Oil industry profits skyrocket in 2022 on the backs of consumers paying more at the pump.

Oped by Councilmember Katelyn Krisel of Manilus, New York

As sea levels rise, and the climate crisis worsens with our atmosphere under siege from fossil fuel emissions, humanity must combat this clear and present danger. In an age where autocrats have grown wealthy off of oil and gas, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) landmark report found that nations are not doing enough to mitigate the climate emergency.

According to a Harvard study, nine million people die annually from breathing in the toxic particulates that fossil fuel companies produce. The need to transition off of fossil fuels has never been more urgent. The war in Ukraine highlights this truth.

Europe has relied on Russian fossil fuels with exports fulfilling 40 percent of demand across the continent. It’s a dependency that has created a security risk which unwittingly put a sovereign, democratic, peace-loving nation in autocrat Vladimir Putin’s crosshairs.

Russia was encouraged in its aggression and has gained immeasurable leverage over all EU nations and their collective security decision-making specifically because EU nations have been so dependent upon Russian fossil fuels.

The influence autocratic countries hold due to their oil and gas production must end. Nations around the globe need to implement bold solutions to address the climate crisis for the security of the world.

But without a clean energy mandate, the market has failed to protect the world. Oil and gas companies reported bumper profits in 2022, as they took advantage of consumers by raising prices at the pump. They hid behind the veil of Putin’s war and inflation to bring excessive wealth home to their CEOs. These industries not only get a free pass to emit heat-trapping gases, which exacerbates extreme weather and climate disasters, they continue to get tax-payer funds. In 2020 the coal, oil, and natural gas companies received $5.9 trillion in subsidies

For decades, major oil companies have greenwashed their images, with their two-faced attempt promising to transition to clean energy. Researchers found ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP company actions betray their claims. They increased rather than decreased fossil fuel exploration, which the IEA said could not be brought to fruition if the world limits global heating to 1.5C. The unequivocal scientific community’s conclusion is that we must eliminate all new fossil fuel development in order to protect our planet from climate collapse.

The American oil industry has a long, documented history of working extremely closely with Putin and state-run Russian oil companies. Now, the industry is trying to leverage the Ukraine crisis as an excuse to push for more drilling domestically. They claim that greater production at home will help combat Putin’s influence on the global stage. Vladimir is not the first dictator to leverage power over dependent oil countries. If we don’t stop using fossil fuels, he won’t be the last. Increasing U.S. production would only deepen Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels and ours.

Leading experts agree a faster transition to clean energy would lead to more stable energy economies worldwide. Everyone will benefit as they breathe cleaner air and realize savings.  A Stanford University report demonstrates cleaner renewable energy would reduce per capita household annual energy costs by around 63 percent, create millions of new jobs and save lives.

As this is a global market issue, we must recognize that our banking institutions play a pivotal role financing the fossil fuel industry. Since the Paris agreement of 2015, banks have invested more than $3.8 trillion in oil, gas, and coal production. JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, Bank of America, TD, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs, are the biggest banks that back new fossil fuel investments according to analysis from the Rainforest Action Network. They hold nearly half of American bank accounts.

Some banks have announced net-zero greenhouse gas emission goals by 2050. But to many  greenwash. In the spring of 2022, a U.S. banking regulator issued the first-ever draft guidelines outlining how it expects banks to manage climate-related risks. Importantly, it places threats from the climate crisis squarely within the bounds of financial risk that banks and their regulators must manage. It also tells banks not to greenwash,stating that if a bank makes a public commitment to climate action, then the commitment should be reflected in the bank’s internal strategies. 

Banks have to own up to causing the climate crisis and become a part of the solution.

When President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) in 2022 it energized our clean energy transition with guarantees to manufactures that there will be markets for their clean, reenable energy technologies. But the amount that was allocated won’t be enough to insulate us from the wild fluctuations of fossil fuel prices, achieve energy independence for fossil fuels, and help us wean other free countries off of fossil fuels.

The recent gas shipments to the EU have to be a stop gap solution, not a long term one.

As Ukraine continues to fight for its democratic survival, over 7 million refugees have fled and thousands of innocent people have died. The last time a mass migration occurred in Europe nationalism grew exponentially and it created security threats that threatened democratic nations.

Fossil fuel production increases greenhouse gas emissions and is a main cause of these climatic changes. The IPCC projects climate disasters will inevitably lead to more conflicts that benefit autocratic oil nations. Some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and a total of 2.7 billion find water scarce for at least one month of the year. Climate change is making that reality worse as droughts often exacerbate divisions and lead to conflict. A global clean energy economy will increase international security with healthier, more prosperous communities.

It’s time for us to fuel our manufacturing companies with the mandate to expand production of clean energy technologies. President Biden can deploy his executive powers to weaken the geopolitical power of fossil fuels, address the climate emergency, and prevent further mass suffering by declaring a climate emergency and unlocking more DPA funds.

The only way to free democratic countries from the grip of autocratic oil producing nations is to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. We have the technical know-how—now we need the political will to ensure the security of our nation and the world through a clean energy economy.