IIt’s been a bad month for the big oil companies. A Dutch court has just ruled that Shell must reduce carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. The court’s decision has been rightly celebrated: it is a much stricter requirement than the ineffective regulations imposed so far. Meanwhile, shareholders are waging rebellions against various oil giants – ExxonMobil shareholders have won two board seats to pressure the oil company for a greener strategy, and shareholders in Chevron and ConocoPhillips are deceased. non-binding resolutions pressure companies to disclose their lobbying efforts and the amounts of emissions.
Private oil and gas companies are finally up to the wall. Shell a promised to appeal Dutch court ruling, but oil prices turned negative last month and bankrupted companies, and last week the International Energy Agency declared stop digging. Politicians have floated the idea that oil and gas tycoons are becoming “carbon management companiesAs a way for these companies to have a “future in a low-carbon world” while retaining control of oil, gas and profits in a planet increasingly aware and hostile to their emissions-generating activity .
But when it comes to the Dutch court ruling or the new episode of shareholder activism, neither goes far enough. Shell should not be turned into a “carbon management company” either. Like all private oil companies, Shell shouldn’t exist.
Oil and gas companies are a political structure: they have private and authoritarian domination over the rate and volume of oil and gas production, and therefore over important determinants of global emissions. These emissions and their consequences do not respect any kind of public / private distinction, nor borders, nor the rights to clean air or clean water. For decades, private oil companies have intentionally and recklessly obscured their role in the destruction of countless local environments as well as their role in the global climate crisis.
Private oil companies have supported a company in constant bankruptcy on a complex system of national and international government subsidies, which all work to privatize the benefits of oil and gas production while socializing its financial, environmental and social costs – making the public pay in dollars in taxes, human rights abuses and an unlivable climate. Now that these companies fear they will be left behind by a changing political environment, their public relations strategy is to press a public increasingly aware of the urgent need to stop the carbon emissions it there is still a place for private oil companies in a “green“world.
The is a role for the workers, their skills and knowledge, as well as the equipment and infrastructure of oil and gas companies. But there is no longer a role for business or the pursuit of profit as the organizing principle of this aspect of human society – not if we want to continue to have a human society.
Under continued private management, the most likely scenario is that Shell will delay and postpone action for as long as the company can get away with, laying off workers without a safety net and leaving extraction sites. pollutants. Likewise, the success of the small-stakeholder “coup” at ExxonMobil probably has less to do with a genuine desire to save the environment than with the company’s billions of dollars in consecutive business. quarterly losses.
But the liquidation of a major industry shouldn’t be limited by the need to make money. Governments like the Netherlands could better follow through on emission reduction mandates if they controlled the oil companies themselves. It is time to nationalize the big oil companies.
Public ownership, by itself, does not guarantee that we will completely replace oil and gas with renewables in time to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. As critics of public property often note, three quarters of the world’s oil reserves already owned by states rather than private companies, which are far from immune to Corruption. But we don’t advocate public ownership because it’s a silver bullet – we stand up for it because it’s our only chance.
The profit calculation is just as clear as the climate calculation: Companies exist to generate profits and enrich shareholders, which forces them both to produce their product. No measure of shareholder activism can do better than slow or dampen the pace at which companies pursue this core mandate. “Market-based solutions”, in this case, are a contradiction in terms: the market is the problem.
If we are to limit climate change, we must make the very unprofitable decision to virtually eliminate emissions. There is no way to reconcile the pace and magnitude of needed emission reductions with the imperatives of profit – Shell’s best scientists have already tried and failed. Government organizations, which serve more interests than those of financial profit, are our only recourse. In addition, companies like Shell or ExxonMobil, nationalized today, would be hired with an express mandate to liquidate their assets – and not to fill the coffers of the national government.
This means that governments would manage the decline of businesses on the basis of social benefits. They could hire Shell workers to overturn their infrastructure to reduce or even put carbon back into the ground rather than extracting it for profit. For example, workers could retool their skills on offshore oil rigs to build offshore wind production. With the little carbon production that remains, the government should decide on the most equitable way to distribute this oil and gas and limit the damage as much as possible. Even when considering responsibilities beyond profit, countries whose production is nationalized, especially in the Global South, will need good reasons to block fossil fuel assets who have paid for much of the world’s wealth – especially in countries that depend on extraction for public revenues. Debt cancellation, as proposed by the Southern Ecosocial Pact, could allow oil-dependent countries to build less destructive forms of energy and continue funding needed social services. Moving so much political and financial capital will be a huge task; if we don’t have institutions for work, we should create them.
It is also an opportunity to help communities which have suffered, in some cases for decades, from the unpleasant side effects of extraction – Fracturing gas from Groningen earthquake at Ogoniland water contamination – and support them in building a new economy.
Dividing the incentives in favor of energy should not only be a game to end fossil fuels. It is an opportunity to build from an extractive and private supply chain something completely different – an energy system for decades to come. Public control at community level over new renewable energies could also be essential in creating and sustaining an energy system that treats access to clean energy as a human right, helps all families (not just white and white people). the rich) to cope with extreme weather events which may become more and more frequent, and face the extraction of wealth head-on.
Nationalization is the best way the world has to dismantle a recalcitrant industry in time to avert a climate catastrophe. And it’s an opportunity to build something better in its place.
Johanna Bozuwa is co-head of the Climate and Energy program at the Democracy Collaborative
Olúfẹ́mi O Táíwò is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University