For centuries, the world was ruled by royalty- a select few aristocrats who flaunted opulent wealth and used it to mold the world to their liking. Today, such a concept seems absurd with some form of democracy dominating in most countries. But, while we may be experiencing the trappings of a free nation with elected officials and protection of human rights, aristocracy is still alive and well.
Big corporations are the new royals and oil companies lead them all. They are the Great Britain of TNCs. Just like the British royal family, these companies are resistant to change. But, unlike Queen Elizabeth, oil companies are inarguably bad. They manage to remain so untouched in an increasingly progressive world by pushing their product into every market, abusing their wealth to manipulate systems and using governments as puppets for their work. They operate not so differently from the aristocrats of centuries ago.
Fossil fuel companies burst on to the scene with the industrial revolution, powering one of the greatest expansions of the economy in history. Since then, they have been slowly weaving into every nook of society, so that we have now become completely entangled in their dirty practices. They fuel cars, power homes, enable air travel, and facilitate the mass production of goods and services. It is near impossible to find a product that has not been tainted by them.
But consumers are just the smallest entity controlled by these corporations. They have power over entire populations, especially in areas where oil drives the economy. Canada’s oil capital, Alberta, is at the complete mercy of oil companies. Even though jobs are low quality, and the industry is killing their environment, Albertans continue to support it. If the fracking stops, so does their economy.
With all this power, comes inevitable wealth. And these companies have a lot of it. However, most of the money does not go to the hardworking men and women who often labour in poor conditions to extract the oil. It lines the pockets of executives who use it to fund any number of elicit schemes that further their cause. They pay to expedite permits for new developments, fund biased research that denies climate change, and silence anyone who gets in their way.
This particularly impacts indigenous communities who often find themselves opposing fossil fuel developments. They almost never have a fair fight, with big oil companies paying for research and lawyers while their opponents do not have the same privilege. With the cards stacked so high against indigenous people, victories are rare.
We now understand that oil companies use both power and wealth to sustain themselves. But there is one last piece of the puzzle that secures their success: governments. Without elected officials at their beck and call, oil companies would be in more imminent danger of dying out.
This is best exemplified in Canada where Justin Trudeau, a known fossil fuel sympathizer, was re-elected on the promise that he would do good for climate change. Instead, in 2018, he spent 4 billion tax dollars to stop a failing pipeline from going under. South of the border in the U.S., newly elected president Joe Biden chose to cancel a big pipeline project on his first day in office. Yet, in the shadows of such a big news story, he began to release more than 31 permits for new pipelines. Two steps forward, one step back.
When you finally take in the pervasiveness and power of oil companies, it is hard not to throw your hands in the air with the feeling that nothing can be done. Fighting these corporations may be one of the most herculean tasks people face today. But we must try; and now that we understand the problem, we know what has to be done.
As we have seen, wealth is key to the success of oil companies. Blocking funding for new pipelines and fracking initiatives will become critical in phasing these corporations out.
Renewables like solar and wind energy will, conversely, need more funding. They impose little damage on the environment, are becoming a better investment, and can provide good jobs.
We must become more involved in politics and ensure that people who take climate change seriously are being voted in.
As well, we should begin to uplift indigenous communities. Their well-established sustainable practices and intimate relationship with the planet will be invaluable to environmental activism in the years to come.
Finally, it is imperative that we educate ourselves and take initiative to understand the problems our planet faces. The biggest battle ahead of us is one against our own ignorance.