Students Protest Exxon Chair's Commencement Speech, Invite Peak Oil Expert Instead


Image credit: William Munoz, used under Creative Commons license.

Rex Tillerson, chair of Exxon, didn't win many TreeHugger friends with his assertion that a transition away from oil is 100 years away, nor his attempts to distance Exxon from the extremes of the climate skeptic lobby. That may be why students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA got so upset when they heard that Mr Tillerson was going to give the commencement speech at their graduation last Saturday. In fact, the students were so incensed they mounted a campaign to get peak oil expert Richard Heinberg on the podium to offer an alternative voice. And they won. Students Object to Exxon Chair's Speech
When news broke that Tillerman would be giving the speech, students voiced their displeasure to the college president. Activist Leanna Palmer Paterson wrote in a letter that she could "not give [the Exxon CEO] the honor of imparting ... his well-wishes ... for our futures ... when he is largely responsible for undermining them."
Alternative Speaker Given Podium
After some tense negotiations between activists and college authorities, it was agreed that Richard Heinberg—whose thoughts on peak oil and life after economic growth have featured regularly here on TreeHugger—would be given a chance to speak immediately after the main event. Many students apparently walked out during Tillerman's speech, only to return to hear Heinberg's address.

Critiquing Exxon's Record
Heinberg proceeded to pick apart Exxon's record on climate change, and to warn that the fossil fuel industry's rosy presentation of the future is a dangerous thing to be staking our prospects on. Visit the Post Carbon Institute for the full transcript of the alternative commencement speech by Richard Heinberg, but here's just a small snippet of what he had to say:

This will be the defining reality of your lives. Whatever field you go into--business, finance, engineering, transportation, agriculture, education, or entertainment--your experience will be shaped by the energy transition that is now under way. The better you understand this, the more effectively you will be able to contribute to society and make your way in the world.

We are at one of history's great turning points. During your lifetime you will see world changes more significant in scope than human beings have ever witnessed before. You will have the opportunity to participate in the redesign of the basic systems that support our society--our energy system, food system, transport system, and financial system.

If that's not a challenge on graduation day, I'm not sure what is...

More on Rex Tillerson and Exxon Mobil
Gear Up for 100 More Years of Oil, Says Exxon Mobil
Exxon Says it Never Doubted Climate Change
Rolling Stone's Top 12 Politicians and Execs Blocking Climate Action

Tags: Activism | Global Climate Change | Peak Oil | United States

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