I listent to a podcast by Vox Conversations on the Limit of Forgiveness. Growing up in apartheid South Africa Lucy Allais witnessed first-hand the limits of forgiveness before researching it. Can you forgive oppression? Can you forgive the people who enabled this institutionalised power system to exist?
This led me to reflect on my view of petroleum companies. What should they become? What can they become?
This two-part series will focus on setting the context first then asking whether we can forgive and exploring the alternatives.
Some oil companies such as Orsted have done a full 180 from an oil company to a sustainable energy company aiming to generate “zero carbon” by 2025. From 2009 the company aimed to switch to mainly renewable energies then selling all of their oil and gas assets and rebranding as Orsted. Enel has also pushed it’s operations away from oil. On the other side, oil companies such as Shell, Exxon, Chevron or BP who are still heavily investing in oil exploration and not aiming for a radical change or commitment in their activities.
Oil companies have been providing the world with energy and transportation fuel while constantly overlooking environmental degradation and human rights.
To gauge the forgiveness I want to ponder on the level of environmental and human right breaches they have to redempt themselves from.
A few aspects of their operations pose questions to the extent of their doings :
- Shell is responsible for 1.67% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions from 1988 to 2015. In fact, 100 of the oil producers are responsible for 71% of industrial greenhouse gas emissions between 1988 and 2015
- Fossil fuel companies and their products have released more emissions in the last 28 years than in the 237 years prior to 1988
- Oil giants knew about the climate emergency they were creating since 1986
- They have repetitively caused marine harm through spills
- Human right have been slandered when oil rigs explode, support to the Russian government, abuse to indigenous communities
- Corruption is rife. For instance, Total was found to have bribed Iraqi officials to secure a pipeline during Sadam Hussein’s regime
These companies are led by groups of individuals who establish teams of representatives (the board) and executives to continue the legacy and operations of the company. This could put the responsibility on the individuals or on the company. So far, no precedent has been set in environmental law advocating for personal responsibility of the teams over wrongdoing but a corporate responsibility.
Despite marketing claims about moving away from fossil fuels, most energy giants are still investing mainly in fossil fuels through further exploration.
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