New York State’s Divestment Threat Is a Victory for Climate Activists
It’s an argument that other investors are ready to hear, not just because of the climate threat, but also because the fossil fuel industry has been the worst-performing sector of the American economy for many years now.
Its problems are twofold: It faces a sprawling resistance movement, rooted in the undeniable fact that its products are wrecking the planet’s climate system. And in wind and sun, it faces formidable technological competitors who can provide the same service, just cleaner and cheaper.
These realities will destroy the coal, gas and oil barons; the only question is, how fast. Big Oil’s strategy at this point is delay, but that course gets harder and harder, especially as the Trump administration exits and with it the shield of protection the industry has enjoyed.
There are signs that this second capitulation — the surrender of the oil companies to the reality of their situation — has begun.
One of the so-called supermajors, BP PLC, announced this summer that it would cut its oil and gas production by 40 percent over the decade and significantly increase its investments in renewable energy. Divestment campaigners can be excused for casting a jaundiced eye on the news — BP announced in 2000 that it was going “Beyond Petroleum,” a crusade it soon abandoned. But this time at least they have the rhetoric right:
“This coming decade,” the company’s C.E.O. said in a statement, “is critical for the world in the fight against climate change, and to drive the necessary change in global energy systems will require action from everyone.”
Even Exxon has been humbled to the point where a kind of silent capitulation seems to be starting. As recently as 2013 it was the biggest company on the planet; by this autumn it wasn’t even the biggest energy company, having been briefly surpassed in market capitalization by NextEra Energy, a Florida-based renewables provider.
Last week Exxon made clear its new status, disclosing it would slash its exploration and capital expenditure budget from a planned $30 billion to $35 billion next year to barely half that and write off up to $20 billion in natural gas assets that it now acknowledges it will never pump.