Corporate Agenda as a Barrier to Activism
This short piece explores how corporations' agendas can create huge obstacles for activists and their vital work in tackling the climate crisis.
By now it is more commonly known that, since 1988, 100 companies have been responsible for over 70% of carbon emissions globally. Fossil fuel companies have known of the risks that their products pose to the environment since 1965 at least. So why do they continue to pollute our world with no regard for the fact that they are highly responsible for driving the climate crisis?
Fossil fuel companies appear to be making pledges to reduce their climate impact similar to the supposed commitments that governments from wealthy countries make at climate summits, such as the recent COP26. However, the goals set out by fossil fuel companies are either set to be met too far in the future, or simply not impactful enough to change the course of the climate crisis. It was recently reported that, even if adhered to, the pledges of the Paris Agreement from 2015 would still see an increase of 2.4°C in warming, nearly a whole degree more than the 1.5°C rise that is the limit set to curb the climate crisis.
An example of this is that of the oil companies, Shell and BP, who both pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The target of 2050 is far too late as global emissions need to be slashed by at least 45% by 2030 if we are to stay within the 1.5°C goal. Nonetheless, recently Shell pulled its funding from the proposed, new Cambo oilfield situated just north of Scotland, which has put the going ahead of the project into question. This is a huge success for climate activists who have been campaigning against the installation of this oilfield for years. And yet, why is it that these extremely powerful fossil fuel companies are not choosing to constantly prioritise changes in their projects that will positively impact the environment?
Corporations and greenwashing
Mikaela Loach accuses fossil fuel corporations of constantly lying because they are..
“extractivist neo-colonialists who only care about profit and don’t care about people or the planet”.
Indeed, Western capitalism is a massive driver of the climate crisis because capitalism focuses on quick, short-term gains and profits. Changing habits and thus having to find slower and longer-term sustainable investment solutions stands in opposition to the instant gratification (with disregard for potential consequences further down the line) that capitalism has created in Western society.
In addition, large polluting companies are guilty of shifting responsibility surrounding climate action onto the individual and regularly greenwashing and acting performatively under the guise of doing good for the planet. For example, many airline companies rely on pushing the option to ‘offset emissions’ onto passengers in order to keep their carbon emissions low. However, this practice both strips the airlines themselves of responsibility and means that these companies can commit to seemingly positive actions, such as planting trees, to offset and supposedly counteract their other harmful emissions.
Yet, this leads us back to the concept of net zero carbon emissions, which, as discussed in a previous blog post on COP26, is a manner of greenwashing. This is because the stable carbon residing in unburned fossil fuels is not equal to the carbon that remains in the atmosphere after fossil fuels have been burned, despite being offset.
Progress is possible
There is still hope, however, as solar and wind energy is really taking off and becoming increasingly cheaper, even more so than fossil fuels. Through constant lobbying and climate activism, activist groups can and do make a difference, as we have seen with Shell and the Cambo oil field. Even striking employees at Amazon in 2019 caused Jeff Bezos to agree to using green energy exclusively by 2030.
What can you do?
Change can feel slow, and the performativity of governments and large companies can feel demoralising at times. However, we cannot give up on taking action and applying pressure on corporations to do better. Change will happen faster if more and more people come together to demand action because only together can we make more of an impact. Together we can help each other break down the barriers to activism.
If you are in need of some inspiration and encouragement on how you can get involved in climate groups and entering activist spaces, have a listen to this episode of The Yikes Podcast. Of course, you can also reach out to us here at SCOOP UK and get involved in many different ways.