EarthTalk: Are oil companies actually taking action to reduce global emissions or are their claims mostly “greenwashing”? | Columnists


Dear EarthTalk: Are oil companies really taking action to reduce global emissions or are their claims just greenwashing?

It’s no secret that the climate crisis is intensifying and the world is looking for solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report that we face “code red” for humanity if we are unable to make substantial changes. According to the IPCC, we must halve our carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030 to ensure a sustainable future. Even though there has been a push to reduce emissions, global emissions show no signs of declining.

As major contributors to pollution, oil companies have come under scrutiny. In response to increased pressure, many have begun to pledge they are working to be part of the solution. The scientific journal PLOS One reports that major oil companies are using terms such as ‘climate’, ‘low carbon’ and ‘transition’ more frequently in their reports and claim that they are striving to become ‘carbon neutral’.

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Carbon neutrality is as much of an oxymoron as there can be when applied to oil companies, which begs the question: how do they plan to achieve this goal? One of the ways they are trying to achieve net zero emissions is by investing in nature-based carbon credits. Essentially, they promise money to plant trees that absorb the CO2 equivalent of their company’s production.

While this solution seems straightforward enough, common criticisms of oil company responses are that net zero promises are only based on facility operations and not fuel sales themselves; furthermore, oil companies continued to invest in more acreage for the express purpose of extracting more oil, showing their true priorities. Researchers from Tohoku University and Kyoto University conclude that the transition to clean energy is not happening because the investments and actions of oil companies simply do not match the public promises they make.

It is important to understand that nature-based credits come with complications. Trees take years to mature, so it’s often unclear how much CO2 they’ll absorb. Moreover, the lifespan of these trees is also not a guarantee: with increasingly hot and dry conditions, there is an increased probability that these trees will die due to drought or fire. , in which case the carbon offset becomes worthless.

So are oil companies just greenwashing? Some have made minor efforts, but it is not enough. That being said, it is important to know how we as individuals can still make a difference. Divestment from oil companies will help reduce the amount of money going to these polluters. Even if you don’t give money directly to the oil companies, your money can indirectly exacerbate the problem. Doing your due diligence to make sure your bank isn’t funding oil companies alongside other investments in your portfolio can make all the difference. Reallocating money to ensure you invest in a clean energy future will help take the fate of our planet out of the hands of big oil.


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