Horwitz: A future for them, or all of us

The fossil fuel industry must be nationalized and dismantled

Avi Horwitz, Staff Columnist

Just 20 fossil fuel companies are responsible for over one-third of all emissions since 1965, and 100 for approximately 70% of worldwide emissions since 1988. Now, we have under a decade to make society-wide transformations to avoid locking in some ever-worsening effects of climate change. Looking at the industry’s track record, the only practical engagement with it going forward must be swift and complete eradication.

One can reach this conclusion by taking even the quickest glance at the past half-century. The fossil fuel industry has been able to stymie action to combat global warming by engaging in a public relations campaign that undermined trust in climate science, prevented the enactment of climate policies and disastrously shifted the blame and responsibility to cut emissions onto individual consumers. 

Leaders in the fossil fuel industry were some of the first to know, and confirm with their own research, the destructive potential effects that carbon emissions could have on the environment. Once it became clear that governments around the world might need to seriously act to combat climate change and risk the industry’s profit margin, they pivoted. They sought to undermine the broad consensus among scientists that global warming is both caused by humans and a threat to life as we know it. 

One tactic the industry employed was to promote the research of climate deniers like Dr. Wei-Hock Soon, who relied exclusively on grants from the fossil fuel industry for his entire salary and research budget. The connection was no coincidence, but rather a well-developed intentional plan by a team of companies in the American Petroleum Institute (API), including British Petroleum (BP), ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell, to waste critical years of action on a public debate over settled science.  

Over the last few years, the industry has pivoted away from outright climate denial towards impending policy solutions. The Western States Petroleum Association created fake grassroots organizations like “Californians Against Higher Taxes” and “Oregonians for Sound Fuel Policy” that helped manufacture a false sense of public opposition to the fuel standards and emissions limits, and spelled an end to regulation efforts out west. 

Another aspect of this realignment is the fossil fuel industry’s careful creation of an invented reality. They have perpetuated the fallacy that average individuals can change their everyday choices and it will be enough to stop climate change. Namely, BP created a carbon footprint calculator in 2004 to convince the public that it was everyday people, and everyday decisions, that are most responsible for the changing climate. 

Academic institutions, including Case Western Reserve University (Go Spartans!), have been more than willing to go along with the charade. Just take one quick peek at the Office of Energy and Sustainability’s “What You Can Do” page; it is the API’s dream come true. 

It would be beyond naive to legitimately believe that the fossil fuel companies responsible for destroying the planet would stop now. They will continue to put off their inevitable demise, squeezing every last bit of the profit from the land as they continue their denial and delay tactics until we’re out of time. 

Instead of continuing to bail out the failing oil, gas and coal giants, the federal government can buy them. By bringing the fossil fuel industry under public ownership, it would be possible to phase out the fossil fuel economy while also paying the salaries of and retraining its workers. And best of all, creating millions of high-wage union jobs to power a new, sustainable, green economy. 

Wealthy executives would no longer be able to spend their days spreading cash around to cover for their crimes against humanity, and using federal resources to keep a failing business model adrift. Nationalizing the fossil fuel industry would be a crucial part of mobilizing the federal government to fight an existential threat, as it did for another in the first half of the 20th century. And once that process is underway, certain executives can have their date at The Hague’s International Court of Justice.