Big Oil’s Big Lie About Who Caused the Climate Collapse

Oil pollution in Lago Agrio. Photograph Source: Julien Gomba – CC BY 2.0

Veganism isn’t the answer to climate change, nor is eschewing air travel. Both help, but don’t tackle the problem systemically. Ending drilling oil and gas wells would zap emissions much more effectively, but since every little bit counts, it’s a good idea to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint. Encourage, not shame. And renouncing shaming especially goes for those who insist that having children unacceptably raises a person’s carbon footprint to the level of a climate problem. It doesn’t. And the word for the harangue that it does is eco-fascism.

The very problematic concept of one’s carbon footprint is the subject of Sami Grover’s new book, We’re All Climate Hypocrites Now. Who kicked the carbon-footprint-individual-responsibility-for-climate-change bandwagon into gear? None other than the guilty parties, the oil companies. BP to be exact. Fossil fuel companies love it when ordinary people blame themselves for the climate collapse, for an obvious reason: it gets them off the hook to keep raking in profits, receiving mega-subsidies from government and polluting the atmosphere with carbon without getting fined for it – as they would in any sane world.

“BP’s championing of carbon footprints should be viewed not simply as a naïve and imperfect effort at corporate responsibility,” writes Grover, “but rather as a direct and calculated attempt to shape discussion of the problem in BP’s favor.” Oil companies, Grover notes “are actually all too happy to talk about the climate crisis. They just want you to know that it’s mostly your fault.” And they’ve succeeded remarkably with this subterfuge. Lots of people dither about eating a cup of yogurt when they could be joining Extinction Rebellion. Some benighted souls have even been hoodwinked into foreswearing children.

It’s no news that oil companies curate their image. But in recent years, they’ve taken it to new extremes. As Brian Kahn noted November 17 in earther, they even recently had the chutzpah to publicly bemoan “cancel culture on hydrocarbons.” As Kahn comments, that takes some nerve, “as if this is somehow a real problem and not the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction tied to said hydrocarbons.” But their obsessive focus on image has paid off.

Fossil fuel corporations deceived as many people as they could for as long as they could. Their own scientists told them decades ago that their product was cooking the earth. Did that lead them to change course? No, it did not. It led them to suppressing the science, lying about it and seeding that monstrosity called climate denial. So now half the rulers of the U.S., one of the most powerful, violent, extensive and carbon polluting empires in human history, parrot idiotic talking points about burning oil, gas and coal supposedly NOT warming the earth. And until recently, the U.S. was the world’s worst polluter of greenhouse gases. Now it’s got the distinction of being the second worst. But with congressional suzerains denying the damage, how can anyone compel the U.S. to pay its fair share for mitigation?

The only solution is a mass movement. Grover’s book argues for this, as do lots of other folks, and given what a bust the recent world climate summit was, I would add, take a leaf out of the Trump playbook and clog the courts with lawsuits. Sue these criminal oil, gas and coal plutocrats until something sticks, they get the message and cease their global pyromania.

But oh yes – someone did that: Attorney Steven Donziger won over $9 billion in an Ecuadoran court from Chevron for its pollution of the pristine Amazon wilderness of Lago Agrio and the cancers Chevron thus inflicted on indigenous children. And guess what? Chevron said it wouldn’t pay, went judge shopping, found a compliant jurist, Lewis Kaplan, in New York, took its case there and schemed to get Donziger thrown in jail, where he now resides.

So never forget that fossil fuel mega-corporations play as dirty as their product. After all, way back in the 1960s, Shell reportedly got Ogoni protesters arrested, tortured and executed in Nigeria. The Ogoni were upset about Shell coating their tribal lands in oil, transforming a once fertile region into a toxic cemetery. Shell struck back, making an example of activist and novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged by the Nigerian military junta. So this is nothing new. It’s a real, blood-drenched fight.

You wouldn’t know that, however, from privileged westerners who argue about straws. Yes, the cardboard kind are better, because the world is drowning in plastic, but get real. The most powerful man on the planet, Joe Biden, has dozens of fossil fuel projects on his desk with emissions roughly the equivalent of 400 coal-fired plants annually. The U.S. also subsidizes fossil fuel corporations, already swimming in money, to the tune of $20 billion per year. These facts should loom front and center in everyone’s mind – not policing whether or not an acquaintance has a baby or ate their whole wheat bread with butter on it.

But speaking of butter, meat and dairy conglomerates are in fact a huge problem. Grover records one expert source: “The world’s top 20 meat and dairy producers alone emitted 932 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.” He quotes more: “If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh largest greenhouse gas emitter.”

In addition, there’s the gruesome matter of animal cruelty. The world is not only awash in the blood of animals, but it also resounds with their screams of agony, as they are tortured for human pleasure. Just because you don’t hear what’s going on in the slaughterhouse doesn’t mean it ain’t happening.

So definitely become a vegetarian, and a vegan if you can. But do more; find other ways to extinguish fossil fuel arson. If enough people try that, we might actually keep these poisons in the ground and give those children fascists don’t want you to have a livable planet.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Hope Deferred. She can be reached at her website.