Monday, February 4, 2013

OCCUPY CLIMATE: The Exxon Mobil Hurricane

Activists from the Occupy Sandy movement suggest to rename hurricane Sandy into "Exxon Mobil Hurricane". Why that is and the multiple ways how activists "on the ground" connect Sandy to Exxon Mobil and the oil industry, you can see in this 24 min video about "Occupy Climate Change - The Exxon Mobil Hurricane". Occupy Sandy activists lead through the devastations; they explain how that movement works and how they provide food, clothes, and love to those in need; in the second part, activist Bill McKibben and others link Sandy to global warming. This snap documentary came to my mind when a few days ago, I read in the newspapers that Exxon at least for a moment became the most successful company worldwide.

On spiegel online and in the New York Times  we can learn that providing fossil fuel is a good business for Exxon Mobil:
"Exxon mobil reported strong earnings on its refining and chemical businesses for the fourth quarter on Friday, compensating for disappointing results in its oil and gas businesses. The oil giant reported net income for the quarter of $9.95 billion, up 6 percent from the year before. The company’s domestic refining division is benefiting from the steep increase in domestic oil production, which has brought down the price of crude that refiners process, particularly in the midsection of the country".

More on Exxon Mobil you can learn in Steve Coll's book "Private Empire. Exxonmobil and American Power":
 The company, Mr. Coll writes, is “a corporate state within the American state” and “one of the most powerful businesses ever produced by American capitalism.” Some employees call its ominous headquarters near Dallas the Death Star.
The book review ends like this:
It’s a company that’s begun to care what we think of it. It seems to now want a good response to the following question, posed by a corporate-responsibility specialist to an Exxon Mobil executive, albeit in more graphic language than can be printed here:
What are you going to say to your grandkids when they say, Grandpa, why did you screw up the planet.
Against this background, the documentary makes an argument for renaming Sandy:
The snap documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox for Occupy Sandy has now been released on the web.
As Asbury Pulp reported yesterday, the Occupy movement’s Sandy recovery effort in NYC (they have also been aggressive in New Jersey) is documented in the film and was shown on the side of a building in the East Village last night.
Of Occupy Sandy, The New York Times reported, “Almost from the moment Hurricane Sandy struck New York, an ad hoc offshoot of Occupy Wall Street set to work collecting food and clothing for victims of the storm and sending volunteers to hard-hit areas like Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the Rockaways in Queens to clean out flooded basements and to repair damaged houses.”
Josh Fox is well-known for his documentary Gasland, which looked at the oil- and natural gas-drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
The Occupy Sandy documentary, called Occupy Climate Change, firmly ties the freak weather event to global warming; they have nick-named it the Exxon Mobil Hurricane. You can watch it above.
You can follow Occupy Sandy’s efforts in New Jersey – and get involved – via this website.
Someone in the documentary makes the argument that each catastrophe also opens up possibilities to rethink the basics of our social organizations and how we want to live. With only a few exceptions, the anthropogenic climate change debate on klimazwiebel and elsewhere is mostly restricted to questions of its scientific evidence and to those of (private) energy consumption; maybe it is also time to discuss those companies which provide those fossil fuels and consequently shaped our economic, political and public infrastructures. The video also reminds us that every catastrophe opens an opportunity to reconsider the way we live, or as the poet puts it: "there is a crack in everything; that's how the light gets in."


Mathis Hampel said...

nice post!

The video also reminds us that every catastrophe opens an opportunity to reconsider the way we live, for example, to engineer more capital heavy communities onto the coastlines the storm devastated, the priest warns.

Tim said...

Exxon mobil's net income just reflects how much we need their product. It's not Exxon who burns the fuel, it's us.

Maybe Hurricane Sandy should better be renamed Hurricane Us.

Werner Krauss said...


I know what you mean, but I think this is not entirely true. For example, if there were as many possibilities to charge your electric-car as there are gas stations, people would drive e-cars, right? And if there were a friendly and practical public transport system, people would use it. We shouldn't "individualize" all problems; people have to carry so much already. Keeping an eye on public infrastructures automatically brings industries like Exxon into focus - they not only provide resources, but they helped to change America into a fossil fuel culture with all consequences (you can't live without one or two cars in a suburb, for example).

Remember how we tried to save the banks and blamed the people for becoming their victims? Should we repeat the same argument concerning the fossil fuel industry? Of course, Sandy is "us", in a certain way. But calling it "Exxon" makes a strong (and, of course, contestable) political statement.

Hans von Storch said...

"firmly ties the freak weather event to global warming" - sure, they may make the claim, and then name Sandy "Exxon" or "us" . It is allowed to make unsubstantiated or highly contested claims, when you are an NGO, an advocat or an activist.
But, what means in this context "Of course, Sandy is "us", in a certain way"? Of concern for "us", or (partially) caused by "us"? "Of course"?

Werner Krauss said...


well, I knew that my friends from climate science don't like to buy into nick-naming Sandy "hurricane Exxon Mobil" - and I am not the one to defend this.

I just want to state two things:

For me as a citizen, it is important that NGOs make substantiated claims, because I know that I cannot trust solely science in case of calamities and emergencies. Science is science (and close to power), but NGOs are intended to be side by side with people, and they indeed need to have credibility in order to be of immediate help. Thus, I do not share your statement about NGOs or similar activities, Hans.

Secondly, as an anthropologist, I ask myself if climate science is really fully entitled to prove if the nick-naming is substantiated? This would be the case if social statements could be judged according to the correct reflection of scientific insights - but I guess this task would overburden science and even more: wouldn't this lead to climate determinism in the end? Especially when the scientific controversy about events like this is still open and not yet closed? (In some cases, society cannot be suspended until science comes to terms...).

As we know from Mike Hulme, climate change is a pretty "resourceful idea"; the statistics of weather being only one aspect of it. And maybe those activists just take it for granted that burning fossil fuels causes global warming, which in future will cause calamities for the Jersey shoreline, sooner or later... It is not rocket science, it is activism which is not too far from science - with final evidence missing. But this is not science, it is a social movement. And this is not a peer-review, it is Bill McKibben and a priest and neighbors and other agitated people in action.

I guess the intention of calling Sandy "Exxon" is an attempt to shift the focus in the climate change debate from individual behavior to infrastructures - this indeed would mark a shift in the debate.

As an anthropologist, I try to understand; in order to do so, I follow the arguments, the symbols and conflicts. How does climate change as a resourceful idea alter the world we inhabit and the way we perceive it? This does not mean being totally arbitrary or uncritical; instead, we discuss world summits, and we discuss Sandy, and the links in between.

And finally: "of course" means I can easily follow Tim's logic. And yes, Sandy is of concern for "us" and it is caused by "us" - at least in respect to mismanagement, non-adaptation, projected rise of sea-level - for sure, it is a social catastrophe. At least for "them", and, in case of compassionate solidarity, also for "us".

Bob K said...

Exxon is only the 4th largest oil company. The output from the top three is more than 5x what Exxon produces.

By wanting to name the storm after Exxon indicates to me their view is either myopic or prejudiced.
World's largest oil/gas companies 2012.
1. Saudi Aramco - 12.5 million bpd
2. Gazprom - 9.7 million bpd
3. National Iranian Oil Co. - 6.4 million bpd
4. ExxonMobil - 5.3 million bpd
5. PetroChina - 4.4 million bpd

MikeR said...

"For example, if there were as many possibilities to charge your electric-car as there are gas stations, people would drive e-cars, right? And if there were a friendly and practical public transport system, people would use it." I don't think these are right. Maybe you are European? I think in the US, at least, it's just a lot harder to have a friendly and practical public transport system. We are more spread out, and likely to be travelling farther. People are trying to make these friendly and practical systems - see California, for instance. It's quickly gone a billion dollars over expectations, before they have built anything at all. And they can't afford to build anything but the part no one will ride.

Same thing with electric cars. Make really good, inexpensive batteries for them, so that you can travel more than 40 miles without recharging, and more people will be interested. Remember, the government didn't build gas stations, people did - people who could make money at it. Anyone is free to build recharging stations all over town, but so far they would lose a lot of money.

Same thing with solar energy, and everything else. Fossil fuels aren't successful because of Exxon, they're successful because the alternatives aren't (yet) very good or very affordable.

Mathis Hampel said...

The US will have a bumpy landing then. They are on a different planet, aren't they!? What a shame for the people in this video. They deserve better than free market logic determining their livelihoods.

MikeR said...

Different planet indeed. I would myself have thought that if we learned any economics from the twentieth century, it's that the free market is incredibly superior to planned economies for producing wealth for the society - at every level. I am not rich, but I can afford to buy an IPod that Rockefeller couldn't have gotten with all his millions. Or a hip replacement. And not because anyone planned it. Entirely because no one did.

My own concern for the US's bumpy landing is if they continue to move toward that same seductive cliff that is drawing most of the economies of Europe: Borrow and spend until you run out of your grandchildren's money.

Mathis Hampel said...

Let them eat iPods;)

MikeR said...

As I said, I thought we learned this in the twentieth century. The Soviet Union used to show people pictures of impoverished areas in the USA, but soon found that the Russian people were amazed: America has fat poor people! American poor people have cars! IPods are the very tip of the iceberg; there is nothing that has not gotten cheaper, and easier to obtain, and infinitely better since my youth.

Werner Krauss said...


I liked your question: "Maybe you are European?", and when you realized, your statement: "Different planet indeed." But these differences are in your own country, too - for you Exxon means success of free market, for Occupy it is the "death star" which brings flood and disaster. So who is the "we" in your statement: "I thought we learned this in the twentieth century"?
The debate about climate change encapsulates, archives and keeps alive all these geo-political-cultural differences; maybe there is one global climate, one global warming, but there are many different climate-cultures.
(HvStorch and I had a paper in 2005 "Culture contributes to the perceptions of climate change" - and indeed, it still does and ever will, I am afraid.)

MikeR said...

Well, I don't think there are many issues in economics that are settled, or even close. Even for a basic question like, "Is there any way to measure the growth that results from a Keynesian stimulus?", there does not seem to be any way known to get the answer. People have their quasi-religious beliefs on this and similar questions.

But I did think one question had been settled: Planned economies don't work well. When a government tries to run some part of an economy, that part of the economy stagnates.

If I understand correctly, many people didn't know this early in the twentieth century. What they said made a lot of sense: It seems so inefficient to have many companies making a product, when you could just have one making it in the most modern way known. And other similar arguments.

I think that Hayek won that argument hands down - as proven by history. Planned economies were incredibly unsuccessful. If you want an economy to grow rapidly, leave it alone. "Erhard's decision, as Economic Director for the British and American occupation zones, to lift many price controls in 1948, despite opposition from both the social democratic opposition and Allied authorities, and his consistent advocacy of free markets, did help set the Federal Republic on its phenomenal growth path."

I'm sure the Occupy people are sincere, but perhaps they don't know history.

Mathis Hampel said...

MikeR, you might be interested in this book here.

"The United States is in steep decline. Plagued by runaway debt, a shrinking economy and environmental catastrophes to rival Chernobyl, the US has been retracing the trajectory of the Soviet Union in the early 1980's toward national bankruptcy and political dissolution. By comparing a collapse that has run its course to one that is now unfolding, Orlov holds a unique lens up to America's present and future."