With the sea on fire, are plastic straws still to blame? – Liberal Article
Once again, we are witnessing a horrific natural event that is humanity’s fault. The ocean is on fire. The ocean should never catch fire. I have been diligently following what I have been instructed: I reuse plastic bags; I turn the lights off when I leave a room; I’ve stopped complaining about paper straws with my McDonald’s. This emphasis on individual actions, I was told, would help save the planet and stop climate change.
The sea is still on fire.
Making individuals feel personally responsible, polluting companies and states have gaslight us into thinking that climate change is our fault. Yet, a report in 2017 by the Carbon Majors Database identified 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions.
The report also lists Pemex, the Mexican state-owned oil company responsible for the pipe leak that set the sea on fire, as the seventh-worst global polluter. Given this report was four years ago, Pemex clearly does not care and will continue to exploit Earth’s natural resources. They are not alone in doing so.
It is time to move the discourse away from small, supposedly meaningful actions that we all can do and focus on the global polluters. Straws, after all, make up far less than 1% of all global plastic waste.
Corporations currently seem to utilise token gestures to make them more ‘green.’ For example, McDonald’s got rid of plastic straws in favour of paper straws (which cannot be recycled) and Shell devised Shell GO+ which allowed paying customers to drive – supposedly – carbon-neutrally. Attempts at greenwashing are popularly accepted and corporations can hide behind screens of ‘greenness.’
So how do we solve this? Fans of the free market would argue that we should let corporations adapt to climate change in their own time. Those who do would be commercially successful and those who do not would fail. In a capitalist utopia, that would work. However, in the real world, with the threat of human extinction and a market driven by greed and corruption, this is not working. Genuine commitment to the environment is not rewarding to stakeholders, thus is unpopular among corporations. Purely from a financial perspective, it does not make sense to sacrifice profits for the planet.
However, if all corporations were forced to abide by the same rules and standards on carbon emissions, the differences between competitors would be minimised. Essentially, government intervention can ensure all corporations are on the same playing field and not disadvantaged for being environmentally conscious.
Active government intervention on a global scale is needed now more than ever. At the recent G7 summit in Cornwall, a series of pledges were made to combat the climate crisis. Yet, there is no plan to enact them. They will remain tokenistic pledges that, in ten years’ time, will be someone else’s problem.
It is very clear that the current leaders are not firmly committed to the climate crisis. Boris Johnson said in April that tackling climate change ‘is about growth and jobs.’ This is not about the economy; this is about the planet. The notion that we need continuous, unrelenting growth is damaging the planet and is inherently unsustainable.
The upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November is the world’s best chance to create meaningful actions and plans that are not just limited to simplistic, untraceable pledges. It is a chance to restrict corporate greed and prioritise our planet and our wellbeing. It is an opportunity we can ill afford to surpass.
Next time the sea is on fire, or you are shocked by a natural disaster ask yourself: is this really because of plastic straws, or is something more threatening at play?
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Luca Boyd
Point of Information
With the Sea on Fire, are the Conservatives to Blame for Climate Change? – A Conservative Response
Looking over the report that Luca cites makes for interesting reading. While smaller actions are still important to employ, it is quite clear they will not solve the climate crisis alone. As is pointed out, we all use paper straws, but the sea is still on fire.
But instead of looking at the problems of Pemex and Mexico, Tory-bashing is substituted as the solution. Johnson is not responsible for the Pemex fire, and his 10 point plan outlined last November showed commitment to the crisis. I will concede though these are just statements until they are introduced. My criticism of Johnson’s performance at G7 is outlined better here, and that extends to his and other leaders’ climate performance. While the US also needs to improve its climate policy, I am more optimistic that it will do so with Biden at the helm. COP26 will be a good place to prove that.
Out of the 100 companies responsible for 71% of emissions, looking closely at them you can pull strong conclusions about the inefficiency of state-owned companies and their pollution.
Eight of the top ten are majority state-owned or fully state-owned. This goes for the company responsible for the sea fire, Pemex. Other state-owned companies near the top of the list include Petroleos De Venezuela and the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, coming at 13th and 14th respectively. A report in 2019 found that 12 state-owned companies are responsible for 20% of the world’s emissions since 1965, and form part of the top 20 companies contributing to a third of all climate change. (Pemex, Petroleos De Venezuela, and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company are names on that list too).
So, capitalism isn’t to blame either. In fact, it rather points to inefficient state management being to blame. Am I going to deny that private companies exploit the environment? Of course not. But when 12 of the top 20 and eight out of ten companies are majority state-owned, capitalism is not the destroyer of the environment it is made out to be. In fact, this rather shows socialism is.
Looking at Pemex, the company at the heart of this crisis, their attitude to the climate is awful. Indeed, they are the most polluting company in Latin America, and this gas leak only further shows this. Despite being a state-run monopoly, the company has been running losses for decades, showing the clear inefficiency of the company, and the state for propping it up for far too long. The climate has suffered because of these inefficiencies as well.
The Mexican government is also to blame here, especially their new, left-wing president. Since 2018, the Mexican government under Andrés Manuel López Obrador has disregarded the climate crisis in several ways. Firstly, several legal and regulatory changes are discouraging foreign investment into the Mexican energy sector, and thus introducing protectionism for Mexican companies. The aim is complete state control over the energy sector using the two state-owned energy companies Pemex and Comision Federal de Electricidad and thus is pushing out renewable energy sources. Obrador has also pledged to build a multi-billion pound refinery, so Mexican drivers can buy Mexican gasoline. Older, inefficient refineries are also going to be used for this. So, it appears that while Western economies are moving towards greener methods (slowly, as some people say), it would appear socialist and left-wing economies are doing everything they can to resist the move entirely.
My colleague is right to point out that something more sinister is at play here. The answer is Socialist countries and their attitudes towards the environment.
This article could have been a piece about looking at the climate report it highlights (where it mentions China being a big climate offender, also not mentioned here), or showing that state-owned companies like Pemex and the states that they are owned by clearly don’t care about the climate. Instead, the piece quickly dissolves into a political point-scoring piece against the Conservatives, and not about the issue at hand.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
To Tackle Climate Change, Our Society Needs Radical And Collective Restructuring – A Labour Response
I praise Luca’s article for squarely addressing the cause of the impending climate crisis. We cannot allow ourselves to lose focus of the facts here. Juggernaut transnational corporations, state-owned or privately owned, are steering humanity straight into an irreversible catastrophe.
While I commend my colleague’s call for government action I ask all of us to think bigger. The problem we face is those massive corporations who, through concentration of wealth, have expanded to every corner of the globe. These beasts of no nation now hold the power and influence over world governments to secure their future wealth via lobbying. We have seen this from Exxon, who have been revealed to have lobbied against climate change legislation and research for decades.
My Conservative colleague is wrong about socialism, as Conservatives often tend to be about the subject. Our state and privately-owned companies all play on the same global stage. That is engaging with a global market, operating to turn the maximum profit possible. State-run enterprises are an alternative within capitalism, they are not by themselves socialist.
Capitalism is the disease our earth is suffering from. There are reasons that we must actively move away from the market-based system we have in the first place.
The first reason is externalities. In economics, an externality is a social cost to society that was not agreed on and not represented by the market price. Simply, we burn oil for cheap but collectively pay a much higher price in the environmental damage caused. Governments can try to control this collective damage by imposing taxes and regulations but what tax is appropriate for the damage caused to the ocean catching on fire? In a system where the tax or regulation cost will be passed onto consumers, the people pay for their own poisoning.
This further ties into the reason why markets will always fail in this way. Our markets rely on the distribution of the commodity form of capital. That is to say, we rely on fossil fuels, extraction, and environmental damage to add value to other existing products. Even these state-run companies that operate at a loss will continue to operate, as fossil fuels are vital to the economy. Heavy machinery fuelled by coal can produce more goods than by hand. Thus, dumping toxic chemicals into the environment is cheaper than properly disposing of them and a forest has no value until it is cut down.
This is a symptom of the fact that we distribute goods for those who have the money to buy them, rather than who needs them the most. In practical action, we saw that while the mayor of NYC told residents to turn off their air conditioning to save power, the giant illuminated billboards of times square were still blazing. Large companies had paid to have their brand shown and would be backed up with mountains of legal clauses. This enshrining their inalienable right to burn through power for profit.
We need to start looking for alternatives to capitalism. Without massive global intervention, our future is dark. The people need to take back control of the industries that are polluting the world. Industries that are allowed to exist through the legal enforcement of the state. If we are not allowed to find a credible alternative people all over the world are going to suffer.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Joseph McLaughlin
Hello, my name is Kieran Burt and I am going into second year at Nottingham Trent University studying Politics and International Relations. I first developed an interest in politics through reading the Dictator’s Handbook by Alastair Smith and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, when I was 16, and have furthered my interest by studying politics at A level and now at university.