Investors and environmental campaigners condemned a $400m (£214m) retirement package for the boss of Exxon Mobil, the man known as the "Darth Vader of global warming" for his denial that carbon emissions cause climate change.
Protesters descended on the annual shareholder meeting of the world's largest oil company's in Dallas, Texas, amid fury over the lavish lifestyle that it plans to fund for Lee Raymond, who retired after 12 years as chairman and chief executive.
Exxon has been condemned by green groups for fuelling the world's addiction to oil by opposing the Kyoto treaty on reducing emissions and refusing to invest a penny in alternative energy sources. The total amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by the production and use of Exxon's oil and gas output is calculated at 500 million tons a year, or six billion tons during Mr Raymond's tenure.
Since becoming chief executive in 1993, Mr Raymond had become infamous for his dismissive response to environmental lobbyists at previous annual meetings. He has funnelled $19m of Exxon's money to groups that question the science of global warming. His package of pension and perks includes a bodyguard, a car and driver, and use of a company jet, plus a $1m-a-year deal to stay on as a consultant.
Exxon says the value of the package is at least $258m, which comes on top of a retirement bonus of $98.4m. This largesse makes his salary and bonus for 2005, $49m, look modest by comparison, but it was still one of the biggest pay deals for an executive last year and it has stoked claims that big oil companies are profiteering from the soaring price of crude. Exxon made a profit of $36.1bn in 2005, the biggest ever by any company in the world.
Up to 100 protesters gathered outside the Morton H Meyerson Symphony Centre in downtown Dallas to bang drums and chant slogans, including "Pumping global warming lies" and "No planet, no dividends".
Shawnee Hoover, the director of the Exxpose Exxon coalition of environmental groups, said the size of Mr Raymond's retirement package had crystallised anger against the company, the squeeze on oil prices and the company's increasingly isolated stance on alternative energy.
Even President George Bush, a significant beneficiary of funding from Exxon while he was the governor of Texas, now says high oil prices should prompt investment in sustainable energy. "It is not only that Exxon is making record corporate profits," Ms Hoover said, "but also that it is paying its chief executives some of the highest compensation packages that have been seen. While ordinary families and businesses are struggling under the weight of the high oil price, Exxon Mobil has been a key architect of keeping America addicted to oil and to keeping the status quo."
Exxpose Exxon is encouraging consumers to boycott Exxon Mobil's service stations, which include the Esso brand. The coalition includes Friends of the Earth, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace, which has disrupted Exxon board meetings and speeches by Mr Raymond over several years.
Ben Stewart, of Greenpeace UK, said: "Exxon bosses are the Darth Vaders of global warming. They have run a 50-year-long campaign of dirty tricks designed to block action on the greatest threat to humanity. In years to come, the campaign by this company will be regarded as nothing less than a crime. There are striking parallels with the propaganda campaigns run by tobacco companies in the Sixties, but the damage done by this company could be much greater." Richard Heede, of Climate Mitigation Services - whose Friends of the Earth-commissioned report attempted to calculate Exxon's total carbon dioxide and methane emissions, plus those of end customers burning its oil and gas - said Exxon was still responsible for at least 500 million tons of carbon a year.
Mr Raymond routinely accuses advocates of a link between global warming and carbon emissions of practising fuzzy science. His first action as a senior executive was to cut solar and other alternative energy programmes because they did not seem likely to make money for decades.
His successor, Rex Tillerson, who took over at the start of the year, has attempted to put a more congenial face on Exxon's stance. The company still argues that the link between emissions and global warming rests on the assertion of expert scientists rather than on robust scientific models. He told shareholders: "The level of misinformation only makes it more important to discuss the massive scale of our industry and the meaningful alternatives available in the foreseeable future."
Investors lambasted Exxon's board for Mr Raymond's retirement package, and several said they would withhold their support for the re-election of directors on the remuneration committee. Others argued refusing to invest in renewable energy would condemn the company to extinction. Resolutions proposed by green groups attracted more support than in previous years but were still defeated.
Exxon said: "Operating in an environmentally responsible manner has long been and continues to be a primary focus for ExxonMobil. This includes... regular dialogue with local communities, and research to understand the impacts of air quality on health."Reuse content