The Contribution of Top Corporations to Climate Change

Written by Kaylee.

Our planet is undoubtedly amid a climate crisis that started during the Industrial Revolution and continues today. Before fuel-powered machines were invented in the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s, global CO2 levels remained relatively consistent.

Throughout Earth’s history, the concentration of greenhouse gases has varied in a spike-like pattern. However, when humans introduced the factor of greenhouse gas emissions as we started burning fossil fuels and other pollutants, the global CO2 concentration began to rise at an unnatural rate, thus increasing global temperatures, the sea level, and the rates of certain natural disasters such as wildfires, floods and hurricanes. This is what climate change is.

Taken from UCSD, 2020

The increasing rate of global CO2 concentration rose over time. As new technology was developed to utilize fossil fuels, humans gradually became more dependent on the gases, either to power their homes or provide them with jobs.

Certain companies dramatically expanded as fossil fuels became increasingly available and popular due to its affordability. Today, there are 20 companies that have contributed to about 35% of all energy-related CO2 emissions.

Taken from The Guardian, 2020

90% of the “emissions attributed to the top 20 climate culprits were from the use of their products, such as petrol, jet fuel, natural gas, and thermal coal. One-tenth came from extracting, refining, and delivering the finished fuels” (Revealed). These companies are not solely responsible for the significant increase in global CO2 concentration and the climate crisis at hand. Any organization that bought products from these companies is a part of our climatastrophy. Even individuals who choose to purchase and use products created by these irresponsible companies play a role in global warming.

8 out of 20 companies are investor-owned, with Chevron, Exxon, BP, and Shell contributing to over 10% of CO2 emissions since 1965. Perhaps, this is partly due to investors not factoring in climate-change risks when making investments, or that climate change was not universally accepted as fact in most of the 1900s.

Many investor-owned companies deliberately attempt to foil government plans involving emission regulation laws by participating in corporate lobbying. This is separated into several parts. The first part is the denial of the industrial impact on climate change while accepting its existence. Simultaneously, the company releases advertisements focused on the negative economic impacts of such regulations. The company also contributes money to or promises to contribute money to the campaigns of politicians that oppose these regulations. The more the company negatively contributes to our climate crisis, the more money they spend on corporate lobbying, particularly to influence elections and hire organizations to file lawsuits against emission regulation bills.

Taken from The Guardian, 2019

To ensure climate policies are enacted, we, as a society, must pressure these corporations to publicly recognize the key role they play in stimulating climate change. Public companies have far greater of an influence on politics than a single individual has due to the sheer amount of money spent on corporate lobbying. Their unproportional influence on the government is partly why the global greenhouse gas concentration is increasing instead of stabilizing.

Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil producers and most profitable companies, is state-owned by Saudi Arabia. Despite Saudi Arabia signing the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, this company is at the top of the total historical CO2 emissions list. Saudi Arabia financially relies on the oil giant as it accounts for 87% of its budget revenue, giving the country reason to be hesitant towards reducing its emissions. 

These state-owned companies largely follow the guidelines imposed by their country. For instance, PetroChina did not submit to the global public pressure regarding their emission standards until the Chinese government proposed “[a] low-carbon development strategy proposed” (Climate) that they implemented. They made no change until their government told them to. 

8 of the 20 companies published statements regarding the recent revelations about their emission levels, all of which promote the use of low carbon-goals. Companies such as Petrobras and Peabody Energy stated that they have begun investing in alternate ways of making money such as carbon capture and solar energy due to the threat of climate change. Although they did not cite their reasoning, this change is likely due to public outrage over carbon emissions.

A given company follows one simple rule: make money. Until the effects of climate change negatively impact their revenue, most companies will not take dramatic action against climate change.

Despite the stark reality of climate change, it’s not feasible for any of these companies to immediately begin strict emission regulations. They have become a vital part of our daily lives from heating our houses to providing fuel for our cars, evident by how in the face of the greatest threat to Earth, the majority of the population is still complicit with these 20 companies and uses their products daily.

Chevron alone employs about 50,000 people, most of whom will lose their jobs if Chevron immediately begins to impose stricter regulations upon itself. Despite the threat of climate change, other factors rightly contribute to a company’s decision about imposing new standards and regulations. Many companies believe that it’s unreasonable to lay off a large percentage of their workforce to combat climate change. Is it even ethical? This is one of the many questions we must ask ourselves as we strive to combat climate change.

Many organizations have begun a gradual increase in regulations and investment into green energy over a period of decades to ensure that their finances won’t collapse and their employees will not suffer financial hardship, something especially important to keep in mind in the time of the coronavirus pandemic.

While we wait for these companies to transition towards greener energy sources, we must keep the pressure on these companies to do so. Instead of being a part of the problem, could we be a part of the solution?


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