of energy. The batteries that drive the F-150 Lightning electric truck are large enough to power a house for three days. This is not what the future of sustainable mobility looks like. We need to get smarter in the way we use power, not find new “green” ways to do the same dumb things. Nevertheless, with its brutish appeal, the new F-150 might just transform the electric-vehicle market in the United States.
If Ford defined the age of automobile, Exxon—the main heir of Standard Oil—is a pillar of the oil business. Like no other firm, it embodies the link between capitalism and environmental destruction. Exxon was once a corporate bastion of climate denial. Now, capitalism is delivering its verdict on Exxon. An ill-judged venture into shale just as the bottom fell out of the oil market in 2014 has turned a solid blue-chip stock into a destroyer of shareholder value. After 92 years in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Exxon was dumped from the index of major companies in 2020.
Originally published in Foreign Policy. Read the full article here.