‘Big Oil’ is to blame for climate change, not us


The environment section of the paper is often dominated by preachy articles telling us that our Netflix addiction is killing the planet, or that now is the time to invest in reusable metal straws. Although individual changes should not be ignored in the fight against climate change, the responsibility is not ours alone. Over 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced by just 100 fossil fuel companies. 

This contribution is no mistake: at the same time as scientists warned against the catastrophe that rising carbon emissions could cause, companies such as Shell and Exon silently spent billions of dollars on thwarting any action. They funded climate-denying politicians, halting any international attempts to reduce fossil fuel consumption. They set up think tanks with the sole purpose of finding them not culpable. Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how these companies spread misinformation and doubt to silence those who opposed them.

Companies such as Shell and Exon silently spent billions of dollars on thwarting any action

And yet they try to present themselves as environmentally conscious: Shell recently had to take down ads that mentioned climate change, as they violated Facebook’s transparency policy. These companies champion their green energy schemes in their advertising, but when you look further, they are purposefully vague. Shell publicly promotesit’s low carbon technologies, but these were mysteriously missing from the 2018 report. Investments in oil and gas, to the tune of $25 billion, however, were not.

Multiple studies have confirmed that it is unlikely that climate change can be curbed without retiring fossil fuel infrastructure all together, yet pressure is still put on the individual consumer: to buy local, to eat vegan, to pay for renewable energy. While these efforts are important, and commendable, they simply aren’t affordable or accessible to the average person. Companies have exploited this, greenwashing themselves to turn a profit. Action feels futile, and we feel responsible: climate change has been presented as an unstoppable force, but it wasn’t always this way. An investigation in 2015 revealed that the oil company Exxon knew about climate change for decades before it was widely accepted, but concealed this, and continued to increase its emissions. From this it is clear: these companies will say and do everything they can to keep extracting and burning fuel. Even at this crucial turning point, where we must limit temperature increase beneath 1.5C, the industry intends to increase production, spending $15 trillion on developing new reserves.

Exxon knew about climate change for decades before it was widely accepted, but concealed this, and continued to increase its emissions

We have been lied to: we have the illusion of control, and are told that we as the consumer must make responsible choices to ensure that we do not fall into climatic catastrophe. Really, we are trapped in a system where trillion dollar companies have a grip on almost every part. Through skillful marketing they have shaped the way people think, casting doubts on the science, convincing many that without oil that poverty reduction would be impossible. They have captured our town planning and transport systems through financial influence on politicians, making good choices all but impossible. We are in a cycle of consumerism where a large amount of products are produced by a small group of companies. Ethical options are difficult to find, and often inaccessible. 

Ethical options are difficult to find, and often inaccessible

I won’t stop taking reusable bags to the shops, and I maintain that reducing your meat intake is the best thing you can do for our planet, but companies like Exxon have taken the climate movement and corrupted it. Watching just one more episode on Netflix isn’t killing the planet: oil companies, and their greed, are.

Image: Terry Kearney via Creative Commons

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