The fossil industry’s public relations master stroke has been to convince citizens that we share equal blame for the climate crisis, when the majority of the world’s population has a tiny carbon footprint and 20 colossal fossils have produced 35% of global emissions since 1965, author and activist George Monbiot argues in a blistering opinion piece for The Guardian.
Many of the same companies are now plotting another 35% increase in oil production by 2030, in a strategy to generate one last, big surge of profits and emissions before demand for their product collapses, The Guardian reports.
“They knew what they were doing,” Monbiot writes, citing this week’s Guardian series on fossil industry pollution. “Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause ‘catastrophic’ consequences, the oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded think tanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organizations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the U.S. Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image.”
That sustained, deliberate effort continues to this day, Monbiot says, with the world’s biggest fossils creating “the misleading impression that they’re switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy,” when they’re still investing orders of magnitude more in oil and gas.
“In response to The Guardian’s questions, some of the oil companies argued that they are not responsible for our decisions to use their products,” he adds. “But we are embedded in a system of their creation—a political, economic, and physical infrastructure that creates an illusion of choice while, in reality, closing it down.”
Monbiot points to an ideology of consumerism that is “familiar and pervasive”, compounded by a “corporate celebrity culture” and by a media narrative that “casts us as the recipients of goods and services rather than the creators of political reality. It is locked in by transport, town planning, and energy systems that make good choices all but impossible. It spreads like a stain through political systems, which have been systematically captured by lobbying and campaign finance, until political leaders cease to represent us, and work instead for the pollutocrats who fund them.”
That kind of system drowns out individual choices and makes boycotts “notoriously difficult” to organize. Moreover, “the ideology of consumerism is highly effective at shifting blame: witness the current ranting in the billionaire press about the alleged hypocrisy of environmental activists. Everywhere I see rich westerners blaming planetary destruction on the birth rates of much poorer people, or on ‘the Chinese’. This individuation of responsibility, intrinsic to consumerism, blinds us to the real drivers of destruction.”
Monbiot pivots to some of the research on mass mobilizations, concluding that large, non-violent protests hold out “at least a possibility of breaking the infrastructure of lies the fossil fuel companies have created, and developing a politics matched to the scale of the challenges we face.” Even if the approach is “difficult and uncertain of success,” he adds, “the chances that politics as usual will meet our massive predicament with effective action are zero. Mass dilemma actions could be our last, best chance of preventing the great extermination.”