Warning signs.

Photo: Greenpeace.

ExxonMobil and its predecessor companies stretching back to Standard Oil were responsible for a whopping 5 percent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions between 1882 and 2002, thanks to the companies’ operations and the burning of their products, according to a recent study put out by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies and Friends of the Earth International.

The report exhorted Exxon shareholders to put pressure on the company to begin more aggressively developing its clean-energy portfolio and streamlining its operations. “There has already been some successful action by shareholders to change the direction of the company, and now we are providing them with more concrete and incontrovertible evidence to step up these actions,” said Jon Sohn, senior policy analyst at FoE. “The report exposes the financial repercussions related to liability that will occur down the line if the company does not clean up its act. Just as the tobacco industry suffered economic losses from [cancer-related] liability, the oil industry faces the same financial risks.”

According to Sohn, fast-improving techniques in climate modeling make it possible to devise precise climate-impact statements and measure a particular company’s liability. “The models for climate change are becoming rapidly more sophisticated,” he said. “We are now finally able to determine very specifically the causal relationship between changes in global climate and man-made emissions, and then further pin it down to specific companies and their carbon contribution.”

This is, indeed, the first time that the contribution of one company to global climate change has been calculated. Friends of the Earth says its new formula for developing corporate “climate footprint statements” will be used for a series of campaigns against other energy companies in the future. FoE has boiled the vast and ambiguous threat of climate change down to the brass tacks, translating it into the kind of language that corporate America can understand.