Celebrities are donating more than oil companies to Australia wildfire relief
Chevron's $1 million donation to stop the fires it helped fuel is the equivalent of the average American giving $4 to the cause.
Hey everyone, happy Tuesday! I’ve got some pre-content content to share with you today. I even made this morning’s edition public, because I wanted everyone to see it. You ready? You hydrated? You good to freakin’ go?
Cool. So, the Sunrise Movement—the grassroots, youth-led climate group that helped popularize the Green New Deal —is releasing a video today called “How We’re Going To WIN.” It’s about the group’s story and activism strategy, and helps explain why it’s been so successful in the climate politics world in such a short amount of time. It’s meant to be an inspirational thing. Give it a watch:
Sunrise wants to use this video as a momentum-builder; something to motivate people to get off their couches and into the streets. Cheesy inspirational music aside, I think it might work. I totally got a little emotional and fired up by the end.
But you’re your own person, so have your own experience with it and let me know what you think—preferably in the comment section of this post, if you’re a paid subscriber. If you’re a free subscriber, tweet your thoughts and tag me. I’m at @emorwee.
Also, Sunrise also told me that HEATED will be the first to share this video with people before the group starts spamming the internet with it. So don’t say I never did anything for you. Even though really, I didn’t.
OK, now more news!
Who should pay for Australia’s climate-fueled wildfires?
For literally months, Australia has been in flames. The ongoing bush fire season has incinerated millions of animals, dozens of people, and thousands of structures. It’s one of the worst fire seasons in the country’s history; it’s showing no signs of slowing down; and experts say this is in part due to climate change. As if we didn’t already know.
We’ve known for a while why natural disasters like wildfires are getting so bad. Through the burning of fossil fuels, we’ve filled the atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide, a heat-trapping gas. In already-dry areas, excess heat promotes conditions for drought. Southern Australia is experiencing terrible drought; potentially the worst in 800 years. This is where the worst wildfires are today.
We also know that climate change-fueled fires will cost a lot of money to fight and recover from. What we haven’t figured out is how to effectively pay for them. In Australia, most of the burden is currently falling on taxpayers. On Monday, the country’s Prime Minster Scott Morrison announced that the government would invest an additional $2 billion Australian dollars, or $1.4 billion U.S. dollars, for wildfire relief, in addition to the tens of millions taxpayers have already invested.
But that additional investment is nowhere near enough, and Australia’s government is already warning that the huge budget surplus it had from low-spending conservative policies is about to go up in smoke because of the wildfires. The economic damages alone from this fire season are $2 billion and counting. According to Bloomberg, “Australia’s Climate Council estimates cumulative damage from reduced agricultural and labor productivity might reach A$19 billion by 2030, A$211 billion by 2050 and a massive A$4 trillion by 2100.” We haven’t even considered the costs of actually fighting Australia’s fires, which will likely run into the billions.
So how is Australia supposed to make up for this shortfall? How are its citizens supposed to effectively fight and recover from this unnatural disaster without going bankrupt?
Enter celebrities—and Chevron.
Clearly, Australian taxpayers cannot shoulder the entire cost of climate-fueled wildfires. So right now, the country is looking to voluntary donations from kind-hearted people and corporations.
A lot of those kind-hearted people are celebrities and the folks who listen to them. Australian comedian Celeste Barber, for instance, has raised $41 million from regular people in a Facebook fundraiser—the most successful philanthropic effort the platform has ever seen. The pop singer P!nk has pledged $500,000 to the wildfire effort, as have Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban. Russel Crowe donated $105,000 to Australian firefighters, and a Los-Angeles based Instagram model named Kaylen Ward claims to have raised $500,000 by giving away nude photos in exchange for charitable donations.
And then there’s Chevron.
On Monday, the second-largest private American oil company announced that it would also help Australians suffering from climate-fueled wildfires by donating $1 million to the Australian Red Cross. In addition, Chevron said it will match employee contributions to the Red Cross, and give paid leave to employees volunteering in the firefighting efforts.
“Our thoughts are with the impacted families and emergency personnel fighting the fires and contributing to the recovery effort,” the company said in a press release about its donation. “Chevron Australia is committed to supporting Australian communities, particularly in times of need.”
Are all donations created equal?
Without context, Chevron’s donation appears to be one of the most generous of the bunch. A $1 million gift is double what P!nk gave; double what Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban gave; and nearly 10 times more what Russel Crowe gave.
But when you look at how much money Chevron makes in a year, along with Chevron’s proportionate responsibility for the climate crisis currently fueling Australia’s devastating wildfires, and compare it to the average person or average celebrity, things start to feel a bit… icky.
The celebrities donating big bucks to Australian wildfire relief certainly have more money, and hold bigger carbon footprints than the average person. Nicole Kidman, for example, probably makes around $20 million a year. So a $250,000 donation amounts to about 1.25 percent of her yearly earnings. For the average American, who makes about $59,000 per year, a donation like that would amount to $738. So it’s a fairly big donation proportionate to her income—which is probably appropriate, given that she owns a private jet. Her contribution to the climate crisis is bigger than yours of mine.
Chevron, on the other hand, earned about $15 billion in 2018. So a $1 million donation amounts to about .00667 of its yearly earnings. To the average American, that donation would amount to about $3.96.
Needless to say, that’s a fairly small amount to give—especially considering Chevron is one of the biggest contributors to the climate crisis in the world. Chevron is, in fact, the world’s second highest-emitting fossil fuel company, trailing only Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco. Chevron also pays no income taxes in the United States. In fact, in 2018, it got a refund.
Of course, we should give credit where credit is due. Of the 20 fossil fuel companies responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, Chevron appears to be the only one that made a public-facing donation to help with the climate-fueled wildfires in Australia. It also appears to be the only fossil fuel company encouraging its employees to help in the wildfire fight.
Meanwhile, at ExxonMobil…
Demanding fossil fuel companies pay their fair share
As the fires in Australia continue to rage, activists and progressive policy advocates have started to realize the fundamental injustice at work.
Why are Australian taxpayers, who did not cause the bulk of the climate crisis, the only ones who are forced to pay for its devastating effects? Why are those who hold more responsibility—like Chevron—allowed to only give what they deem appropriate?
On Monday, the environmental group Greenpeace slammed Australian Prime Minister Morrison’s $2 billion wildfire relief pledge, saying taxpayers should not be the ones shouldering the burden.
“Every single cent of that money should be contributed by the coal, gas and oil companies whose carbon pollution has caused the climate crisis that has created these extreme fire conditions, right across the country,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Campaigns Jamie Hanson said in a statement. “Slugging everyday taxpayers with the bill for this just adds insult to injury.”
“These big polluters have become rich by trashing our climate,” the statement added, “and it’s time that they started coughing up for the repair bill.”
Also on Monday, the progressive think tank The Australia Institute called for imposing taxes or fees on fossil fuel companies to force them to pay for climate damages.
This idea that the companies most responsible for the climate crisis should be the ones paying for it is a relatively new idea in the climate activist community, and it’s growing fast. But it’s still not a mainstream way of thinking. Celebrities in particular, though they’re waking up to the climate crisis, still seem to be approaching the problem as something they and their fans can solve by themselves. That’s why you still see most celebrities encouraging their fans to donate their money to the wildfire effort in Australia, not demanding action from fossil fuel companies.
A donation strategy focused on individuals may be an easier approach for celebrities, who fear pissing off their fans. In some cases, like Celeste Barber’s, in may even be really meaningful and effective.
But an approach that solely depends on individual good will and ignores corporate responsibility will only get Australians so far. And they still have a long road ahead. We all do.
OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!
If you liked it, please forward it to a friend. If you want to share this post in a non-email setting, click below.
If you’d like to support this newsletter, and independent climate accountability journalism, smash that subscribe button.
Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribers, see you tomorrow! Everyone else, see you next week!
I loved it. And I found myself teary when that young woman was getting arrested. I know the cheesy music was also playing, but I think mostly what got me was the look in her eyes as she was led away by big officers and looking straight at us. One thing missing from the narrative -- because you can't say it all in one video -- is that the New Deal was also passed with major political and corporate arm twisting by Pres. Roosevelt and the expansion of SCOTUS after the existing one ruled New Deal legislation unconstitutional. But . . . YES, people power is the way forward, especially through Nov. 2020, when that power could (must) get us a president and Congress willing to twist arms / maybe even expand SCOTUS to pass the GND legislation we need to avoid whole climate catastrophe. Thanks for a rousing start to my day working to mobilize that 3.5%!
I hope the Sunrise Movement stays focused on its movement mobilization message and does not get sidetracked into political endorsements. Happy to see this video thanks!