• Oishee Banerjee

How multi-billion dollar companies control the government

Politics reeks of corruption and bribery. That, unfortunately, extends to the existential threat that is the climate crisis.

Common tales tell of rich, Fortune-500, Wall-Street style companies buying their way into legislation and policy-making. It’s why candidates who are to be elected by the public to the government advocate for different issues when in and out of office. It’s why the hundreds of bills proposed to combat climate change never pass. It’s why Exxon, ChevronMobil and BP, Total and Shell spend $200 million lobbying against climate change policies every year and win.

Think about that number. $200 million. With that money, you could build nearly 60 wind turbines. 26 miles of interstate highways. Provide 3 meals a day for 960,000 kids for an entire year. Pay the entire 4-year college tuition for 1800 kids (not a lot, which does go to show how damn expensive college is Don’t bunk class people). The list is endless, it’s a ton of money. When I imagine that it gets blown on buying over the sensibilities and moral compasses of those that have the power to make immense change so that a minute percentage of the billionaire class can buy bigger bathtubs to bathe in their ever growing piles of cash, I get angry. You don’t need to be a Philosophy major or Supreme Court judge to know that it is incredibly unethical.

You might think that the problem stops there. Greedy, power-mongering politicians take this money and block legislation. But at this point, you may also be posing a question: shouldn’t the public outrage over these obvious lies and wrongdoings change the course of events?

The answer is no. These companies are quite smart; they did make their billions somehow. What they have done is take advantage of social media, just like every other entrepreneur and company of this day and age. They create pleasant sounding and aesthetically pleasing videos with an overwhelming amount of natural imagery and happy smiles from a diverse range of people; the voiceover narrates a fantastical story about moving toward cleaner energy while these companies take actions such as the above and buy algorithms from Google and Amazon to increase their mining efficiency (check out Vox’s video on how these two companies are now officially in the oil business, despite claiming to run on 100% sustainable energy. Also check out our section on Greenwashing to further understand how companies abuse free speech to spread blatant lies and misinformation).

Here’s a still from a recent BP ad. If you actually watch the ad, you might wonder why we’re writing an article about them, given that it’s about their shift toward clean energy. In fact, they are shifting to low carbon projects. By using a huge, massive, commendable 3% of their spending on these projects. Of course, they don’t mention that in the video, do they? Feel free to explore the source links for more information.

If you’re wondering what the exact methods they use to influence climate policy, I’m pleased to tell you about a UK-based non-profit company called InfuenceMap whose “remit is to map, analyze and score the extent to which corporations are influencing climate policy.” While oil companies try very hard to keep their actions under the public radar, they might have some answers for you. Part of the money goes into diverting the attention of politicians and the general public toward environmental policies that impact fossil fuel usage. This is effective because it exploits the human discomfort to the prospect of change - people are comfortable with gas stations and cheap fuel. It presents change as a threat. To add salt to the wound, they also twist the narrative, so as to speak. BP advertised the climate crisis as a “dual” energy challenge. This means they will continue to produce natural gas based fuel, just with 50% less emissions. That’s it. That’s the elaboration. No specifications. No timestamp. It’s the vagueness of these words and promises that really get to me, because many actually fall for it.

So what are our options?

Show the companies above these statistics and demand a straight answer?

This has been done before. According to Forbes, “both Shell and Chevron rejected the report's findings and reinforced their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases and addressing climate change.” As private companies, they have also been quite dubious with their expenditure, since they have no obligation to the public to release their spreadsheets, in comparison to say, NASA.

Well, if they are denying it, then the government can impose higher taxes on them?

Unfortunately, they don’t have a mandate to do this. Moreover, many of these companies, like Amazon, find clever loopholes to evade taxes. Last year, Amazon paid $0 in federal taxes, which is less than most of the middle class of America.

So what can you do?

Reading this article, you may have felt quite helpless. I know that when I was researching and gathering data, I did. These are matters of huge companies and powerful governments, not switching off the AC and light or planting a tree. Protests work to a certain extent but no number of voices can match their greed for money. Boycotting might work until you realise that these companies will make money in other brutally creative ways.

Here’s the ray of sunshine in a dark room. Here’s what you have to remember. Most countries in the world are democracies, including my home nation of India. Democracies, in theory, are supposed to be powered by their citizens, where the politicians work for the people and not the other way around. While the worldwide implementation of this system has been… subpar, at best, there is only hope when an entire generation of people work together.

The work of a collaborative only starts when one person takes the first step. So, you can start by educating yourself. Our mission at EnvironEarth is making this process slightly easier for you by creating a one-stop hub for you, reducing your research time and guiding you to the right resources. Read articles like this one, but don’t forget to obtain multiple perspectives.

And here’s our most important submission to you. As you approach the age to vote (or are already there), do an immense amount of research on your potential governmental candidates. That is the only way that you can seize back the power that you rightly deserve. A lot of them fund their campaigns using donations from these large companies so that once elected, these companies are repaid their generosity. Matters with oil and gas companies specifically are even more ambiguous, given that humans are terrible at prioritizing the climate crisis. Most politicians push more “urgent” and “human” agendas and engage in lots of bright advertising to win.

So here’s a list of steps you can take:

  • Make sure your candidate has explicitly taken a stance on the climate crisis (preferably, they want to actively solve for it).

  • Seek grassroot-funded candidates.

  • Make sure you understand their backgrounds - all the parties they have associated themselves with, publicly and otherwise.

  • Use your gut instinct! You will most likely be able to separate the genuine politicians from the ones desiring power and status for the sake of their egos rather than your wellbeing.

Works Citated:

Laville, Sandra. “Top Oil Firms Spending Millions Lobbying to Block Climate Change Policies, Says Report.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Mar. 2019, www.theguardian.com/business/2019/mar/22/top-oil-firms-spending-millions-lobbying-to-block-climate-change-policies-says-report.

McCarthy, Niall. “Oil And Gas Giants Spend Millions Lobbying To Block Climate Change Policies [Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Mar. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2019/03/25/oil-and-gas-giants-spend-millions-lobbying-to-block-climate-change-policies-infographic/.

Community, InfluenceMap. “Summary of Our Results.” InfluenceMap, influencemap.org/page/Measuring-Corporate-Influence-of-Climate-Change-Policy.

Gwynn, Simon. “BP Launches Biggest Global Campaign in a Decade.” Campaign US, 3 Mar. 2020, www.campaignlive.com/article/bp-launches-biggest-global-campaign-decade/1523391.

Locsin, Aurelio. “10 Great Things You Can Buy for $100 Million.” ToughNickel, ToughNickel, 21 Apr. 2020, toughnickel.com/personal-finance/10-Great-Things-to-Buy-for-100-Million-Serious-Money.