Wile E. Coyote and the Climate Changer
In 1948, animation director Chuck Jones and writer Michael Maltese first created the classic Looney Tunes duo of cartoon characters Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
From the start, Jones assigned what he called “disciplines” to the characters. These were simply character traits and plot models. They included standards such as the fact that the Road Runner can never hurt the Coyote, the Coyote can only hurt himself, and that the setting must always take place in a natural environment, particularly the American Southwest desert.
Among the “disciplines” for Wile E. Coyote was this: The Coyote is a fanatic.
As described by the Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana, “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.”
That certainly describes Wile E. Coyote well — as it does many of the political and social fanatics of today.
Now, I won't deny there are fanatics amid all topics of debate. And there are fanatics who take all sides of all topics of debate.
Whether you're talking about Bitcoin, abortion, football, religion, or whatever, you're going to find fanatics in any debate. So I'm not just picking on one group here. I recognize fanaticism isn't isolated to one particular mindset. But it seems that among the most fanatical groups today are the climate change advocates.
Today's environmentalists are doubling downing on their efforts while forgetting their original aim. Let me explain...
A new study by the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI) claims just 20 oil and gas companies are responsible for over one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions.
The research, conducted by Richard Heede at the CAI, is based on oil and gas production of the world's largest oil companies over the past 55 years and the subsequent emissions resulting in the production and use of those fuels.
Heede's analysis says fossil fuel and cement emissions totaled 1,354 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent between 1965 and 2018. The report claims, “The twenty largest investor-owned and state-owned fossil fuel companies produced carbon fuels that emitted 35% of the global total.”
Topping the lineup of the "terrible 20" are the usual suspects like Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, as well as state-owned organizations Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil Co., and Pemex.
The latest analysis expands on Heede's previous work — which, as far as I can tell, has two primary goals:
- Attribute responsibility of carbon emissions (and thus climate change) to fossil fuel companies
- Dissociate responsibility of carbon emissions to consumers
And that's important to note: Heede is not only trying to charge oil and gas companies with carbon emissions, but his efforts also attempt to disconnect the consumer from the responsibility of carbon emissions. It's a two-pronged effort.
On why the responsibility for carbon emissions should be attributed to the oil and gas industry, Heede wrote in a previous article:
Why attribute responsibility on companies that, in their own words, provide materials in high demand and that fuel social and economic progress? Because these companies have a moral and legal obligation to warn consumers and society if their products are defective or dangerous. They operate with at-risk social operating licenses, and motivated to burnish their brands.
Of course, it's true many companies have a legal obligation to warn consumers if their products are dangerous. Everyone knows that pharmaceutical companies, for example, are required to inform the market of side effects. Tobacco companies have to give warnings about cancer. And it's common knowledge that financial institutions must warn investors about risk. There are lots of examples.
But an obligation on the part of oil and gas companies to warn consumers about the environmental effects resulting from the use of their products is an entirely different ball of wax.
Firstly, that's because there is no precedent for it. There is no other company or industry that's required to warn consumers of the environmental effects resulting from the use of their products.
Of course there are federal and state laws that regulate emissions, pollution, and other things that affect the environment. And there are even laws that flat-out ban the use of certain chemicals, like CFCs used in aerosol cans and PCBs used in dielectric and coolant fluids. But there is no legal obligation for companies to warn consumers about the environmental impact from the use of their products.
Wait, what about ExxonMobil?
Shareholders demanded Exxon include carbon liability estimate in its annual reports. So it did. That was not a legal requirement. It was more of a PR move.
Okay, but what about a moral obligation?
Well, that's subjective.
But what I can say for sure is this: If we do require oil and gas companies to warn consumers about the environmental impact of the use of fossil fuels, then why wouldn't we also require every other industry to warn consumers about the environmental footprint of their products, too?
If BP has to tell us how its products have a negative environmental impact, why shouldn't Starbucks be legally required to warn consumers that production of its products also has adverse environmental effects?
Or why shouldn't Walt Disney be required to tell me how much carbon its theme parks created last year?
Some might answer: Maybe they should be.
But as is, there is no other industry on which we've placed a regulation that requires warning consumers about the environment impact resulting from the use of their products.
And there's a pretty good reason for that: 100% of every company and industry on the planet makes an environmental impact. If we required oil and gas companies to warn consumers about the environmental impact of the use of fossil fuels, there'd be no reason not to require every other industry to warn consumers about the environmental footprint of their products, too.
Again, some might respond: Maybe every industry should be required to state their environmental footprint.
Honestly, I'd be fine with that — just as long as the regulation exists for everyone, not just oil and gas companies.
And that includes individuals — particularly those most vocal about climate change.
Turns out one of Mr. Heede's personal hobbies is flying. According to the CAI website, he flies a 1958 Cessna 182 (like the one below). These planes typically operate on aviation gasoline (Avgas), which is leaded!!!
The guy is going around blaming oil and gas companies for carbon emissions while burning leaded fuel in his airplane!
The CAI website says he offsets his lead pollution by living in a "passive-solar rammed-earth home." But it provides no details on the formula used to prove Heede has, in fact, offset his carbon use with this home. Moreover, it seems that if Heede really cared about fuel emissions, he would just choose a different hobby.
Are oil and gas companies partly responsible for carbon emissions?
Of course they are.
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But here's what Heede and many others want to ignore: Consumers are responsible, too.
Let's imagine for one minute that Mr. Heede got his way decades ago. And let's imagine that well before you were born, the federal government passed legislation requiring oil and gas companies to warn you about the environmental impact resulting from the burning of fossil fuels.
So now when you go to the gas station, there's a little sign attached to the pump that reads something like this:
Mr. Heede's fantasy has come true. And was it a huge deal for the oil and gas companies? No. It was simply a matter of putting little warning labels on gas pumps.
Now, the oil and gas companies are warning you that putting this fuel in your tank and burning it will have adverse environmental impacts. The warning is crystal clear here. There's no subjectivity.
But now here's the question: Is that environmental warning going to stop you from filling up?
Answer honestly; no one is listening.
But make a decision quickly because your kids are screaming the back seat of the car: Fill up the tank and drop the kids off at school, or make an environmentally conscience decision? Which is it?
Were you really unaware that using fossil fuels polluted before climate change was heavily debated?
Again, please answer honestly... no one is listening.
No. Like me, you've known all along that buying the biggest gas-guzzling vehicle and burning thousands of gallons of fuel in it wasn't good for the environment. This is not recent news to you... or me.
And like me, even though you've known fossil fuel emissions are pollutants, you've continued to use them.
If ever you became concerned about your environmental impact, you simply brushed it off by considering someone else who's polluting more.
I'm pretty sure that in Journalism 101, they teach you never to blame the reader for anything. But you and I both know that's what happened. Hell, it's still happening. We're both still doing it.
Point is, consumers already know that burning fossil fuels isn't good for the environment. They don't need to be informed about that from the oil and gas industry.
And even though they know this, they still burn fossil fuels.
Similarly, we knew smoking put people on the fast track for lung cancer way before the tobacco companies were forced to admit it. Yet people still bought and smoked cigarettes.
Hell, even after the tobacco companies were forced to warn the public about the adverse health effects of smoking, people still do it.
So even if the oil and gas companies were to tell the market about the dangerous aspects of their products, people would still use fossil fuels.
And that's what Heede and many others are trying to deny.
In previous writings, Heede summarizes, saying, “It is not simply nations and consumers that are responsible for climatic changes and the ensuing damages to nature, wealth, and security, but the fossil fuel producers, too.”
Again, we accept that the oil and gas industry is partly responsible greenhouse gas emissions.
But we contend that consumers must also bear some of the responsibility.
Heede writes, “These companies have significant moral, financial, and legal responsibility for the climate crisis, and a commensurate burden to help address the problem.”
If oil and gas companies “have significant moral, financial, and legal responsibility for the climate crisis,” then so does everyone else. Including Mr. Heede himself.
Keeping the environment clean involves 100% participation. It's not wholly the responsibility of the oil and gas industry. The responsibility also lies with the consumer.
Everyone creates pollution, 100%, across the board. It's the oil and gas companies, but it's also the consumers themselves.
Yet instead of focusing efforts on cleaning up the environment, climate change advocates have redirected that focus into punishing oil and gas companies.
They've doubled down on their efforts to punish the oil and gas industry with calls for financial and legal reparation, but forgot their aim of cleaning up the environment.
Cleaning up the environment has taken a back seat to discrediting the oil and gas firms.
These are what we call fanatics.
We are not climate change deniers. We do not deny that human beings have made, and continue to make, an environmental footprint. And, of course, we do not want to live in a heavily polluted world.
But we're also pragmatic. We understand pollution as collateral damage.
And at the end of the day, I believe Heede and many others are simply seeking to demonize any collateral damage from their political foes to use as ammo in their own personal vendetta. And, like the Coyote, they've completely lost their original aim.
That's all, folks.
Until next time,
As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bull and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.
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