For years, Sister Pat and other environmentalists had urged ExxonMobil to take significant steps to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations and products. In 2007, she proposed a resolution that called on that energy giant to set a firm date to report on its progress.
“We’re the most profitable company in the history of the planet,” she told Rex Tillerson, then the company’s chief executive (and later secretary of state in the Trump administration), at the company’s annual meeting, “but what will be our long-term health when we are really faced with the regulatory and other challenges around global warming?”
She added: “We are now, this company and every single one of us, challenged by one of the most profound moral concerns. And we have the wherewithal to respond to that.”
The proposal won 31 percent of the ballots, or about 1.4 billion shares, the largest tally for an ExxonMobil climate-change resolution. If not an outright victory, it was a page in a decades-long narrative that led ExxonMobil to put a climate scientist on its board in 2017. Three executives who recognized the urgency to address climate change joined the company’s board in 2021, nominated by a tiny activist hedge fund, Engine No. 1.
“The arc of her work led us to those victories by working from the inside and the outside,” John Passacantando, the founder of Ozone Action, an anti-global warming group, and a former executive director of Greenpeace, said in a phone interview.
In 1999, Vanity Fair named her to its Hall of Fame, applauding her as one who “translates belief into commitment and never backs down from a fight.”
Mary Beth Gallagher, who replaced Sister Pat as executive director of the Tri-State Coalition in 2017, said Sister Pat had not become frustrated when her resolutions were routinely voted down.
“She lived in hope,” Ms. Gallagher said. “We never talked about winning or losing. It was about raising consciousness and educating. If we’re not asking these questions, who will?”