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Don’t Blame Big Oil for Climate Change

Jeff Siegel

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted March 4, 2024

Darren Woods, the chief executive of ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM), said that the public is to blame for the climate crisis, not just Big Oil.

He’s right.

Not in the way he proclaims, though.

Woods claims that the clean energy transition is proving too expensive for consumers’ liking.  There is truth to that, but this is only because there’s never been an honest free market when it comes to oil.

The truth is, if all the subsidies and externalities were figured into the equation, it would cost you more than twice what you’re paying now to fill your tank, and that clean energy transition wouldn’t look so expensive. Don’t kid yourself, the big oil machine has never prospered in an honest free market.

That being said, I do agree that the public bears a lot of responsibility for the climate crisis.

This is particularly true in the US, where, for the most part, we’re more bothered by being even slightly inconvenienced than we are about treating the planet like a toilet. 

It really makes me nuts when I see so-called environmentalists attack oil companies, but never think twice about doing anything to limit their own use of fossil fuels.

How many of these “environmentalists” will drive one mile to the convenience store instead of walking or biking?  

How many of these “environmentalists” will choose to take public transit (if available), instead of driving their cars to work? 

How many of these “environmentalists” spend hours on social media attacking oil companies, but never take the initiative to buy food from local farms, which would allow them to displace massive amounts of oil because the garlic and tomatoes they’re buying don’t have to be shipped from more than 1,000 miles away.  

How many of these “environmentalists” spend $40,000 for a conventional internal combustion vehicle when they can spend roughly the same amount for an electric car?

They hate Big Oil so much, but not enough to reduce their use of its products. That’s the mentality of a drug addict, or just a really lazy and unmotivated person.

Indeed, it is not easy to reduce one’s consumption of oil.  But if you’re going to lash out against oil companies, then do nothing to reduce your own oil consumption, then you really have no more credibility than an oil exec paying failed scientists to disprove the existence of climate change.   Which has happened on multiple occasions, and still happens to this day.

Look.  I get it.  It’s beyond frustrating watching oil companies produce a product that degrades our natural capital as if it were merely an afterthought.  Our water, our air, our soil.  Even our human capital. 

But it’s not really the product that’s the problem, is it?  

It is the use of that product.

And just to clarify, this is not an attack on fossil fuels. 

Truth is, fossil fuels have allowed our global society to advance in a way that would’ve likely been impossible without them. 

Whether it’s the petroleum products that have allowed us to have things like refrigerated train cars, ambulances, fire trucks and airplanes or the natural gas that has kept our lights on and our homes warm for decades, to not recognize the value fossil fuels is, for lack of a better word, stupid.

But progress happens.  And today, we know that the internal combustion engine is an outdated technology.  We can do better, and we are doing better with the rapid development of electric vehicles.  

That doesn’t mean internal combustion engines will disappear overnight.  But mark my words, in another 50 years, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an internal combustion vehicle outside of classic car fairs and history books.   

Bottom line:  Innovation breeds progress, and complacency breeds failure. 

Relying solely on fossil fuels to move our cars and heat our homes for the next 100 years would be an exercise in foolishness, and would only be possible in the absence of technological progress.  But as a species, it is technological progress that makes us who we are.  It’s what allows us to live longer, healthier lives. It allows us to not only survive, but thrive. 

Truth is, it was technological progress that allowed us to move from horse and buggy to internal combustion.  It was technological progress that allowed us to move from lighting our homes with whale oil lamps to electricity. And it will be technological progress that moves us from an over reliance on fossil fuels to a cleaner, more diversified energy and transportation economy.

This is not a bad thing.  

This is a good thing.

This is progress.

Progress is good.

But progress requires rational thought and active participation. Not finger pointing and twitter rants. 

So yes, in a way, I absolutely agree with Darren Woods.  And while his motivations are not necessarily driven by honor, his words are not without truth. 

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