On some long-distant day when some as-yet-unborn historian sits down to write the story of climate change—the story of the greatest crisis humans ever faced—it’s possible that they’ll choose an anecdote from this past week as a way into the story. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, it understandably didn’t get much notice, but JPMorgan Chase announced on Friday that Lee Raymond will no longer serve as the lead independent director of the world’s largest lender to the fossil-fuel industry.
I’ve told the backstory at much greater length here, but, briefly: Raymond was a key Exxon executive from the nineteen-eighties onward—the years when the company was one of the most profitable in the world. (If you want a full account, read Steve Coll’s majestic “Private Empire.”) Those were also the years when Exxon’s scientists discovered—before it was publicly an issue—that climate change was real and dangerous, and when Exxon’s executives decided to join with others in the industry to cover up that truth. Raymond gave the single most audacious speech of the era, telling a World Petroleum Congress audience in 1997, on the eve of the Kyoto climate talks, that the planet was cooling, and that it made no difference if we acted then or waited a quarter century.