I have recently had a revelation that I have struggled to put into words. That is until I picked up “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate” by Naomi Klein.
The fascinating truth about the world is that most people are in denial about climate change.
Not in the sense “global warming is a Chinese hoax” sense, but in the sense that most of us have never paused to consider climate change, its impacts, and what we can do about it. It is rarely taken seriously. It isn’t considered an existential threat. Rather it is a minor inconvenience that could be solved by small “personal actions” like planting a tree or avoiding plastic. Either that or climate change is an impossible task, an inevitable doom that no one can stop, so might as well eat that steak dinner.
Another issue that leads to denial is that the problem is too big to actually comprehend. The full picture of ice caps gradually melting feel hard to relate to, which makes people give up entirely. I faced that too, until I realised that the more small scale effects of climate change are already here and they are already devastating communities.
This is the issue I want to address with this new series. Climate change denial of every kind. I found that narrowing climate change down a select few topics at one helped in understanding the bigger picture overall.
Each week I’ll pick a topic, either based on a major piece of news that happened that week, or pick a topic in general and give all the context around it. Why is it important? What can I do about it?
Let’s get started
INVEST NOT DIVEST?
When it comes to climate change, no one is a bigger culprit than big oil corporations. The Guardian’s investigation revealed that the top 20 fossil fuel companies in the world are responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emission in the modern era.
Most activists who try to take on “Big Oil” would call for divestment from fossil fuels. This means that they would pressure companies, funds, and countries that invest in oil corporations to stop giving them money or face economic boycotts. However, a new type of activism has emerged recently. One tries the exact opposite approach- giving money to fossil fuel companies.
Now that does seem counterintuitive, but lately, that has shown some results.
On 26th May, shareholders of ExxonMobil and Chevron revolted against its board. An activist hedge fund called Engine No. 1 managed to secure two, and eventually three seats on Exxon’s board of 12 directors, with the intention of pushing the company to a greener future.
This is major news because historically, ExxonMobil is the fourth biggest contributor of CO2 since 1965. But their role in this crisis goes deeper than that. They knew about the effects of carbon dioxide on climate change and the dangers that climate change could pose since the 1970s. They then spend the next four decades actively spreading misinformation.
They did this by attacking scientists and activists, lobbying and actively funding climate change denial groups. Even up until very recently, Exxon had resisted calls for turning green. In 2016, they rejected 10 shareholder-proposed climate resolutions. Their so called “climate plan” involves increased production of oil, which is a classic case of greenwashing.
A similar upheaval occurred at Chevron at the same time, where a majority of its shareholders rebelled against its board and forcing the company to cut carbon emissions.
Follow This is a Dutch campaign group that coordinated the rebellion against Chevron, and they have previously forced similar changes to cut emissions at ConocoPhillips and Phillips 66. It’s clear that people are tired of waiting for these corporations to “do the right thing” and now are trying to forcing them to change.
This type of activism is strange to me. Maybe that’s because hard to see companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron as a potential “green powerhouse” someday. But that feels inevitable. These companies will need to eventually adapt to providing sustainable energy, these activist investors are doing their part to speed up the process.
But they still only have 3 of 12 boards of directors at ExxonMobil, so the change won’t happen immediately. Furthermore, this kind of activism, while necessary, puts a financial barrier of entry that likely insurmountable for many people. For most of us, I think we’d be better off focusing on figuring out how to make our own workplaces more climate-friendly and pushing for those reforms.
But on the bright side, this news shows that activist investors can pose a bigger threat to these fossil fuel companies than people previously thought.
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