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Long-suffering environmental activists cheered last month when an organized investor revolt forced ExxonMobil to add three climate-conscious directors to its corporate board. Despite nearly a generation of shareholder activism, nothing like it had ever happened. It seemed like a historic comeuppance for the petroleum powerhouse. 

But those who pay close attention to the tension between fossil fuel companies and their investors offer a more nuanced take. Don’t expect the Exxon oil tanker to turn around overnight, they say. Instead, consider the move the beginning of a cultural shift, one of those fuzzy, hard-to-recognize but essential-in-retrospect moments when everything starts to change. In coming years, similar tactics could be leveraged against other stubborn, carbon-loving corporations. And, in a page from the Big Tobacco playbook, investors could join forces with legislators, plaintiff’s attorneys, and others to finally put the whole industry on its heels.

“It’s a real sign that investors are impatient, fed up,” says Kathy Mulvey of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s a strong indication that there’s going to have to be su... Read more

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