I was horrified but not shocked to learn that the CEO of ExxonMobil recently spoke at the Boston College Chief Executives Club.
Darren Woods repeated an old and disproven line that sustainable energy is “very expensive” and harms “low-income communities.” But these communities often bear the brunt of the impacts of fossil fuel use and expansion by his company.
Woods made clear his company does not intend to support renewables—thus compounding his complaints about cost and lack of investment in the space—and he touted carbon capture: an unproven, costlier, quasi-solution. Recycling may be great, but the best waste is avoided waste. Carbon capture may be beneficial, but it does not excuse ignoring the reduction and elimination of fossil fuels now. Scientists say it should be used only for the hardest emissions to avoid. We should not use carbon capture until we do whatever we can to stop emissions in the first place.
Exxon’s business practices and priorities, including its recent $60 billion acquisition of a fossil fuel peer, demonstrate a lack of commitment to a true and just transition of our economy and society.
The exclusive CEO Club does not offer a clear benefit to BC students, and the invitation of an Exxon executive is a demonstration that BC has no qualms with being associated with the negative health and human rights impacts of Exxon. It implies that BC’s mission is aligned, or at least not directly contradictory, with the company. It enables BC’s continued investment of endowment funds in fossil fuels. The CEO Club hosting Woods is not an anomaly. It is part of a pattern reflected in another recent invitee to the club: the CEO of Chevron.
Pope Francis called on all Catholic institutions to divest and disassociate from fossil fuels in 2020. BC continues to disregard that directive, with both its dollars and its invitations to speakers.
In 2021, I was part of the group that submitted a complaint to then–Attorney General Maura Healey related to legal questions over BC’s fossil fuel investments, statements on climate change, and behavioral contradiction with its stated Catholic mission. Many similar complaints have since been filed in several states, including one that led to Harvard’s divestment in 2021 and another filed just weeks ago against Tufts. I am hopeful that Attorney General Andrea Campbell takes them seriously.
Of note, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office has ongoing litigation against Exxon for its 50-plus years of misleading investors and lying to consumers and the general public on climate science.
As I often try to emphasize when writing on these topics, I loved much of my time at BC and it truly made me into the sustainability leader I am today—personally and professionally—but it can do more. Many of our other peers have done so, including Georgetown University and Loyola University Chicago.
It is time for BC to step up and make clear that Exxon is not a corporate or moral exemplar. It is not where our time should be spent or our money should flow.
Kyle Rosenthal, BC ’21
Member, Climate Justice at Boston College, 2017–21