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Fossil Fuel Bosses Prove Evil Doesn't Require Genius
You need to be able to think critically to be villainous
Last week I interviewed Benjamin Franta, founder of the Climate Litigation Lab at the University of Oxford which informs climate litigation around the world. The lab researches how to bring—and win— lawsuits against companies, institutions, and individuals who have aided and abetted public deception, the suppression of information, and put the whole world in danger by driving the climate crisis.
It's hard to believe or understand why we must resort to climate litigation in order to confront the villains in this story, the people who lie to the public, who deliberately suppressed information, who created effective climate models to understand what their impact on the climate would be—and then went on to tell the public that climate models are inaccurate or untrustworthy.
It's hard to understand that we can share a planet with these people, let alone speak the same language. Ultimately, these lawsuits prove that we don't speak the same language: We have to hit them where they hurt.
We have to hit them in a place that they understand will hurt, in order for them to understand the havoc they’re wreaking on the world. We have to hit them with losses to profit, with legal restrictions, with the labels of criminality and justice.
We have to hit them with the label of criminality because they don't understand injustice. We have to hit them with lawsuits because they don't understand responsibility. We have to hit them with losses because they don't understand value.
Fossil fuel management who not only ignored but deliberately suppressed the findings of their own scientists must live in such a political ideology that they are completely divorced from the natural world. And their ideology, in which companies are only responsible to shareholders—market capitalism—is fundamentally incompatible with protecting, enriching and living with the natural world.
This is where climate litigation reveals the reforms we need to make alongside holding these people accountable, holding these industries accountable.
We need to reform our business structures so they reflect the responsibility that each individual and group has towards other individuals, other groups, the natural world and the future. We need to disentangle law from money and make it more possible for citizens to use these institutional channels to hold power to account, without being buried under fees and fear. We need to create legal and financial systems that have accountability and future obligations baked in.
We are accountable for one another in the world. We have obligations to the future.
Woke vs Ideologues
Interestingly, activists by being willing to go down this route of using litigation in order to seek justice and prevent more destruction, prove that the “woke left” are not the ideological militants their opponents make them out to be. Quite the contrary, they are willing to speak the language of the people and the industries they’re confronting. And they are forced to confront in such a manner because speaking the language of logic, of facts, of science, of care, didn’t help. Going out in the streets, using our voices, exercising our democratic rights didn't help.
It is the people in power and the industries which have their death grip on the world who are the ideological maniacs. It is they who are unwilling to learn any language or belief set other than profit maximization, and power maximization.
It is they who are steeped in fantasy, in unreality, who would be so willing to put themselves in danger, let alone the rest of the world, in order to make more money. What planet did they think that they were going to live on after they'd set ours on fire?
They are the adamant maniacs who impose their vision on the world. They, who are allegedly the harbingers of progress, of freedom of innovation. These supposedly clear-headed individuals who have been driving the planet down a very specific path are, in fact, the ideological maniacs who are completely incapable of separating their desires from the truth, and have absolutely no interest in responsibility.
The people on the streets, the people daring to go up against them, are not idealists. They are realists. And they're engaged in a terrible fight, because fighting with the ideologically fanatic is an impossible situation in which the truth teller will only lose.
Because ideologues do not have a vision—they have a position, and therefore will not budge. We have to hit them where they will understand that they can hurt in order for them to change.
The supposed geniuses who have subscribed to the models of market capitalism, of endless growth, are not the foundations of the modern world, nor are they saviours. They are nothing more than symptoms of collective mania that, rather than enhancing cooperation between individuals, has allowed individuals to completely offset responsibility for their actions by a frenzied obsession with results that don't mean anything in the real world, but mean everything to those subscribed to the ideology.
Nobody who's participated in the deliberate deception and destruction as evidenced by the fossil fuel industries’ engagement, or disengagement with science, is a pillar of their community. They’re not heroes.
They're not even individual villains. Because who among them was not merely swept up in the wave of their own beliefs? None of them could think critically enough to be villainous. Rather, they are banality of evil which Hannah Arendt warned us all of.
Planet: Critical investigates why the world is in crisis—and what to do about it.