The Power of Profit on a Stressed Planet

Sep 5th, 2022 | By | Category: Energy and Carbon Emissions

By Suzanne York.

[Photo: Pixabay]

[Photo: Pixabay]

The planet is in an environmental crisis, yet money and power run the show above all else.  Nowhere is that more clear than in the money made by the fossil fuel industry.  Five major companies made $55 billion in their last quarter, with Exxon alone making $17.9 billion in net income.

That is a tremendous amount of profit in a world with high rates of inequity and inequality.  Corporations and the 1% continue to prosper as many other people struggle to meet rising costs of living.  The fossil fuel companies receive generous tax breaks and subsidies to boot.

It is the way of capitalism, with its long history of the haves vs. the have-nots. It may not be any more stark than it was in the early 20th century, yet on a planet that is experiencing increasing climate-related disasters, there is arguably more at stake today.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez blasted this injustice. “It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities, at a massive cost to the climate.” He went on to say that “This grotesque greed … is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only home.”

The oil companies claim they are investing some profits into green energy, and maybe with the passage of the recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), they will increase that investment.   Yet it needs to be ramped up now.

Perhaps future generations will ask why people today allowed such wealth accumulation while there is so much need.  They may also likely ask why we allowed this to persist on what is clearly a destructive path for both people and the planet, with continued reliance on fossil fuels.  Oil companies profit while environmental degradation, air and water pollution, toxics and global greenhouse gas emissions continues unabated.

Where could $55 billion be invested that could actually improve the state of the environment and human health?  Here are a few brief examples of where to focus money and attention :

Alternatives to Plastics

Over 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels.  While convenient, plastics can be toxic to human health and pollute the environment. According to researchers, “Since 1950 to 2018, about 6.3 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced worldwide, 9% and 12% of which have been recycled and incinerated, respectively. Human population increase and consistent demand for plastics and plastic products are responsible for continuous increase in the production of plastics, generation of plastic waste and its accompanied environmental pollution.”

Fortunately, the movement to get off plastics – especially single use plastics – and move to a society of zero waste is happening all over the world.   There are abundant alternatives and ways to change behaviors to end reliance on plastic, from compostables to reusable bags and straws to shampoo bars. See this list for ideas.


[Photo: Pixabay]

[Photo: Pixabay]


Industrial agriculture is dependent upon fossil fuels – from synthetic fertilizers to fuel to run machinery and for transport. In the United State, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agriculture accounted for 11.2 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020.

Global society could instead turn this dependency on its head and support alternative agricultural systems, such as agroecology, which is based on local, traditional knowledge of agriculture and with it, climate-resilient approaches. Or regenerative agriculture, loosely defined as farming and grazing practices that reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

Public Transit

Who doesn’t like the idea of electric vehicles (EV)?  Certainly EVs are changing the dynamic a car industry based on fossil fuels.  But EVs require inputs. Per NPR, “Companies are betting hundreds of billions of dollars on electric cars and trucks. To make them, they’ll need a lot of batteries. And that means they need a lot of minerals, like lithium, cobalt and nickel, to be dug up out of the earth.”

And EVs do nothing to ease traffic congestion.  But it is a step in the right direction. Yet investing in public transportation systems run on clean energy will greatly reduce gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. It is also, for now, more equitable, given the price of EVs that are out of reach for many people.  Public and private investment in transit can be game changer for communities and the environment.


[Photo: Pixabay]

[Photo: Pixabay]

Again, the above is a very short list, intended to show the diverse solutions and approaches that can be implemented. Entire books and dissertations have been written on these efforts.  They are presented here simply to give an idea of what can be done to get off fossil fuel dependency and a system that rewards the industry for harming the planet and human health.

These are the priorities needed on a stressed planet.  The global economic and political systems are stuck on profits above all, no matter the price paid.

Suzanne York is Director of Transition Earth.

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