For the first time in my life, I took part in the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of a public company. This was the Sasol AGM on 19 January.
I believe strongly in capitalism, simply because it has proved by far the best economic system ever devised – or rather, ever allowed to evolve naturally – providing the most prosperity for everybody but especially the poor.
However, I am clueless about company law and regulation. In the case of Sasol, I know a bit about its technology and, being very interested in energy and the environment, follow Sasol news and developments.
I am a minor Sasol shareholder, and so entitled to join the AGM and vote on resolutions. The previous attempted AGM on 17 November 2023 was broken up by climate activists from Extinction Rebellion, an England-based green imperialist group, which is determined to stop African people following the example of Europeans and becoming prosperous and healthy using fossil fuels.
Like all climate activists, they do not want to win the debate on climate change (they cannot; science is overwhelmingly against them) but to end it. They want to silence and vilify anyone who tells the truth about rising CO2: that it is having no effect on the climate but a wonderful effect on plants. They were probably delighted to shut down debate at the Sasol AGM last year. Mind you, Sasol, for different reasons, might have been pleased too.
Capitalists are political cowards. They are good at improving human welfare but bad at defying politicians who retard human welfare. They bow to the ruling ideology, however absurd or harmful. Communism, fascism, green nonsense, climate hysteria, whatever – the big corporations will never stand up against any of them.
Sasol scientists must know that rising CO2 is doing no harm, quite the opposite, but Sasol executives would never dare say so in public because all the political leaders and all the big media houses scream that it presents an ‘existential threat’. So they nod their heads and present absurd plans to reduce CO2 emissions or even to achieve ‘net zero’ at their plants, and hope to avoid any debate and wish that it would just all go away.
Sasol decided to have the 19 January AGM online, to avoid the problems of last year. In the online AGM, shareholders could vote on various resolutions, and could ask questions or make statements either in writing or in speech. I asked for both, wrote down my question and submitted it, and also asked if I could speak.
There were several resolutions on matters I knew nothing about, such as remuneration of non-executive directors, appointment of people I had never heard of, repurchasing of special shares, and so on. I ticked ‘abstain’ to all of them. The only resolution I did vote on was in the ‘environment’ section. You were asked to approve or not of Sasol’s plan to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions of CO2 by 2050, and by 2030 to reduce CO2 by energy efficiencies, replacing some coal by renewables and replacing 25% of its ‘coal feedstocks’ (by gas I assume).
Naturally I voted ‘against’. But that was a problem for me since I suspect that most people who voted against did so because they thought the plan didn’t go far enough or was too vague. I voted against the plan because it exists at all. There should be no such plan. I do not want Sasol to make any deliberate attempt at all to reduce CO2. (If they replace coal with gas because gas is clean and easier to use, it will halve CO2 emissions. But they should not choose gas because it will halve CO2 emissions.)
Here comes a point that is vital to understand, and that the greens do not want you to understand. Sasol’s coal-to-liquid fuels at Secunda are dirty and polluting. They emit SOx (sulphur oxides, especially SO2), NOx (nitrogen oxides), smoke (particles or ‘particulates’) and heavy metal and organic toxins. These are dangerous and can cause respiratory, cardiovascular and other diseases.
But CO2 is NOT a pollutant. CO2 is clean, natural, healthy, and essential for plants. CO2 is invisible. Often, when the greens want to illustrate the horrors of climate alarm, they show you pictures of evil-looking black smoke issuing out of some dirty stack. That is NOT CO2.
In the AGM, there were perfectly legitimate concerns about the real pollution coming from Sasol. I do not know enough about Sasol’s present and intended measures to reduce it, but its answers did not seem entirely convincing to me.
I wrote out a statement explaining that CO2 above 150 ppm ceases to have any further warming effect, and that in the last 550 million years it has never been seen to have any effect on the climate. I said that for most of the ‘pre-industrial’ era (9,000 BC to 1700 AD) temperatures were higher than now while CO2 was lower than now (the exception was the Little Ice Age from about 1300 to 1850 AD). There has been no increase in weather extremes in the last fifty years or so. I said that aiming for net zero would have catastrophic effects for people and the environment, and that Sasol should scrap all plans to reduce CO2.
This was read out to the board, who listened with stony faces. The chairman said that since my contention was a statement rather than a question, it was not necessary to reply to it. That was fair enough. I should have added at the end: ‘Does Sasol now agree that climate alarm is pure folly with no backing in science, and that it should scrap its plans for reducing CO2?’
Anyway, they also read out a follow-up statement of mine. They did not ask me to speak, perhaps because I had already had my chance in writing. I was happy just to have my sentiments publicly acknowledged and recorded by Sasol.
Others were less happy. There were claims of behind-the-scenes censorship by Sasol and the marginalisation of legitimate protest. I have no idea whether these were true or not. What I saw and heard was a perfectly fair and open discussion with all views allowed, but maybe I had seen a carefully contained discussion. I do not think so, but I do not know. I heard nothing – absolutely nothing – from Extinction Rebellion. Is this because none of them have any shares in Sasol? (One Sasol share costs R160.) Or because they like disruption but not debate?
I was dismayed to see examples of what is called ‘stakeholder interest’. For capitalism to work at its best for the common good, a company needs to do two things only: 1. Obey the law. 2. Make as much money as it can.
The laws of the land should ensure a free market, so that the only way a company can increase its profits is by offering better goods and services at lower prices. It should not be allowed to bribe governments into squeezing out competitors, raising tariffs on competing goods or making compulsory the purchase of its own goods (which is what the big drug corporations did with their Covid-19 vaccines, the most dangerous vaccines ever allowed for long public release, which almost certainly did more harm than good, as you can see by Pfizer’s own data on death and illness following its own vaccines: data which it tried to suppress but which are now publicly available).
The search for bigger profits alone in a free market will ensure the maximum benefit to the most people. Of course, if the company owner also wants to be a philanthropist or to finance a needy cause or to sponsor the arts or education, that is fine. In fact, that is what most of the very rich ones have done for more than a hundred years.
But there should be no compulsion, either legally or morally, for them to do so. Stakeholder interest introduces such compulsion.
In the Sasol AGM, there were solemn questions about community involvement, pay equity, and inclusion and diversity. Pay equity can never be defined; the salary of anybody in a company should be decided only on what is voluntarily agreed by employer and employee. In the case of public companies, the shareholders are the owners, and so should have a say in the pay of executives, but this should be on the basis of their value to the company and not on any idealised ratio between lowest-paid and highest-paid. Companies naturally engage with the community through their employees, customers and suppliers, and will reach amicable working arrangements with them without the need for any policies imposed from outside.
Dreaded Environmental Social and Governance
If you extend stakeholder interests to governments, you get the dreaded ‘Environmental Social and Governance’ (ESG) rating. The country with the highest ESG rating, the shining example for greens and socialists everywhere, was Sri Lanka, with a score of 98.1 out of 100. The USA had a score of 50.7.
Much of Sri Lanka’s wonderful ESG success was because of her ban on synthetic fertilisers, condemned by the greens for contributing to manmade climate change, with no evidence to support this. (The fertilisers do release nitrous oxide, but there is no evidence that this is having any effect on the climate.) I am sure Extinction Rebellion would have applauded loudly. But since synthetic fertilisers increase crop yield and allow you to grow more crops on smaller land areas, their banning meant the farmers had to acquire more land, which meant chopping down forests. Even so, crop yields fell, agriculture collapsed and the third of the population dependent on it sank into poverty. The economy shrank. Inflation hit 54.6%. This happened among other problems in Sri Lanka. The Prime Minister resigned. The government defaulted on national debt.
Some of Sasol’s shareholders raised perfectly valid concerns, such as over problems in Sasol’s enormous investment in the Lake Charles gas-to-chemicals plant in Louisiana, USA. A ‘troubled employee’ said he had been dismissed and besmirched by Sasol for reporting a leaking valve that was allowing dangerous toxins to get into Sasol’s water supply and perhaps the local river. Having worked in chemical plants myself, here and in England, I seldom came across such incidents – the plants I worked for were environmentally responsible – but this one might be true. I do not know. It should certainly be investigated, and the report of the investigation made public.
Sasol is a credit to South Africa. It took a bold move by the government at the time, even if for somewhat anxious motives, to set it up, but it has paid for itself a hundred times over. Sasol took an existing technology (German) for making liquid fuels from coal and developed it on a large scale. It is a world leader. It produces the world’s cleanest diesel and a wide range of chemical feedstocks, some of them unique. It has developed a new technology for converting natural gas into liquid fuels, and this will be cleaner and easier than coal-to-liquid fuels.
Sasol is now an international company, with plants in the Middle East and North America. It has developed South Africa’s engineering, technical and scientific skills. It has its problems. It is a bad polluter. I have friends and colleagues who have worked at Sasol plants or done work for Sasol plants. Most tell good stories, but not all. Sasol still has huge promise. I wish it would end its ridiculous problems over the non-problem of climate change.
Leading climate scientists
The climate alarmists do not want to debate climate change. Neither do any of the big corporations. Neither does Sasol. I do. I should love to debate the science of climate change against Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, Earthlife Africa, Al Gore or anyone else, where we would all show all of our scientific credentials, our vested interests, our incomes and every cent of our funding. Much more important, so do most of the world’s leading climate scientists. I wish they could get their chance to do so on a large public stage, and I wish Sasol and the other big corporations would listen to them.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
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