Thursday, May 26

It is time to nationalize Shell. Private oil companies are no longer fit for purpose | Johanna Bozuwa and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò


IIt has been a bad month for the big oil companies. A Dutch court has just ruled that Shell must cut your carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. The court’s decision has been rightly celebrated: it is a much stricter requirement than the ineffective regulations imposed to date. Meanwhile, shareholders are waging rebellions at several oil giants: ExxonMobil shareholders won two board seats to pressure the oil company toward a greener strategy, and Chevron and ConocoPhillips shareholders approved. non-binding resolutions pressure companies to disclose their lobbying efforts and amounts of emissions.

Private oil and gas companies are finally up against the wall. Shell has promised to appeal the Dutch court’s decision, but oil prices turned negative last month and put companies on bankruptcy notice, and last week the International Energy Agency said that stop digging. Politicians have raised the idea of ​​oil and gas tycoons becoming “carbon management companies“As a way for those companies to have a” future in a low-carbon world “while maintaining control over oil, gas and profits on a planet increasingly aware of and hostile to their emission-generating activity.

But when it comes to the Dutch court ruling or the new onslaught of shareholder activism, neither goes far enough. Nor should Shell become a “carbon management company”. Like all private oil companies, Shell should not exist.

Oil and gas companies are a political structure: they have an authoritarian and private dominance over the rate and volume of oil and gas production and, therefore, over important determinants of global emissions. These emissions and their consequences do not respect any type of public / private distinction, nor borders, nor the right to clean air or clean water. For decades, private oil companies intentionally and recklessly they concealed their role in the destruction of countless local environments, as well as their role in the global climate crisis.

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Private oil companies have propped up a constantly bankrupt business in a complex system of national and international government. subsidies– all of which work to privatize the benefits of oil and gas production while socializing its financial, environmental and social costs, causing the public to pay in tax dollars, human rights abuses and an uninhabitable climate. Now that these companies fear being left behind by a changing political context, their public relations strategy is to insist to a public increasingly aware of the urgent need to stop carbon emissions that there is still a place for private oil companies in a “green” world.

There it is a role for him workers their skills and knowledge; and the equipment and infrastructure of oil and gas companies. But there is no longer a role for business or the pursuit of profit as the organizing principle of this aspect of human society, not if we want to continue to have a human society.

Under continuous private management, the most likely scenario is that Shell will delay and defer action as long as the company can get away with removing workers without a safety net and contaminating extraction sites. Similarly, the success of the small shareholder “coup” at ExxonMobil probably has less to do with a genuine desire to save the environment and more to do with the company’s back-to-back billions. quarterly losses.

But the liquidation of a major industry should not be limited by the need to make money. Governments like the Netherlands could better fulfill mandates to reduce emissions if they had control over the oil companies themselves. It is time to nationalize the big oil companies.

Public ownership alone does not guarantee that we will completely replace oil and gas with renewable energy in time to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. As detractors of public property often point out, three-quarters of the world’s oil reserves are already owned by states rather than private companies, which are far from immune to corruption. But we do not defend public property because it is a magic formula, we defend it because it is our only chance.

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The math of profits is as clear as the math of climate: Corporations exist to generate profits and enrich shareholders, and both require that they produce their product. No amount of shareholder activism can do better than slow or dampen the pace at which corporations pursue this basic mandate. The “market-based solutions”, in this case, are a contradiction in terms: the market it is the problem.

If we are going to limit climate change, we have to take the very unprofitable step of virtually eliminating emissions. There is no way to square the pace and depth of necessary emission reductions with the dictates of the pursuit of profit – Shell’s best scientists have already done so. tried and failed. Government organizations, serving more interests than profit, are our only resource. Moreover, companies such as Shell or ExxonMobil nationalized today would be hired with an express mandate to liquidate their assets, not to fill the coffers of the national government.

This means that governments would manage the decline of companies based on social benefit. They could hire Shell workers to reverse their infrastructure to reduce or even return carbon to the soil rather than extracting it for profit. For example, workers could upgrade their skills on offshore oil rigs to build coastal winds production. With the little carbon production left, the government should decide the most equitable way to distribute that oil and gas and limit the damage as much as possible. Even considering responsibilities beyond profit, countries with nationalized production, especially in the Global South, will need a good reason to empty fossil fuel assets They have paid off much of the world’s wealth, especially in countries that depend on extraction for public revenue. Debt cancellation, proposed by the Latin American Ecosocial Pact of the SouthIt could allow oil-dependent countries to build less destructive forms of energy and continue to fund necessary social services. Moving both political and financial capital will be a big task; if we don’t have institutions for work, we should create them.

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This is also an opportunity to help communities that have been subject, in some cases for decades, to the unpleasant side effects of extraction – from Groningen fractured gas tremors to Ogoniland’s Water contamination – and support them in building a new type of economy.

Divorcing energy profit incentives doesn’t just have to be a game to end fossil fuels. It is an opportunity to build from a private supply chain and extraction something completely different: an energy system for the next decades. Community-level public control over new renewable energy could also be critical to creating and maintaining an energy system that treats access to clean energy as a human right, supports all families (not just white and rich) to face extreme climatic events that can become more and more frequent, and faces the extraction of wealth head on.

Nationalization is the world’s best chance to dismantle a recalcitrant industry in time to avoid climate disaster. And it is an opportunity to build something better in its place.

  • Johanna Bozuwa is the Co-Director of the Climate and Energy Program at Democracy Collaborative

  • Olúfẹ́mi O Táíwò is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University.


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