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Halting the Big Oil Juggernaut
One of the most powerful, and terrible, forces on this planet is Big Oil. Once we built the bulk of human civilization around an inextricable link to this energy source, we set a course toward the predicament we now find ourselves in. Nearly every aspect of human survival -- how food is produced, how clothing is created, travel, housing, toothbrushes – all of it is based on fossil fuel. A relative handful of uber-wealthy people driving mega-corporations have amassed incredible power over all the rest of us. Big Oil is one of the most intractable forces in the political corporatocracy that controls western civilization.
Finally, the global bondage to fossil fuel energy is, literally, destroying nature, wiping out species, ravaging indigenous peoples and the habitats they rely on, and pushing our planet into more and more catastrophic fire, flood and storm events.
For my entire adult life, it has seemed that Big Oil has been untouchable, a megalith that plays by its own rules, manipulates governments and all the rest of us. Recently however, there are some glimmers that this could be shifting. I’m paying attention to a convergence of developments taking place right now that could prove historic.
First, the U.S. Supreme Court is on the brink of finally forcing Big Oil to face trial for its intentional secrecy and misinformation regarding the climate related impacts of fossil fuel consumption. Eight years ago, the first bombshell dropped that Exxon knew, with great accuracy, what fossil fuel combustion was unleashing upon the planet. Rather than sound the alarm they ran an intentional and effective campaign insisting that the science was uncertain while also working to block any sort of legislation to address the problem. The damning “Exxon Knew” revelations led to numerous lawsuits against fossil fuel companies for intentionally misleading the public. With Big Oil constantly battling to create delays none of these suits have yet gone to trial, but instead have bounced back and forth between state and federal courts. At long last, later this year, the Supreme Court is set to review Suncor versus Boulder County and will either hear the case, which is what the oil companies prefer, or send it back to state courts which is what the affected communities prefer.
Meanwhile, nearly 14,000 individuals and institutions from farming communities in Nigeria are suing Shell Oil over the massive scale of oil spills and related pollution that has wiped out fish and made the land too polluted to farm.
Shell first discovered oil in Nigeria in the mid-fifties and since then, by their own calculations, have spilled millions of gallons into the Niger Delta. In the affected area, the pollution has killed most of the fish and shellfish the community once relied on, contaminated mangroves and floats up to their doorsteps during high tides. Water drawn from area wells is brown or shiny and reeks of oil. This has had a devastating impact on the health of the delta’s peoples and ecosystems. As reported in the Guardian, studies have shown that babies born in Nigeria were two times more likely to die during their first month if their mothers were living near an oil spill before becoming pregnant.
Shell is asserting that the spills have been a result of illegal theft and sabotage and claims no responsibility. The plaintiffs are demanding that Shell be forced to pay for clean-up and losses of livelihoods.
News of these lawsuits came the same week that Shell reported a record $42.3 billion in profits in 2022. That takes me to the other developments that may be turning the tide on what Big Oil can get away with – Big Oil’s record income and profiteering off Putin’s war against Ukraine.
Exxon Mobil recently joined Shell in reporting record profits -- $55.7 billion last year, which is double the previous year’s take. All together, U.S. Big Oil firms raked in nearly $200 billion in profits in 2022. French oil giant TotalEnergies reported a record $36.2 billion.
Bear in mind these massive profit reports came right on the heels of record high gas prices that Big Oil claimed were necessary due to the energy supply chain upheaval caused by the invasion of Ukraine. This brazen disconnect between record profits and ratcheting gas prices is leading to claims of war profiteering and governments are beginning to take action. Despite Big Oil’s protestations, Britain and a number of EU countries have implemented windfall taxes of up to 35% on the companies’ earnings. Germany has followed suit. India has also adopted a windfall tax on oil and gas. The Czech Parliament has passed a whopping 60% tax.
Meanwhile, back in Big Oil addicted USA, recent polling shows 80% of U.S. voters favor a windfall tax on oil profits. However, the Biden administration has done little more than express outrage at the “war profiteering” and issue a threat of windfall taxes. Congress has failed to pass any such measures.
It’s important to note that the bulk of these massive Big Oil profits were not used to invest in additional oil production or development of renewables as many companies claim are in their plans, but instead were paid out to shareholders and used to buy back stocks to further increase profitability. BP recently announced they are no longer planning to reduce their emissions 35 to 40 percent by 2030 but instead are aiming for a much smaller 20 to 30 percent reduction. Shell is scaling back their investment in renewables, and Exxon has scrapped their algae biofuel program.
Despite the profiteering, subsidies continue to be doled out. the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Energy Agency reported that U.S. taxpayers plowed an estimated $8.9 billion in oil and gas subsidies in 2020. According to S&P Global, 81 countries shelled out more than $375 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2020. These figures do not include the costs of climate change related disasters such as catastrophic fires and floods or health-related costs for people being directly impacted by fossil fuel pollution.
In the face of the Big Oil juggernaut, it’s challenging to find ways to take meaningful action to change our patently insane trajectory. Empowering people to do exactly that is one of the main reasons I write pieces like this. Getting accurate info into concerned people’s hands and minds is essential to empowering people to challenge the status quo and the assumptions that shape our society. Big Oil has not been around even a hundred years. It is a very, very recent development. We the people have allowed it to take the shape it has. Now, we are in an era where everything is being made more transparent due to technology including the internet, rapidly increasing awareness that our fossil-fuel based systems are causing tremendous damage, and independent, citizen-run media outlets (including this one).
In addition to some direct steps like making sure you are not investing in fossil fuel companies, I think the most critical actions include having conversations that challenge the paradigms we accept as normal and calling-out elected officials for weak stands and lack of action. Civilization is a human-made construct. We invented it, which means we can reinvent it. That is the primary task of our age. Due to increased awareness and concern, right now, in this moment, there are more people working to change destructive systems than any time before in the history of humanity. I urge you to keep an eye on and lend your voice to the increasing demands that Big Oil be held accountable for criminal greed, profiteering, and public deception. As anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.
Here's to redesigning a world that works better for all beings.
Here is a talk I recently delivered on Love as a Spiritual Power, healing ourselves and our world.
I am delighted to report that I will be speaking at the 2023 Parliament of World Religions on the topic of “Sacred Economics; Creating a More Just World for all Beings”. More to come.
If you know of an event or organization that would like to have me as a speaker please let me know. Speaking and teaching about topics such as economic system change, evolving our relationship with Earth, stepping into our power as spiritual beings is one of my main loves and services.
And, just in case you missed it, here’s a link to the last Life with Livvy and LottaDog post, which could also have been titled, Confessions of an Agility-holic.
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