Janis Petzel, MD
Greenwashing, gaslighting, lying, cheating, criminality—whatever you call it, Big Oil has done it and is doing it still. Petroleum companies’ internal documents in the 1970s recognized that fossil fuels would need to be eliminated to prevent serious climate disaster. Did they act responsibly with this information? We know they did not. But Big Oil did not do its dirty work alone.
Robinson Meyer in The Atlantic notes, Big Utilities also “sold climate half-truths and untruths to policy makers and the public.”
In fact, since the 1970s after the Clean Air Act became law until today, malevolent hordes from the petroleum and utility industries, the coal-steel-rail sector, conservative think tanks, lobbying groups such as ALEC, and some religious-based groups have worked in concert, so they could continue to rake in money or to control seats of power. I’ll call this unsavory group The Dirty Energy Sector.
There is hard evidence for what environmentalists have long observed: The Dirty Energy Sector will do anything to make money and stay in power, and they don’t care who they hurt, maim or cause to die an early death in the process. They’ve even started using punitive “strategic lawsuits against public participations” or SLAPP lawsuits to harass and silence protesters using the judicial system, all documented in a September 2022 report by EarthJustice.
Environmental Research Letters reports that dishonest tactics to delay action, sow doubt and deny climate science “allow[ed utilities] to invest in polluting infrastructure for several decades longer than scientists have advised is safe.”
Because of the Dirty Energy Sector’s successful efforts to stymie, deceive, and sow doubt about climate change, global emissions of carbon dioxide were higher in the thirty years from 1990-2019 (872 Gt CO2) than they were for the 240 years from 1775-1990 (804 Gt CO2) despite environmental laws and rising availability of renewable energy.
You can see for yourself the geography of fossil fuel emissions in this recently released website by Carbon Tracker and Global Energy Monitor, https://fossilfuelregistry.org/.
The biggest polluters are the ones putting the most money into lying about climate science. They are the most resistant to change. The top polluting utilities in the U.S. continue to invest in coal plants and in building natural gas-burning plants even though renewables are cheaper, to say nothing of contributing to politicians who do other bad things, like trying to overthrow democracy.
Climate denial seems so illogical to me. The big polluters may be addicted to money and power, but don’t they breathe air or require clean water to drink? Don’t these (mostly) men have children or grandchildren they care about? They act as if laws don’t apply to them, but even the laws of physics? There’s a disconnect.
Douglas Rushkoff wrote an illuminating article in The Guardian (Sept 4, 2022). He was invited to speak at what he thought was a conference on the future, but which turned out to be a handful of ultra-wealthy men prepping “apocalypse bunkers.” They wanted his advice on how to keep their security guards from stealing their food or killing them. Rushkoff’s advice—that the way to keep starving people from killing you is to make sure the community has food—was not of interest to these masters of the universe.
Why? They think they can buy their way out of the mess they have made. They know they are ruining the planet, but they won’t stop because they have an out. Does this infuriate you as much as it does me?
But, as Maya K. van Rossum says in her book, The Green Amendment (see review in the next issue of G.E.T.) “Pollution and environmental destruction are not illegal in this country. People are allowed to pollute, damage and devastate the environment so long as they obtain government permits or licenses to do so.”
That must change ASAP. We need safeguards to correct the imbalances of power that allow these abuses to thrive. Van Rossum’s Green Amendment to state constitutions is one such tool.
We need to get out the vote for candidates most likely to protect the environment and human health. Expanding rank choice voting may help to cut back on extremist candidates.
It’s time to drive a stake through the hearts of these Dirty Energy Sector vampires in the only way they understand: Taxes—on fossil fuel-related pollution; value-added taxes on luxury items; windfall profit taxes.
In my dreams, all corporations are B corporations; they must legally put the environment ahead of shareholders’ profits; Citizens’ United is repealed; rules to bolster fairness cover cable and internet broadcasting.
Dreams are a start. But we need to do the work to restore balance so that rich, powerful people can’t keep dumping their waste into our air and water and making us pay for it.
Vote, do what you can to protect the places you love, avoid buying fossil fuel products, support groups that can fight the legal battles, and demand better from our leaders.
The Dirty Energy Sector broke the environment. They must bear responsibility to fix it.
Janis Petzel, MD is a physician, grandmother and climate activist whose writing focuses on resilience, climate, and health. She lives in Islesboro, Maine where she advocates and acts for a fossil-fuel free future. She serves on the Islesboro Energy Committee and is a Climate Ambassador for Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Source links provided in the online posting of this article at greenenergytimes.org.