Fossil fuel companies are harming us a lot


Internal emails, recently unearthed by the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, show none other than a media lead for Shell, wishing “bedbugs” upon us, youth climate activists from the Sunrise Movement. And we’re not surprised.

The history of the fossil fuel industry is a history of lying and colonialism. As far back as 1979, Exxon knew their continued exploitation of fossil fuels would cause unparalleled damage to the climate, to the environment, and to all life on this planet. They responded with a multi-year cover-up, hiding their research. Once the reality of the crisis came to light, they ran enormous advertisement campaigns claiming the science was “unsettled” and exclaiming “who told you the earth was warming.”

A new publication assessing fossil fuel companies’ climate projections confirms that what Exxon claimed publicly “contradicted its own scientific data.” In fact, our world is warming — and at a catastrophic rate, with pollution from burning fossil fuels causing more than 21,000 deaths every day and climate-caused disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and droughts killing millions more every year.

After seeding doubt around the science, and thus blockading the necessary timely action, major companies like British Petroleum and Chevron shifted to a “greenwashing” business model: Outwardly claiming they were “green” companies, and attempting to shift the blame of the climate crisis onto individuals while continuing the exploitation leading us toward apocalyptical disaster.

However, the fossil fuel industry is not simply destroying the planet, not simply destroying humanity, but is full of deceitful and depraved companies acting against the interests of humanity.

Fossil fuel companies continue to bring in record profits. In just three months, Shell raked in $9.45 billion in profit, and ExxonMobil brought in $19.7 billion while working Americans were paying a sky-high price of gas at the pump. Their profits come at the expense of us who must pay that price.

They consistently take the actions that will best protect their profits without any regard for their customers’ lives, from pipelines built through “vulnerable” communities to illegally dumping pollution or poisoning the water of multitudes of communities nationwide.

The fossil fuel industry cares unduly about their profit and power. And they’re willing to lie for it.

In response to the mass climate strikes of 2019, many companies like British Petroleum announced pledges to reduce their emissions to meet a crucial goal of net-zero by 2050. These pledges were just words, with no plan to actualize them. British Petroleum rebranded itself “Beyond Petroleum,” yet internal documents found by the U.S. House Oversight Committee last September highlighted how this campaign could, in truth, “enable the full use of fossil fuels across the energy transition and beyond.”

This strategy, practiced by fossil fuel companies, is inspired largely by the tobacco industry. Fossil fuel companies employ the same researchers used by tobacco to inform their greenwashing campaigns. They also use the same tactics: Pouring money into universities researching the climate crisis and, as the committee says, trying “to create the impression that they are taking ambitious steps to reduce emissions — without actually doing so,” exactly tobacco’s approach toward the deadly risks associated with their products.

The tobacco industry’s greed and willingness to lie led to a 40-year delay in action and a role in tens of millions of tobacco-caused deaths. The fossil fuel and tobacco industries may each be responsible for as many as one-fifth of deaths each year. It is horrifying to think what the final cost of the fossil fuel industry’s utilization of tobacco’s murderous tactics will be.

Fossil fuel executives often justify their actions by saying they are taken in order to enrich shareholders via dividends. In truth, this is not justification at all. Shareholders are not representative of the general public. In 2021, the top 10 percent of shareholders owned 89 percent of all stocks.

The fossil fuel industry’s true constituents should be its customers, most of whom cannot hold significant shares in the company.

When the fossil fuel industry’s greed causes high prices, lying, or pipelines through sacrifice zones, it is always their customers — the people they are supposed to be serving — who are harmed.

Let it be crystal clear: The fossil fuel industry does not hold the answer to the climate crisis. These companies will not leave behind the fossil fuels that have brought them outsized profit and power while dragging us toward disaster.

The answer to the climate crisis is to fight the fossil fuel industry — we are not going down without a fight, and this is a fight we must win.

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie recently introduced S.9612, which allows people to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their decades of pollution and lies. This bill enables people to sue companies involved in fossil fuels for “climate negligence” if the company has harmed them, including by engaging in greenwashing, thus ensuring that New Yorkers have a way to hold to account the companies that are destroying our only livable planet and lying to our faces.

Bold governmental action, like S.9612, is necessary to stop the deadly, deceptive, and bedbug-wishing companies that are known as the fossil fuel industry. Call your legislators.


The author is a member of Sunrise Movement NYC, a group of young people who advocate for the Green New Deal, and more sustainable living

Keanu Arpels-Josiah, fossil fuel, environment, accountability, U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform