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Bay Area Climate Activists Rally Against Exxon Mobil CEO's APEC Speech

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A group of protesters chant. One person is wearing a wedding dress covered with red paint.
Climate demonstrators hold a symbolic wedding to denounce the recent union between ExxonMobil and Citibank during the APEC summit in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Updated 2:20 p.m. Wednesday

Exxon Mobil’s CEO Darren Woods spoke to leaders gathered in San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative summit today and said his company and the oil industry can be part of the solution to reduce emissions.

As he spoke, hundreds protested outside, marching across San Francisco and, at times, attempting to prevent attendees from entering the summit by blocking entrances.

The advocates pressed the oil company to stop its business with fossil fuels and criticized APEC summit leaders for providing the energy giant with an international platform.

A few of the activists staged a “symbolic wedding,” officiated by a person dressed up as a devil, denouncing Citi’s financial assistance for Exxon Mobil’s $60 billion deal to acquire one of the country’s biggest oil fields in Texas.

A theatrical performance of a devil as an officiant during a protest wedding.
Climate demonstrators block Market Street to hold a symbolic wedding to denounce the recent union between Exxon Mobil and Citibank during the APEC summit in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

“We’re just highlighting how these mergers and the union between these corporations continue to extract from communities and [are] destroying our planet and causing the climate chaos that is affecting people everywhere,” said climate activist Renata Pumarol, an organizer with Climate Defenders.

A protester carries a sign.
Kurtis Lamore holds a sign that says, ‘Exxon Mobil Darren Wood’ with red hand prints during a protest against the APEC summit in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

C.J. Acevedo attended the rally in drag, wearing a bloody wedding dress representing the CEO of Citi Jane Fraser.

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“We created this little performance art piece with Jane and Darren getting married because they are doing a merger right now worth over $59 billion,” Acevedo said. “I really think that it’s important to kind of integrate art and social justice issues. I feel like that’s been done like since the beginning, especially when it comes to drag as a form of protest, and what better way to make a statement and entertain and also educate at the same time.”

Woods delivered a speech in the summit’s main hall titled “Reframing the Climate Challenge: Keep the Energy, Reduce the Emissions” and highlighted how the company is investing in technology to capture carbon and slash its emissions.

A man wearing glasses and business suit stands at a podium with the words "APEC CEO SUMMIT USA 2023" in the background.
Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods speaks at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in San Francisco on Nov. 15, 2023. (Photo Courtesy of APEC)

“Oil and gas companies reliably provide affordable products essential to modern life,” Woods said. “Making them into villains is easy, but it does nothing, absolutely nothing, to accomplish the goal of reducing emissions. In fact, it puts the reliable supply of energy at risk, destabilizing global economies, degrading people’s standards of living. And as we saw in Europe, actually raising emissions.”

“The better approach, constructive approach, is to harness the industry’s capabilities for change, put us to work,” he continued. “We’ve got the tools, the skills, the size, and the intellectual and financial resources to bend the curve on emissions.”

He added that the company will work to drive down emissions and produce lower carbon-intensity oil and gas.

Nik Vasco, a climate organizer with the No to APEC Coalition, called the speech “greenwashing” and an attempt to mislead the public about the consequences of oil extraction.

“The fact that Darren Woods gets to be front and center during this conference is a major red flag for climate-concerned folks,” Vasco said in an interview with KQED. “When we think about Exxon, they’re one of the biggest polluters, one of the largest climate criminals that we’ve ever had.”

There is significance behind Woods speaking in California. State officials filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Exxon Mobil and other oil companies, alleging that they knew they were causing climate change and lied to cover it up. California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the suit in September with the San Francisco Superior Court, just over a mile from the conference.

“Oil and gas companies have privately known the truth for decades — that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change — but have fed us lies and mistruths to further their record-breaking profits at the expense of our environment. Enough is enough,” Bonta said in a statement at the time.

The suit demands that these oil companies pay for recovery efforts related to climate-fueled weather events like drought, wildfires or flooding.

Woods also talked about lithium, a significant component in the batteries that power electric cars. Just this week, Exxon Mobil announced its plans to become a leading lithium producer by 2030, beginning with a project in southwest Arkansas.

Company executives have described the project as a “win-win-win” and an example of how Exxon Mobil can expand the supply of a critical industrial material while reducing the emissions associated with transportation.

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The company plans to use traditional oil and gas drilling methods to reach lithium-rich deposits deep underground, extract it, and separate it from saltwater.

 

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