03/02/2007 11:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Size Begets Arrogance, ExxonMobil Calling

ExxonMobil's CEO, took time out a few weeks ago to give us all a lesson. This, days after ExxonMobil reported the largest annual profit ever realized by a publicly traded company. Speaking to energy leaders and through the press and media to the rest of us, at a conference organized by the renowned energy industry friendly consulting firm Cambridge Research Associates.

He predicted that hydrocarbons would continue to dominate the worlds transportation sector. "The scale advantages of oil and natural gas across a broad array of applications provide economic value unmatched by any alternative." No mention of the environmental costs, the foreign policy costs in lives and billions(scratch that) trillions of dollars nor the national security costs inherent in that "unmatched economic value". Please remember this is Exxon talking, and even though these "items" pop up on our bottom line, it doesn't on theirs. He continued predicting that energy demand would grow by 40 percent by 2030. Plugging his product he instructed us that there is no significant alternative to oil in the coming decades.

Oh, by the way Tillerson did acknowledge that the planet was warming and carbon dioxide levels were increasing. But don't get too excited. In the same breadth he warned that the global economy could be hurt if governments rush willy nilly into policies to limit carbon emissions. And, as if to underline his competence on the issue he bravely admitted that he had not read the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a couple of weeks prior to his instructive speech/lesson to the rest of us. You see, climate change is really not a bottom line Exxon issue.

We then learned from Mr. Tillerson in no uncertain terms that Exxon will continue to make oil and natural gas its primary focus. As to alternatives he graciously acknowledged that Exxon would play a small role in the future. But then his graciousness slipped on a banana peel when he referred to ethanol as "moonshine". Talking about Exxon's research on cellusotic ethanol he made Exxon's role clear, "there is nothing I see Exxon can bring to this", he advised. " We don't see a direct role for ourselves". And just in case any of us are slow, he pontificated "I am not an expert on biofuels" and "I am not an expert on farming. I don't have a lot of technology to add to 'moonshine'." The issue of global warming has a real ally here.

Compare this to public face of "Total" the French oil giant and the world's fifth largest oil company. Not everything French is bad (a bit weather-beaten but still valid, "Remember Lafayette!"). While Tillerson was giving his lesson the leading French press, be it "Le Monde", "Figaro", "Liberation" with blaring banner headlines were excoriating with a true sense of French outrage, reports of Total's humongous annual earnings, the largest ever recorded by a French company. A singular sense of national dismay was visited on Total rather than the muted respect extended by our media commenting on Exxon's gluttonous bottom line.

Not to be left behind, France's Socialist candidate for President, Segolene Royal didn't hesitate to castigate Total, tripping over an English word, "superprofits", I am sure "malgre soi" (I know, the French have these Socialist tendencies, but when an entire industry's well being and bottom line is determined by cartel set prices, perhaps a touch of the socialist should come out in all of us until there is a return to free and unmanipulated markets).

But there is a difference between Exxon's Alfred E. Neuman "Who me worry?" posture on global warming and that of Total. Total at the very least understands that change is necessary, perhaps even urgent. The company's new CEO ("patron du groupe" sounds closer to "Godfather" than our limp "CEO") Christophe de Margerie has as a matter of company policy, taken the decision to dedicate a major part of Total's resources to focus on developing nuclear power capabilities and infrastructure throughout the world, ranging from the development of uranium mines to building nuclear power plants in order to effectively and meaningfully reduce dependence on fossil fuels. This from an energy company headquartered in a nation that has successfully and safely converted its energy supply to fossil free nuclear power. Some 80% of France's electric grid is supplied by nuclear power, a world leadership position.

Monsieur "Moonshine" Tillerson, parlez vous francais?