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The Biggest Fossil Fuel Companies in the World are States
You Can't Green a Broken System
Last week I interviewed Ketan Joshi on climate delay and the fossil fuel industry, revealing the sophisticated evolution of greenwashing which deliberately destroyed hijacked the small window we had at effecting real change. Now, as Ketan says, there’s no stopping the crisis.
The fossil fuel industry’s role in global warming and manipulating both public consensus and government policy is well documented at this point. Despite this, over 600 representatives of the industry were at COP27 in Egypt last year, and the President of COP28 is none other than Al Jaber, the CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNO), the world's 12th largest oil company by production. Whilst millions around the world marched against fossil fuels in one of the largest mass global protests coinciding with New York’s Climate Week, governments and major international institutions reaffirmed their relationships with the industry and commitment to a fossil fuel economy. Indeed, while Climate Week kicked off, I was at a conference in the South of France listening to financial experts say funding the green transition necessitates the continued growth of hydrocarbons. There is, apparently, no green energy without brown energy.
The cognitive dissonance is alarming and scientifically unfounded. Financial markets can recover from a change in energy supply but earth systems cannot recover from the continued use of fossil fuels. This has been well documented by scientists who say we are nearing tipping points of cascading impacts which will permanently change the earth’s climate, rendering techno-utopian dreams of sucking future carbon out of the air irrelevant. In September, an updated study showed we have pushed 6 out of 9 planetary boundaries into the danger zone. Simply put, solar panels mean nothing if the food system crashes. And that future is not far off—the 2023 harvest for cereal crops in Southern Europe is expected to be 60% less than 2022.
So why the continued use of fossil fuels? Why aren’t governments doing more? Why has the task fallen to people on the streets who seemingly understand the consequences more than our alleged leaders?
The answer is complex, of course. One part, though, is that governments are the biggest fossil fuel producers. The 13 largest energy companies on Earth, measured by the reserves they control, are now owned and operated by governments. The private companies in the industry—Shell, Exxon, BP—are rightly taking the heat in the fight but their combined output is merely 10% of fossil fuel production in the world. 90% is produced by state-owned companies like Saudi Arabia’s SaudiAramco, Abu Dhabi’s ADNO, and Brazil’s Petrobras. Compared to the more than 13 million barrels of oil pushed out by Saudi Aramco, BP as the largest private-owned oil company, has a daily production of some 1.1 million barrels.
When we decry the 600 agents of the fossil fuel industry being present at COPs, we must understand that they are welcomed because they represent our governments and the continued revenue from exploiting fossil fuel reserves which are destroying the environment. They represent the continuation of a particular world order which the most powerful nations are desperate not to upend. They represent the engine to which modernity has tied itself.
Human civilisation is on track for collapse by 2040. This isn’t conjecture, it’s analysis. Fossil fuels may not be the entirety of the problem, but rather the fuel of an exploitative and expansionist economy, but they are causing the heating, producing over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. We cannot reorganise our economy without stopping oil, coal and gas. We cannot survive the continued use of these fuels. And, frankly, damming up the oil reserves would send shockwaves through that very economic system and its roots in exploitation, inequality and extraction.
Government intervention will not green the engine of the economic system. That’s why renewable energy capacity is only increasing on top of increasing fossil fuel consumption. If we had all the time in the world, rich nations would slowly replace fossil fuels only once they could ensure their continued domination of the energy market, and thus a continuation of the economy which depends on that very energy supply. But we don’t have time.
We need to switch the engine off. We need to stick a spanner in the gears to stop it turning. We need to send shockwaves through the system. Shutting down the fossil fuel industry, rather than transitioning it out, is the only way to ensure the survival of our species and the health of the planet. The bonus is doing so would also starve the very economic system which ensured our irresponsible and greedy use of those fuels in the first place. Turning off the taps kills two birds with one stone—one mechanical, one ideological.
It is evident that tech will not save us because green tech cannot neutralise the relationship between governments, fossil fuels, and economic expansion. It is not good enough to invest in “good” options in a world built on growth. We must also invest in shutting down the bad. If anything, it’s a sure way to increase return on investment in the long-run—because it’s the only way to ensure civilisation continues.
© Rachel Donald
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