The extraction, refining and distribution of fossil fuels is an enormous industry representing the engine for global economic production and growth. Five of the top six companies in the Fortune Global 500 including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell are in the petroleum refining industry. As a July 2015 Report by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out, the fossil fuel industry's concentration is as remarkable as its size. Almost two thirds of the world's industrial carbon emissions over the past two and a half centuries is attributable to just 90 coal, oil, and natural gas companies which have produced and marketed fossil fuels and cement (which has very high carbon intensity). Almost 30 % of all industrial emissions since 1850 is traced to just 20 investor and state owned companies. Even more significantly, the Report by the Union of Concerned Scientists points out that
"...more than half of all industrial carbon emissions have been released into the atmosphere since 1988, after major fossil fuel companies indisputably knew about the harm their products were causing to the climate".
Based on an eight month investigation of internal documents of the major fossil fuel corporations, the environmental publication, Inside Climate News has revealed that the fossil fuel companies, especially Exxon which was doing cutting-edge climate research, were already aware of the connection between fossil fuel combustion and global warming by the late 1970s. Inside Climate News argues that without revealing what their own scientists confirmed, the world's largest fossil fuel companies sought to 'manufacture uncertainty' and deceive the public about climate change. The companies put in place a massive campaign to fund climate denial scientists and organizations (many fake 'astroturf' groups) and lobby Congress to block climate action. Corporate funding, lobbying and the silence of the mainstream media have enabled polluting companies to project an environmentally friendly public image while at the same time contributing to derailing legislation for emissions reduction. Indeed, there is still no comprehensive U.S. federal policy to address climate change.
Notwithstanding growing demands for corporate accountability and government action, the U.S. and other governments are providing massive subsidies to companies for fossil fuel production and exploration. According to July 2014 estimates of the activist group, Oil Change International, the U.S. fossil fuel subsidies were $37.5 billion annually. Multilateral Banks including the World Bank which is backed by governments also provide billions of dollars each year to oil, gas and coal production internationally. According to the latest 2016 estimates of Oil Change International, global fossil fuel subsidies are between $775 to $1 trillion annually. Since 2011 a number of proposals have been made in the U.S. Congress, such as, the 'Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act' and the 'End Polluter Welfare Act' to cut tax payer handouts to fossil fuel companies, But, none of them have passed.
The U.S. is estimated to spend anywhere from $10.5 to $500 billion annually to militarily defend its oil interests overseas. As US energy experts point out, military activity is a 'direct production component' of the trade and as 'necessary for imports as are pipelines and supertankers'. Oil is an important driver of U.S. military force in the Persian Gulf, the political destabilization and loss of lives in the region being casualties of the relentless pursuit of oil. Heavy use of jet fuel for military activities is a major source of carbon emissions worldwide. The Pentagon is estimated to be the "largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general," but is exempt from all international climate agreements.
There is growing fear, anger, despair among people about the political and economic realities and the future of our planet. Some of it is undoubtedly misplaced and expressed in violent and destructive ways as ethno-religious fundamentalism and hatred towards others. There is also climate denial, climate fatigue, emotional paralysis and escapist behavior on the part of some people who are numbed by excessive exposure to the combined effects of consumerism, technology and the modern media.
Still, there are also thousands of organizations and people all around the world engaged in positive nonviolent and collective action. In the face of dramatic recent acceleration in the warming of the planet, the failure of the Paris Agreement to address divesting from fossil fuel and the support of governments for new fossil fuel projects, climate action is intensifying around the world. The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has committed itself to a carbon neutral policy in its constitution setting an important global precedent. The largest global civil disobedience on behalf of the climate justice concluded in May 2016 after 12 days of action in six continents. Under the banner of 'Break Free from Fossil Fuel',
'Tens of thousands of activists took to the streets, occupied mines, blocked rail lines, paddled in kayaks and held community meetings in 13 countries, pushing the boundaries of conventional protest to find new ways to demand coal, oil and gas stay in the ground'
As a Nigerian activist from the Health of Mother Earth Foundation put it, "Breaking free from fossil fuels is a vote for life and for the planet". The fossil fuel industry is being 'weakened by financial and political uncertainty' and the revelations that it knowingly hid the scientific evidence linking fossil fuels and global warming from the public for many decades. Currently, there are investigations underway in the US by the Attorney Generals of 17 states including New York, California, Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands on Exxon's role in the alleged climate deception. The US Department of Justice has also requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine if ExxonMobil violated federal laws by publicly denying climate change for decades.
The U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) have agreed to hold a Forum on Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 1:00 - 3:30 pm to hear testimony regarding the revelations reported by InsideClimate News and the Union of Concerned Scientists concerning Exxon's early climate research and its campaign to deceive the American people about the devastating impacts of fossil fuel use.
Activists are confident that just as the struggle against the tobacco industry, which hid the connection between smoking and health from the public, was won, the people's struggle against the fossil fuel industry can also be victorious.
Excerpted From: Asoka Bandarage