Naming Names – Ninety Companies Destroying the Planet

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Naming Names: The 90 Companies Destroying Our Planet

 Jon Queally,
Previously Published by Common Dreams

Analysis highlights the small number of profit-driven entities that are driving us towards destruction, but can a climate revolution from below challenge their rule?

90 companies

Chevron Texaco was the leading emitter among investor-owned companies, causing 3.5% of greenhouse gas emissions to date, with Exxon not far behind at 3.2%. In third place, BP caused 2.5% of global emissions to date. (Guardian)

Narrow it down to the real power-brokers and decision-makers—the CEO’s of fossil fuel companies or the energy ministers from the largest petro-states—says climate researcher Richard Heede, and the actual individuals most responsible for the political world’s continued refusal to address the planetary crisis of climate change “could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”

In a newly compeleted study by Heede and his colleagues at the Climate Accountability Institute, their analysis shows that a mere 90 companies, some private and some state-owned, account for a full two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions that are now driving perilous rates of global warming.

Offered in advance to the Guardian newspaper, which created an interactive representation of the study’s findings, the report comes as climate negotiators from around the world continue talks in Warsaw, Poland this week in the latest (what looks so far like a failed) attempt to solidify an emissions agreement designed to stave off the worst impacts of climate change this century.

As the Guardian’s Suzanne Goldenberg reports:

Between them, the 90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane between 1751 to 2010, amounting to about 914 gigatonne CO2 emissions, according to the research. All but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.

The list of 90 companies included 50 investor-owned firms – mainly oil companies with widely recognised names such as Chevron, Exxon, BP , and Royal Dutch Shell and coal producers such as British Coal Corp, Peabody Energy and BHP Billiton.

Some 31 of the companies that made the list were state-owned companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, Russia’s Gazprom and Norway’s Statoil.

Nine were government run industries, producing mainly coal in countries such as China, the former Soviet Union, North Korea and Poland, the host of this week’s talks.

Though the global public has been flooded with one scientific research paper after another warning of the perils of not addressing the role of carbon emissions, experts agree that the political will on the state, national, and global level has simply not been created.

The reason for that, of course, is the stranglehold that the very profitable fossil fuel companies—whether state-owned  entities or private corporations—retain on the political systems within which they operate. At the global level, that political system is known as the United Nations, but so far the talks taking place in Warsaw are seeing almost no progress on a deal. On Wednesday, the world’s poorest nation’s walked out of the COP19 talks and the wealthiest nations—including the US, Canada, Australia, and the EU states—showing less and less courage despite the increasingly dire warnings from experts and scientists.

Michael Mann, a U.S. climate scientist who spoke to the Guardian about the possible impact of the list, said he hoped it would bring greater scrutiny to the gas, oil and coal companies who are most responsible for past emissions because these are the same companies poised to continue burning the vast carbon reserves still in the ground. “What I think could be a game changer here is the potential for clearly fingerprinting the sources of those future emissions,” he said. “It increases the accountability for fossil fuel burning. You can’t burn fossil fuels without the rest of the world knowing about it.”

And Al Gore added: “This study is a crucial step forward in our understanding of the evolution of the climate crisis. The public and private sectors alike must do what is necessary to stop global warming. Those who are historically responsible for polluting our atmosphere have a clear obligation to be part of the solution.”

The alternative, however—as almost zero progress, and possibly lost ground, has been the result of the last several rounds of international climate talks—is a global uprising from below, led by social justice organizations, environmentalists, and civil society who are willing to act where governments and the private sector have refused.

As Michael T. Klare, an energy expert and professor at Hampshire College, wrote earlier this week at TomDispatch:

If, as is now the case, governments across the planet back an extension of the carbon age and ever increasing reliance on “unconventional” fossil fuels like tar sands and shale gas, we should all expect trouble.  In fact, we should expect mass upheavals leading to a green energy revolution.

None of us can predict the future, but when it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment.  Take a look and you will see that the assorted environmental protests that have long bedeviled politicians are gaining in strength and support.  With an awareness of climate change growing and as intensifying floodsfiresdroughts, and storms become an inescapable feature of daily life across the planet, more people are joining environmental groups and engaging in increasingly bold protest actions.  Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

In fact, it is possible to imagine such a green energy revolution erupting in one part of the world and spreading like wildfire to others.  Because climate change is going to inflict increasingly severe harm on human populations, the impulse to rebel is only likely to gain in strength across the planet.  While circumstances may vary, the ultimate goal of these uprisings will be to terminate the reign of fossil fuels while emphasizing investment in and reliance upon renewable forms of energy.  And a success in any one location is bound to invite imitation in others.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

The Energy Trap

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The Energy Trap

How can we escape the Energy Trap? Nations are held hostages to energy companies, their voiceless governments ransomed to the global corporations who control them.

Over the last year, in a very rainy England, and beyond expectation, I have been amazed that 80% of the electricity used in my home has been generated by recently fitted solar panels. (4.3MWh generated, and 5 MWh consumed). The question remains is why there has not been the massive investment in renewable energy envisaged by Ed Miliband. 1)

The Coalition’s “Greenest Government Ever” seems to have gone a bit off colour, and what we are hearing are bare-Blue-in-the-face Tories’ lies, determined to maintain the Energy Trap.

The argument for energy suppliers to be taken under control of private companies was based on three basic myths.

MYTH 1: Privatised organisations run more efficiently and effectively than public ones.

MYTH 2: Competition will keep prices down.

MYTH 3: Offering shares to the general public will redistribute wealth.

There is little evidence for increased efficiency, and, as currently with the NHS, with the government, by starving public services of staff and funding, seeks to justify the need to privatize. Dozens of makes of coffee on sale at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s does nothing to bring down the price. Those supermarkets control prices, using their own market to push their own products to maximize profits. Meanwhile, the small shopkeeper cannot compete, and is forced to close, resulting in homogenous towns where only globalized industry can thrive. Tax avoidance firms such as Starbucks dispel any theory that privatization will lead to redistribution of wealth, as those hopeful investors in the eighties might have believed.

Our dependence on energy for our very survival is clear. What can be avoided is a perpetual dependence on privatized energy companies. We are imprisoned by fear of the collapse of society and the consequence has been wars in the Middle East. Ominously, British oil companies have unprecedented influence 2) of British military policies.

British oil companies are promoting a ‘fight against piracy’ to get a vast hidden military subsidy. In the process they have got an unprecedented amount of influence over UK military policies. Oil companies have talked up the risk from piracy to justify the use of Navy frigates, drones and helicopters to protect corporate oil assets in the seas. They are demanding increased spending on military hardware at a time of major public cutbacks. 2)

The media’s insistence that renewable energy would not satisfy our needs literally fuels the thirst for fossil fuels, and nuclear, while denying the dangers of climate change and nuclear contamination. The financial argument in favour of fossil and nuclear fuels is heavily biased, distorting political and public confidence in renewable energy.

Why is George Osborne insisting on commitment to dirty, carbon producing gas-fuel for years to come? Ed Davey has been pressured by George Osborne to adopt gas or face deep cuts to any renewable subsidy. (Friends of the Earth, 3) Furthermore, there is evidence that the energy companies manipulate markets, Libor style by fixing prices. The Guardian reports on how gas prices have been fixed. 4, 5

Guardian: Libor-Like manipulation of Gas Markets see video clips

Why is the government prepared to invest in fracking 6) and shale gas, with known dangers, whilst cutting the feed-in-tarrifs for micro generation projects?

Think Left has analysed how CCS (Carbon Capture) 7. has been adopted as a policy, erroneously suggesting the extraction of coal can be “clean”. The dirtiest fuel of all, coal is neither clean or safe, and its extraction would cause liberation of carbon from methane. The reason for adoption of the policy, is revealed as:

Companies known to be interested in bidding  for UK CCS demonstration competition:

Powerfuels, E.On, Scottish Power, Scottish and Southern Energy, Centrica, Progressive Energy,
Conoco Philips, RWE

Members of Futuregen:

American Electric Power, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, China Huaneng Group, CONSOL Energy, E.ON,
Foundation Coal, Luminant, Peabody Energy, PPL Energy Services, Rio Tinto Energy America, Southern
Company Services, Inc, Xstrata Coal

To break out of The Energy Trap, rather than public money subsidizing fossil fuels and nuclear (8) , it should be fully diverted towards sustainable, clean low-maintenance renewable energy initiatives. This is a win-win situation. In addition, mutual building societies and publicly owned banking (Lloyds?) could support the initial funding for installing renewable energy. The maintenance costs following initial outlay are low. A community backed wind turbine (9) (see clip) has produced enough electricity to feed back to the grid enabling further benefits for the community.

Democratic ownership and monitoring of our energy supply must be a priority for an incoming Labour government.

Creating electricity is easy! Within 6 hours, enough sunlight falls on the world’s deserts to meet the annual global power demand of 18000 TWhours.

 Solar generation derived by panels in the world’s deserts could redistribute power by High Votlage Direct Current (HVDC Grids 10) , a clean energy source, adequate for us all to leave peacefully.

Reducing energy consumption, by retro-insulation, retrofitting public buildings with solar panels, investment in wave, wind, geothermal, HEP and tidal power will produce a sustainable and profitable energy market, liberating communities from the tyrannical energy conglomerates whose unsustainable policies will lead to disaster for a planet and its wildlife, and poverty for 99% of the human species.

References and Further Reading

  1. Soaking up the Sun: (Think Left) Ed Miliband, the Coalition and Climate Change
  2. European Energy review: Oil Companies hype piracy threat for military subsidy
  3. Friends of the Earth: Osborne to Davey I’ll drop subsidy cuts if DECC backs gas
  4. Guardian: Libor-Like manipulation of Gas Markets
  5. Guardian: Second Gas -Price reporter voices concern on Gas price manipulation
  6. UK Government to give tracking the go-ahead
  7. Think Left: Clean Coal (Another Financial Device for the City?)l
  8. Four ways to go beyond Beyond nuclear, Greenpeace
  9. STV News: Community Wind turbine will generate money for local amenities video clips
  10. Renewable Energy, Specifically HVDC Power Grids  

From Think Left:

The Keystone for Society is Democratic Ownership and Control of Energy Supply
Bring me Sunshine! The photovoltaic phenomenon
Clean Coal (Another Financial Device for the City?)
Energy for Somerset: Nuclear or Tidal?
No Green Coalition Efficien-City -Interactive Link
Some of the Scientific Evidence – Climate Change
Renewable Energy, Specifically HVDC Power Grids
Coal is our Heritage not our Future!
Microwave Ovens are Key to Energy Production from Wasted Heat
If you see Sid, on privatisation

Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process.

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As each new lobbying scandal is revealed, it becomes clearer and clearer that much of our so-called ‘democratic’ process is distorted by their hidden and insidious influence.  There should be general outrage at the manner in which vested ‘for profit’ interests are allowed to play such a large part in determining policies which have such potentially damaging, even life-threatening, consequences.  The conflict of interest in the energy companies’ hold over government, juxtaposed to peak oil production and dangerous global climate change, takes the activity of lobbyists into a different league of global nihilism.

Three months before last year’s election, David Cameron described commercial lobbying as the “next big scandal waiting to happen”. He said it had “tainted our politics for too long” and “exposes the far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”.

But in spite of David Cameron’s assertion, there have been many extremely troubling disclosures about lobbying over the last 18 months….  private health providers being deeply involved with Andrew Lansley’s NHS reforms, employment protection insurer, Unum’s help in constructing the Welfare reform bill (1); Atlantic Bridge, Werrity, Liam Fox; and now the boasts of easy access to top Conservatives by PR company, Bell-Pottinger (The Independent 5.12.11).

Freedom of Information requests by Caroline Lucas MP, have also made public the disturbing links between the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the big energy providers (2):

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/05/energy-companies-lend-staff-government?intcmp=239

At least 50 employees of companies including EDF Energy, npower and Centrica have been placed within government to work on energy issues in the past four years, the Guardian can reveal. The staff is provided free of charge and work within the departments for secondments of up to two years.

… Consultancies with major energy practices also supplied expertise, including KPMG and Ernst & Young.

In a bi-lateral manner, civil servants are similarly seconded into energy industries, such as Shell and Horizon Nuclear Power (whose aim is to build nuclear power stations in the UK)… but notably not into the Renewable industries.

“Companies such as the big six energy firms do not lend their staff to government for nothing – they expect a certain degree of influence, insider knowledge and preferential treatment in return,” said Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP. “At such a pivotal time in the UK’s energy and climate change policy, as ministers must get to grips with the realities of climate change, rising costs and energy insecurity, the strong presence of vested interests is a real cause for concern.”

This is of particular currency, given Osborne’s catastrophic Autumn Budget Statement, which provoked a flurry of letters to the Observer (4.12.11) from a broad alliance of countryside campaigners, wildlife groups and green activists.  They accuse George Osborne of a “stunning disregard” for the environment (3).

Osborne told the Commons last Tuesday: “We are not going to save the planet by shutting down our steel mills, aluminium smelters and paper manufacturers. All we will be doing is exporting valuable jobs out of Britain.” … he wanted to ensure that “gold plating of EU rules on things like habitats” was not putting “ridiculous costs” on firms…..

 

With the government outlining cuts in solar energy subsidies, reforming planning regulations and introducing tax support for energy-intensive industries, the chancellor’s rhetoric has infuriated the green lobby. “Following the chancellor’s autumn statement, we can say that the coalition is on a path to becoming the most environmentally destructive government to hold power in this country since the modern environmental movement was born,” states one letter, signed by the green campaigners George Monbiot, Tony Juniper, Jonathon Porritt, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and others.

A second letter, from the heads of the RSPB, Greenpeace and others, says: “The stunning disregard shown for the value of the natural environment not only flies in the face of popular opinion but goes against everything the government said in June, when it launched two major pieces of environmental policy – the natural environment white paper and the England biodiversity strategy.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/03/new-green-alliance-savages-osborne

That the Conservative Party has again revealed itself to be the ‘nasty party’ only interested in profitability, over-exploitation of natural resources and the ‘redistribution of wealth upward… and offshore’, is of little surprise.

However, that it has such total disregard for the findings of climate change scientists is nothing short of homicidal, particularly for those populations dwelling in the climate-vulnerable low lying countries.

New data revealed at the UN climate talks in Durban, show that carbon dioxide levels have increased by 49% since 1990, and this significantly reduces the world’s chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research said (4):

“We need to do something about the 80% of energy that still comes from burning fossil fuels.”

She said the problem was urgent, as the chances of holding global temperature rises to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels (which scientists regard as the limit of safety) beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible, were dependent on emissions peaking by 2020 at the latest.

However, far from abandoning fossil fuels, it is clear that the Tory-LDs are intent on expanding our reliance on gas fired power stations, and ‘crowding out’ renewable energy sources.

‘The construction of new renewable energy generation capacity has fallen dramatically, as the big six energy suppliers pursue a “dash for gas” policy that could put the UK’s climate change targets out of reach and leave households with higher bills.

The number of new wind turbines built this year is down by half on last year….

The pipeline of new projects has also stagnated – this year, 2,058MW of windfarms were submitted for planning permission, compared with 2,080MW in 2010, and the number approved dropped markedly, from 1,366MW in 2010 to 920MW.

This contrasts with the 30GW of new gas-fired power stations that are at planning stage. These will require tens of billions of pounds of investment, coming mostly from the big six energy suppliers.

Although gas is cheaper than renewables at present, the cost of renewables is steadily coming down, and over-reliance on gas is one of the key factors behind high energy bills, according to the government. About 60% of rises in the past year have been the result of the higher cost of fuel imports.’ (5)

This seems to be under the direct influence of gas lobbyists, supported by research from Tony Blair’s favourite consultancy , McKinsey, who argue that ‘gas is green’ because it produces about 50% of CO2 that results from burning coal.  Needless, to say that after installation, renewable energy production of carbon dioxide is virtually zero.  Furthermore, renewable energy poses no security risks, and even with the huge government subsidies given to fossil fuels, it is estimated that they will quickly become cheaper even than coal.(6)

As Michael Meacher writes (7):

And now we learn that nuclear is crowding out renewables.   Total investment in UK renewable energy fell last year by 70%, the £200bn needed to create a low-carbon UK energy sector by 2020 is nowhere to be seen, and fossil-fuel gas-fired power stations are being given the go-ahead everywhere.   The addiction to fossil fuels, so far from being broken, is actually tightening, even though over-dependence on gas exposes Britain to big energy bill rises from high and unpredictable world market prices.

http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2011/12/greenest-government-ever-this-lot-are-deepest-brown/

Julia Steinberger, lecturer in ecological economics at the Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, said (4):

“The economic crisis should have been an opportunity to invest in low-carbon infrastructure for the 21st century. Instead, we fostered a lose-lose situation: carbon emissions rocketing to unprecedented levels, alongside increases in joblessness, energy costs and income disparities. Surely the transition to a green economy has never seemed more appealing.”

And she could have added the one in four living in fuel poverty to her list. 

Next week on 13 December the European Commission will release its 2050 Energy Roadmap that sets up the signposts and the routes that are meant to lead Europe to a decarbonised future. EER’s Brussels correspondent Sonja van Renssen concludes ‘Despite all the modelling, it is the decisions taken by policymakers that will determine what our energy future will look like.’ (8)

And how do politicians determine their policies?  At least part of the answer is given by the journalist behind the Independent’s news story about Bell-Pottnger (9).

‘Although the PR industry claims that it is simply participating in the democratic process and contributing to the public debate it has to conceal most of its activities from public view if it wants to manipulate public opinion and government policy.’

 ‘The most important point is the behind-the-scenes influence. If PR companies are altering Wikipedia pages, manipulating search results to ‘drown out’ negative coverage, setting up fake blogs, writing addresses to the United Nations, that’s disturbing; if they have cosy, unpublicised access to politicians, that’s a scandal.’

For there to be a democratic process in government, there needs to be transparency, and to remove the lobbyists, the transnational consultancies, and the industry placements, completely or at least, much further away from government policy making.

The big six energy providers have government over a barrel, and they do not want to see their profits or power disappear with de-centralised micro-generation of renewable energy;  Hence, Exxons funding of climate deniers discrediting climate scientists; Hence, misinformation about the capacity and security of renewable energy production; Hence, the inflated claims for CCS (carbon, capture and storage).

The Centre for Alternative Technology have developed fully researched blueprints for rapidly de-carbonising the UK by 2030 but they are largely ignored by the political process (10).  ZCB 2030 demonstrates that nuclear, gas-fired power stations, oil and expansion of coal mining are simply not necessary, and, furthermore, are not financially justifiable.

The only purpose that continued use of fossil fuels, serves is in creating profits for, and maintaining the political power base of those, who pay the PR consultancies and lobbyists.

Green capitalism just ‘isn’t working’.. and it is certainly ‘hurting’ the global biosphere. We desperately need politicians who put the needs of people and the environment before the profits of vested interests.

(1)  https://think-left.org/2011/11/22/welfare-reform-and-the-us-insurance-giant-unum/

(2)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/dec/05/energy-companies-lend-staff-government?intcmp=239

(3)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/dec/03/new-green-alliance-savages-osborne 

(4)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/05/carbon-dioxide-emissions-biggest-jump

(5)  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/04/renewableenergy-energy-industry

(6)  https://think-left.org/2011/10/03/‘clean-coal’-another-financial-device-for-the-city-2/

(7)  http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2011/12/greenest-government-ever-this-lot-are-deepest-brown/

(8)  http://www.europeanenergyreview.eu/site/pagina.php?id=3400

(9)  http://www.thethunderer.org.uk/2011/12/06/bell-pottinger-and-the-bureau/

(10)  https://think-left.org/2011/07/27/the-feasibility-of-renewable-energy-with-specific-reference-to-the-establishment-of-hvdc-power-grids/

https://think-left.org/2011/10/21/bring-me-sunshine-the-photovoltaic-phenomenon/

https://think-left.org/2011/09/25/the-black-stuff-was-our-heritage-green-is-our-future/

Postscript:  With all the sophisticated ‘smoke and mirrors’ that constitutes current political practice, it is little wonder that a psychiatrist in Ireland has suggested putting Lithium in the water supply to cheer us all up.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/shortcuts/2011/dec/05/should-we-put-lithium-in-water

Some of the Scientific Evidence for Climate Change.

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Following our recent series of posts on the environmental impacts of burning coal, it seems appropriate to confront the climate deniers and sceptics with some of the relevant scientific research indicating that climate is being affected by ‘man-made’ greenhouse gas emissions … and not a ‘hockey stick’ in sight.

Personally, I have always considered the climate debate a bit of a distraction from the ordinary common sense of living sustainably, of not wasting resources and, much more importantly the inevitability of peak oil production within the next few years … but for those who are doubtful or persuaded by the oil-funded spin of the deniers … here is another in our series of ‘pictures speak louder than words’.

The marxist theorist, Van der Pijl, suggests that increased resistance to the imposition of capitalist discipline is the incapacity of society and nature to sustain continual commodification and exploitation.  Elliot and Atkinson coin the phrase ‘ecocidal neoliberalism’.

However… any follower of Dr Who knows that bringing two parts of the time continuum together spells disaster.  Releasing the vast quantities of carbon dioxide captured 400 million years ago into today’s atmosphere is just such a threat.  We need to close the ‘portal in the fabric of time’ and leave fossil fuels safely locked away where they formed.

For a superb review of the evidence, and the source of the graphs below:

http://www.skepticalscience.com/The-Scientific-Guide-to-Global-Warming-Skepticism.html

Related Think Left posts:

Peak Oil, NeoLiberalism and Think Left
Coal is our Heritage not our Future! (Pam Field)
The Coal-ition (Liam Carr)
Clean Coal (Another Financial Device for the City?) ( Dr Sue Davies) 
Renewable Energy, Specifically HVDC Power Grids (Dr. Sue Davies)
Soaking up the Sun: Ed Miliband, the Coalition and Climate Change