AN INTERESTING FORAY AT THE CHEVRON
2019 SHAREHOLDERS MEETING
The Chevron National Headquarters in San Ramon is an imposing campus. On the morning of May 29, 2019, I left my absolutely horrid hotel, where I had spent a miserable night, via Uber to the nearby Marriot, where I supposed the bulk of the shareholders were staying since the meeting started at 8am. It was the case and we were shuttled about a mile to the Chevron Headquarters.
There were at least 60 armed guards, police, rangers and security agents stationed at the entrance guard gate. Oddly enough, the Chevron Corporate logo had been covered with a steel plate. Security took my purse and held it through the meeting. I went through a body scanner and then a personal scan by an non-uniformed woman who subsequently patted down my hair.
I had the impetus to go to this meeting upon receipt of a proxy statement from Chevron. I was vetted via email for proof that I actually owned Chevron stock. I only own one share but according to Adam Sandler and Mr. Deeds, that entitled me to entrance and hopefully the ability to hold Chevron to some accountability regarding the environment.
As it turned out, I was not the only one.
We were led into a large conference room and directed where to sit. The newly anointed Board of Directors came in last to assigned seating. They were sequestered from the general audience, even when using the restroom. It was not a diverse group, mostly older white men, dappled with the occasional Asian and African American, about 20% women. The Chairman of the Board was very ‘John Kerry-esque’. He was tall and handsome, intelligent and well spoken, able to think fast on his feet. A menace in Armani.
He gave a little speech, introduced his Board, showed us a little video about how much Chevron cares about the environment, touting their new ‘ever cleaner’ mantra, and then announced the question and answer period. There were about 20 people in line and we were given a ticket with its match in a bingo-style hopper. There were not enough time slots for everyone so it was a crap shoot if I would even get to speak. You were allowed exactly two minutes and then your microphone was turned off.
A nun from Philadelphia apparently comes every year to plead for the cause of fresh water as a human right. I discovered that Chevron’s practices in oil extraction use massive amounts of fresh water as well as contaminating water sources in extraction and refinery locations worldwide. I quickly inserted that issue in my unscripted speech about algae based biofuels, if I got the opportunity to speak.
They cut her microphone off at exactly the two minute limit. She continued to speak passionately off mic. The Chairman thanked her and she was dismissed.
Another round of speakers came from Ecuador where an entire village of indigenous peoples have been harmed beyond repair. The Chairman retorted to the accusations of the Ecuadorians with respect (or disrespect I should say) to their attorney. He mentioned casually that said attorney had been caught in a corruption scandal and was recently disbarred.
A woman dressed in manly attire spoke as an ambassador from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a global coalition. She referenced a letter written to Chevron about their massive involvement in climate change only to be dismissed and thanked after the Chairman called her ‘mister.’
Other speakers got their two minutes, almost all pleading their cases about Chevron’s part in climate change. The scripted Chairman stuck to his ‘ever cleaner’ slogan.
Only one time slot left. The other people in the queue looked at each other. Who was it going to be…?
“Number 210 please.” I looked at my ticket. It was me.
Now, I didn’t look like any of the other speakers. I was dressed in a suit and heels. I had been smiling throughout the meeting and trying to engage board members visually. When I got to the microphone, hoping that the mic couldn’t detect my heart beating out of my chest, I smiled and all of the board members turned around to look at me. They had been looking forward the entire meeting, not glancing backwards at the speakers.
I greeted the board, the chairman and the stockholders, then took a deep breath.
I was glad I was unscripted. it enabled me to focus on the new fresh water information I had received. I said roughly the following:
“Mr. Chairman, I would like to know the current status on your R&D into algae based biofuels. Since the use of those fuels can be easily implemented in any combustible engine, reduce the CO2emissions by at least 50%, be cultivated in non-arable land, and clean out all municipal wastewater from heavy metals to pesticides before it is released into the water system, what can we expect from Chevron in the future?”
I’m not sure if I spoke the full two minutes or I was just cut off, but apparently my speaking time was up. The tall handsome chairman smiled, thanked me for my interest, and said, “Well, the scale was just not there.”
I had gleaned from previous speeches that morning that Exxon Mobile was their nemesis. I put that knowledge to use.
Sans microphone, I spoke up. “Mr. Chairman, you are aware that Exxon Mobile has just invested a boatload of money into this field.”
The entire Board of Directors had eyes on me. Their interest had been enrolled.
“Yes,” he said. “I am aware of that. That was a big investment for them.” Then he half smiled like the Cheshire Cat. “We’ll see who the winners and losers are.”
I was the last speaker and the meeting was adjourned immediately after. You could say, I had the last word.
As chance would have it, there was no shuttle back to the hotel. I said goodbye to the many armed guards, police and security, thanked them for their service and set out on foot. A very nice man accompanied me as we were both going the same place. I learned that his wife was a new board member and they had flown in from London for the meeting.
We chatted in those ten or so blocks. He was curious about algae based biofuels as opposed to corn and other ethanol products. I explained to him the extreme water usage issue in those fuels. I enrolled him in my vision and he even bought my novel, Pursuit: Ya Kuwinda. My last words to him were, ‘Have your wife ask about algae based bio fuels – it’s a thing!”
The experience was enlightening and yet exactly as I had expected: corporate dollars decimating the planet for established and profitable policies. They are hell bent on extracting every drop of fossil fuel from the earth until it is depleted. What they are not taking in to account is that green energy isthe new economy. They should be putting every asset in to sustainable energy. The costs of climate change will far and away outspend any R&D today.
Now, I have a history of starting things. I went to the Board of Directors at Starbucks – yes, made it to Seattle – to get them to eradicate plastic straws. It took over eight years for them to incorporate that policy and I’m sure there were many other factors in their January 2019 policy of plastic straw eradication, but I like to think I had a hand in starting the movement. I did the same thing in the city of San Francisco, where I spoke to a middle school about plastics. Those kids, God bless ’em, went to the city council and started the movement for plastic straw eradication. They were successful in 2018. I also made a presentation to the City of Carmel-by-the-Sea about three years ago. You know where that went.
So I seem to start things. Let’s hope the deaf ears that heard my little Number 210 speech might one day open their eyes and see the future.
Yours in conservancy,