Breaking Oil

Bianca Jagger – Breaking Oil, NextLevel Magazine, Edition 02 Volume 01, 2002

As we find ourselves waging war in a greenhouse, Bianca Jagger argues that the Stop Esso Campaign holds unique potential to brake the root cause.

If we don’t cut greenhouse gas emissions deeply in the years ahead, global warming will spread a rising tide of economic and environmental devastation across nations with just as awesome a firepower as B-52s.

As long as a decade ago a multi-government panel warned the impacts of global warming would be “second only to nuclear war” if we don’t cut greenhouse-gas emissions deeply. Take just two of these impacts. Proliferating climate disasters in the 1990s have left top insurers publicly fearful that their industry will be bankrupted. The world’s biggest reinsurance company has warned that the shock of this trillion dollar global industry going under will bring down the capital markets. Temperature-sensitive coral reefs, the second most diverse ecosystem on the planet, began showing worrying signs of heat stress in the early 1990s. Today they are dying in anomalously warm waters in every ocean basin, and face extinction within just decades.

We should face it squarely. We are locked into a suicidal cycle that is at once ecocidal and – how can we escape the conclusion? – genocidal. The citizens of the drowning Pacific atoll nation Tuvalu, who today are packing their bags to leave their homeland for New Zealand, accused the industrial nations of “cultural” genocide in the UN as long ago as 1993 because of our fossil-fuel profligacy. We didn’t stop or even slow the burning then, even though a quarter of the UN member governments – the Alliance of Small Island States – was pleading with us to do so. We have not slowed it since. Now half of Europe seems to be under water as the worst floods for a century sweep down not just one but several major rivers across half a dozen countries.

Will this circle of death whirl us round from one oil-and-gas war and climatic catastrophe to the next until the planet is cooked, or will developments emerge capable of braking the circle, and creating space for an alternative outcome? On the answer to this question will hinge the fate of civilization.

One development rich in possibilities is the StopEsso campaign. ExxonMobil, or Esso, as it is known outside the USA, holds outstandingly the worst record on global warming in the oil sector. It is alone among the oil giants in denying the existence of the enhanced-greenhouse problem, and asserting that investment in renewable energy is not needed. Long after BP, Shell and Texaco stopped paying lobbyists to block the climate negotiations, Exxon has continued to do so. Its approach to commercially inconvenient scientific information about its product rivals the worst of the tobacco companies. It played a major role in putting an oilman in the White House, and is unapologetic about the scandalous relaxation of pollution rules that was one of his first payback acts. It lobbied the White House to get the American Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change kicked out of his post for saying global warming is a problem, and succeeded.

The Brent Spar campaign against Shell which, in 1996, led to a historic step-change in boardroom thinking about the environment, was a campaign about dumping oil platforms, something that all oil companies were happy to do at the time. The Stop Esso campaign is different. Now, for the first time in corporate history, consumers across the world have picked on a company with a boycott campaign aiming to force it, at minimum, into line with the rest of its sector.

To succeed, the campaigners may only need to impact Exxon’s turnover a little. Indeed, the campaign might succeed even if the company’s mountainous sales aren’t noticeably affected. The constant drumbeat of negative publicity alone may cause major shareholders to call for a u-turn. If that happens, the corporate world will never be the same again. Every big company in the world will be seeking to ensure consumers can never gang up on it as an environmental foot-dragger.

The renewable micropower technologies remain dwarfed by oil, gas and coal despite all we know about the threat of global warming. Yet their potential is vast and uncontroversial. In a u-turn by Exxon might just lie the spark of hope capable of igniting the micropower revolution. With that, faster than most people think possible, can come release from dependence on overseas oil, and escape from the worst of global warming’s impacts.

There might be no better way for an individual or organisation to take a shot at breaking the circle of death than by taking a shot at Exxon.

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