Just because 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions doesn't mean you can buy Bitcoin
Anything goes when you are not responsible and it is all somebody else's fault.
Four years ago the Guardian headline read Just 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, study says. The Carbon Majors Report in question didn’t actually say that, but Guardian writer Tess Riley wrote that “ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988” without noting that most of those hundred companies weren’t companies at all, but were government entities.
Nor did she explain that roughly 90% of those emissions are Type 3, the emissions from using the products being sold by these companies; as I wrote earlier, “It's going into heating our houses and moving our cars and making the steel and aluminum for our buildings and cars and F35 fighters and concrete for our roads and bridges and parking garages.”
This is a consumption, not a production issue, all about “the choices we make, the things that we buy, the politicians we elect. We are buying what they are selling and we don't have to.” I have covered this in greater detail in Treehugger and in my book, so I won’t go into it here.
What is so remarkable is that four years after that disingenuous Guardian headline, it is constantly quoted as an excuse for everything from having air conditioning to buying bitcoin. Winston Churchill did not say “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on” but this one has done a Swift-Tuttle-sized trip around the Solar System.
Or even buying a recycling bin from IKEA. It’s the go-to excuse for not only inaction, but an actual justification of doing nothing.
Have a burger, it doesn’t matter, we are not responsible.
In fact, actually doing anything about your carbon footprint is totally pointless. Go for a drive or a flight, burning gasoline and jet fuel produced by those 100 companies, but somehow make them change. How? If they change, how will you put gas in your car or jet fuel in your plane?
My absolute favourite tweet uses 71 companies to justify private jets. Puleeeze.
When you look at the list of 100 companies from 2017, a few no longer exist; Murray Coal went bankrupt and Peabody Coal is circling the drain. That’s because utilities stopped buying what they are selling, switching to cheaper and cleaner gas. During the Pandemic, we stopped buying what the airlines are selling, and the ones that got through the crisis survived on government handouts.
The basic underlying truth is that consumption drives the economy, not production. We have to buy for them to sell. That’s why they push bigger cars and houses and design cities for sprawl and make it so difficult to cycle and dangerous to walk, they trap us in this lifestyle because everything is designed to goose consumption, to use more energy, because energy is the economy. As Economist Robert Ayres noted,
“The essential truth missing from economic education today is that energy is the stuff of the universe, that all matter is also a form of energy, and that the economic system is essentially a system for extracting, processing and transforming energy as resources into energy embodied in products and services.”
So I keep circling back: We have to stop buying what they are selling. Political action can help, by putting on big honking carbon taxes to make what they are selling more expensive, as can strong environmental protections on drilling sites and methane releases. Collective action does matter, because it influences our neighbors and our politicians.
But in the end, this is also an issue of personal responsibility, about using less, about making different decisions about how we live. Ultimately, 100 companies are not responsible for 71% of emissions; we are, every time we fill up our tanks or hop on a plane. Last word to tweeter Lalo Stan, who notes that it is worse than just inaction, it’s denial: