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Big Monster

It's not really a surprise, just a reminder that of course the largest oil company in the world would post huge profits in 2004

By Novella Carpenter

The business sections of major newspapers report with a flourish: Exxon Mobil's profits in 2004 were the largest in the history of business. Fourth-quarter profits rose 27 percent. The New York Times reported that the increase in profits occurred because of the huge increase in oil prices--remember $55 a barrel last year?--making the company's sales ($298 billion) higher than Norway's gross domestic product. The company's profit? $25.3 billion. Upon this news, shares rose 33 cents to close at $51.60.

Oh, goody. It's not really a surprise, just a reminder that of course the largest oil company in the world would post huge profits in 2004. It was a banner year for crude, with demand up and supply down. There are generally three parts to an oil company's profits: exploration and production, refining and selling gasoline and jet fuel, and making chemicals from the nasty byproducts of the oil refining process. Exxon Mobil did great in all sectors of the business. So why am I not happy for them?

Aren't all oil companies the same--greedy, polluting, contributing to the Republican Party? Yes, but as with most things, there are gradations of evil. I've never liked that word, evil, but in these Bush years, I think the left will be forced to pick up the moral compass and start fighting fire and brimstone with our own equivalent. Like, we really, really value clean air over corporate profit.

Anyway, Exxon is the worst of the oil companies. At least BP makes some intimations of researching other energy sources. Exxon invests no money in renewable or alternative forms of energy. It knows that its profits will only rise--as exhibited by the news of its giant profits this past quarter--when there's a perceived lack of supply due to wars and increased demand. Exxon doesn't diversify outside of oil, and so it must defend its narrow perch from all threats or accusations.

The biggest accusation today is the fact that burning hydrocarbons causes global warming. No, it's not happening, Exxon claims, making it the largest oil company that denies the scientific reality of climate change. On its website, I found a document called "Our View on Climate Change," which reads: "Uncertainties continue to limit our ability to make objective, quantitative determinations regarding the human role in recent climate change or the degree and consequence of future change." This being the company's stance, it funds right-wing think tanks like the Cato Institute and World Climate Report, which describes itself as "the perfect antidote against those who argue for proposed changes to the Rio Climate Treaty, such as the Kyoto Protocol, which are aimed at limiting carbon emissions from the United States." According to Greenpeace, Exxon spends millions of dollars per year taking out ads in print media.

What else does Exxon do with all that money it makes? Buy political clout. It has actively pursued a close relationship with the Bush administration, donating millions to his campaign and tirelessly lobbying to shape policies like the Bush withdrawal of the United States from the Kyoto treaty.

Not only that--and this is the last straw--the company is not queer friendly! Exxon Mobil is the only one of the 10-largest corporations in America that hasn't added sexual orientation to the list of protections covered by the company's anti-discrimination policy (last month Wal-Mart--Wal-Mart!--voluntarily agreed to not discriminate against gay and lesbian workers). This alone is a good reason not to fuel up at Exxon.

As consumers of gasoline, we need to be responsible about whom we buy oil from. Are there any good oil companies? Not really, but choose the lesser of the evils and don't fuel up with Exxon gas. Why support a company with such a poor record, and the largest and most profitable besides? Stock analysts are predicting that 2005 will be another gangbuster year for Exxon; let's just make a little dent in the oil giants profits, shall we?

Novella is at [email protected].

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From the February 9-16, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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