Opinion

Polluting and Laughing

A demonstration against climate change in South Africa, October 2019.
AFP

Last week the scientists from the Climate Accountability Institute in the United States published an in-depth study they had conducted in the past year. Its results, published in newspapers worldwide, reveal an infuriating picture of egregious injustice toward us, the inhabitants of the Earth. Their calculations of carbon emissions indicate that one third of greenhouse gases disrupting our existence on Earth are a result of the activities of just 20 energy corporations.

Everyone knows the names of these economic giants, and most of us also use the energy they produce, whether to fuel cars, operate air conditioners or fly an airplane from which we have just disembarked. The corporations include Chevron, Exxon, British Petroleum, Saudi Aramco, and Gazprom.

Two things stand out on this dubious list. One is absolutely infuriating. These corporations were aware already in the mid-1960s of the fact that their product has a destructive effect on the health of the planet, and that it makes a huge contribution to climate change, but that didn’t cause them to discontinue their activity or change course. On the contrary, it only impelled them to put more pressure on public opinion, in the guise of lobbyists, campaigns, and lawyers; a lot of money, resources and energy invested in order to conceal from us the great injustice of their activities.

Another infuriating detail that emerges from the list is that 12 of the 20 corporations are under government ownership (and responsible for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions). Are you familiar with the claim by governments that they really want to reduce global warming, but encounter economic obstacles. In other words, “It’s not us, it’s the free market”?

Well, it is the governments. In a big way. Incidentally in Israel, too, among the polluting companies on our local list you’ll find the government-owned Israel Electric Corporation, along with private companies such as Bazan, Paz, Delek, Sonol and Dor Alon. Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, said in response to the study that “the great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price – in the form of a degraded planet – so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.”

The original sin that makes this failure possible is called GDP (Gross Domestic Product). We have learned to measure economic growth and development based on raw local production. We were told that development is a linear increase in the GDP index, and that it’s a logical tool through which to observe the world. In fact, GDP calculates profits from various projects as though they were revenues enjoyed by all citizens, while in fact they reach only a few private hands.

What’s more, the environmental damage caused by these projects is not included in the calculation of GDP, and is paid by all of us, although few of us cause it. If it weren’t a tragedy, we could have called it a brilliant idea.

And while we, as individuals, are making a (justified and worthy!) effort to reduce the damage that we are personally doing to the environment, the people heading the coal, oil and gas corporations are polluting our Earth, and laughing hysterically all the way to the devastation.