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Putting Big Oil’s profits in perspective
The Q1 profits of the world’s four highest-polluting investor-owned companies could buy flood insurance for every home in Louisiana, among other things.
The climate crisis just keeps getting worse. And the business of causing it just keeps getting better.
Last week, the four highest-polluting investor-owned companies in the world—Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and BP—finished posting their first quarter profits for 2023. And the results, like last year’s, were mind-numbingly large.
Chevron, the world’s highest-emitting company, raked in a record-breaking $6.6 billion. Exxon, number two on the list, earned a similarly record-breaking $11.4 billion. The third-highest emitter, BP, didn’t quite break its Q1 record, only bringing in a paltry $5 billion (peasants). But Shell, the fourth-largest climate-polluting company in the world, did break its Q1 profit record, posting an unthinkable $9.6 billion.
Media outlets that cover oil company earnings don’t usually mention this, so we think it’s important to emphasize that these profits came at the expense of the planet. Exxon’s record-breaking quarter, for example, “was driven by new volumes of crude oil and fuels from the startup of new offshore developments and refining facilities,” the Guardian reported. This is exactly the opposite of ending new fossil fuel developments, which the International Energy Agency says is the only way to stabilize the planet at relatively safe levels of warming. (But new fossil fuel development also means Daddy Woods can afford a new yacht, so you know. Decisions!)
Big Oil’s record-breaking profits also came as the companies scaled back their pledges to fight the crisis they’ve primarily caused. BP announced in February that it was backing off its promise to lower emissions by 35 to 40 percent by 2030, lowering it to a 20 to 30 percent cut. Shell also said it would not increase spending on renewable energy this year, and Exxon pulled back funding from its much-advertised algae biofuel effort. (Remember that next time your favorite politics publication tells you that Exxon is “advancing climate solutions.” We’re looking at you, Axios and Politico.)
Ultimately, though, Big Oil’s latest record-breaking profits just further illustrate the folly of believing we can depend on corporations to voluntarily do the right thing for people who aren’t shareholders, much less the planet. After all, much of these Q1 profits were paid out in dividends to shareholders. Can you imagine if it went to, I don’t know…anything else?
We decided to try to contextualize what it actually means for the world’s four biggest climate-polluting companies to make a combined $32.6 billion in just three months. Here’s some of what we figured out:
While we struggled to afford eggs in the first quarter of 2023, Big Oil made enough money to…
End world hunger for nearly one year.
End U.S. homelessness for about four years.
Fund FEMA’s budget for nearly three years.
Buy flood insurance for every home in the state of Louisiana.
Fund the entire disaster relief and recovery for Hurricane Michael.
End the Hollywood writers’ strike 82.6 times.
Pay for King Charles’ coronation 260.8 times*.
Pay for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to go “island-hopping in a volcanic archipelago on a superyacht staffed by a coterie of attendants and a private chef” 62,500 times.
Buy 1.3 million of the rarest Charizard Pokémon card. (Although we should note, there are not *nearly* that many of those cards in existence).
Stay in the Honeymoon Suite at the Trixie Motel for 20,000 years.
If that’s not enough to grind your gears, I’ll end this section with this absolutely wild quote I got in my inbox last week from the advocacy group Climate Power:
“Despite record gains, most of the top U.S. oil and gas companies paid little to no taxes in 2021 and 2022. None of the companies we tracked – including Exxon and Chevron – paid the full statutory 21% corporate income tax rate. If every company had, it would have generated an additional $21.1 billion in revenue for the federal government.”
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Some more news to start your week
Literally nobody emits as much as Americans. People who want to delay climate action in the U.S. often argue that everyone should be focusing on China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas-emitting country. Aside from the fact that the U.S. has emitted more carbon historically than any country in the world, putting the blame solely on China ignores that we can—and should—focus on both the U.S. and China’s climate goals.
But if you’re looking for a new argument to use in response to the “What about China?” folks, a new report from the World Resources Institute can help. It reveals that the U.S. emits more carbon dioxide per person than any other country in the world—including China. Americans emitted 17.6 tons of CO2 per person in 2019, far surpassing the Chinese, who rank sixth on the list). India, the third-highest emitting country, had among the lowest per capita emissions.
Overall, per capita emissions are decreasing. “The good news is that globally, per capita emissions have not increased since 2010, indicating that the world is slowly diverging from its previous path of carbon intense development,” the report says. But Americans still have the most work to do.
Another fossil fuel plastics disaster in Texas. The East Palestine, Ohio train derailment wasn’t treated like a fossil fuel disaster by most of the mainstream media. But that’s inherently what it was—and so is the latest petrochemical disaster in Texas.
On Friday, a Shell petrochemical plant in Houston caught fire and was still burning as of Monday, sending nine workers to the hospital. While Shell said there’s no danger to the community from the plume of smoke, this is just one of the hundreds of chemical accidents per year that release toxic pollution into communities. Many of these petrochemical plants are built in communities of color, or low-income communities, making the most marginalized the first to get sick.
Utah has narrowly saved its climate change science curriculum. With all the recent news of subject matter and book bans in schools, it’s worth remembering that climate change also is on the conservative Christian movement’s censorship list. On Friday, by just one vote, the Utah State Board of Education rejected a measure to ban climate change from the state’s science and engineering standards. It was a sobering reminder of school boards’ power over the next generation’s understanding of not only climate change, but race, gender, sexual orientation, and even American history. Education, like everything else, is a climate issue, too.
The good news, according to Lin Andrews, the director of teacher support at the National Center for Science Education, is that more states teach real climate education than climate denial, including Texas. Other states are also legislating climate change into their curricula, including Connecticut and New Jersey.
A crushing defeat for climate policy in Texas, thanks to the fossil fuel industry. Residents of El Paso, Texas overwhelmingly voted to reject a proposal that would have put a climate change action plan in the city’s charter last week. The young Sunrise Movement activists who helped get the climate proposal on the ballot were wildly outspent by fossil fuel interests; El Paso Electric, a publicly-funded electric utility, spent $200,000 to oppose the measure, reports the El Paso Times.
The good news is that the climate charter made history by getting on the ballot in the first place—and local elections like El Paso’s are part of a larger strategy to address climate change at a local level, as national and global efforts lag behind. "We're not going anywhere," Sunrise El Paso organizer Miguel Escoto told the El Paso Times. "This is an organization, not a campaign, and we're going to keep fighting."
Catch of the Day: Reader Connell snapped this picture of her dog Quincy, who relishes his time outdoors under clear blue skies free from wildfire smoke.
Quincy asks us to please keep working to solve the climate crisis, so he can play outside uninterrupted.
Want to see your furry (or non-furry!) friend in HEATED? It might take a little while, but we WILL get to yours eventually! Just send a picture and some words to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Correction: A previous version of this letter incorrectly said Big Oil’s profits could pay for 280.6 million coronations. We meant 280.6. HEATED regrets the error.