The climate crisis is practically a standing item on evening TV news bulletins, which may ironically make us more immune to images of melting icecaps or seas swimming with plastic. However, two stories cut through in the past week, each illustrating the ecological crisis and the toll human actions are taking on the planet.
A shocking video showed a bubbling, molten lava like fire in the Gulf of Mexico, apparently started by a leak from an underwater gas pipeline. A few days earlier, Canada logged record-high temperatures which led to fatalities and the melting of power and rail lines.
The US president, Joe Biden, was quick to join scientists and global leaders in attributing Canada’s heat wave to the consequences of climate change. The climate crisis has become so deeply politicised that modern political figures have no choice but to comment and engage with climate legislation.
But is the politicisation of the issue slowing us down? Do layers of bureaucracy and political alliances stagnate progress? The recent video of an ExxonMobil lobbyist claiming that the firm actively cast doubt on climate science and tried to influence Biden’s climate policies would suggest so.
Released by Greenpeace UK, the footage shows senior ExxonMobil lobbyist Keith McCoy admitting that the American multinational oil and gas company joined shadow groups to undermine climate science and targeted centrist lawmakers to influence policy and political consensus. McCoy described Exxon’s public support of the carbon tax as an “effective advocacy tool” and said attempts were made to influence Biden’s infrastructure plan, which would see corporate taxes raised to fund billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy and electric vehicles.
Arguably McCoy’s most telling revelation was his assertion that “We were looking out for our investments. We were looking out for our shareholders”. For many companies, involvement in climate legislation is still driven by self-interest and an attempt to balance policy with profitability.
Royal Dutch Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, warned yesterday that switching to a greener business model too quickly would leave the oil company in a financial “valley of death”. Van Beurden intends to appeal the Dutch court ruling requiring the oil major to cut emissions faster than planned, but insists he is prepared to take “more risk than our investors traditionally like to see us take” to accelerate the transition to clean energy sources.
It’s clear that climate is now a permanent part of the political and business agenda. However, achieving profitability and shareholder returns while managing the transition to new business models remains an existential challenge.