OPINION: Rewarding destroyers, punishing defenders
As of early February, police have “made more than 90 arrests and dozens of detentions” to facilitate construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in northern B.C., “running up a taxpayer tab of more than $25 million,” according to the Narwhal. François Poirier, President and CEO of TC Energy, which owns the project, was rewarded with “$9.81-million in his first full year as CEO, including a $1.1-million bonus and share and stock option awards valued at $6-million,” the Globe and Mail reported.
During the November COP27 climate talks in Egypt, more than 30 climate protesters were jailed in the U.K., adding to more than 2,000 arrests in a campaign that began in April. On January 17, climate activist Greta Thunberg and others were arrested for protesting the demolition of a German village for a coal mine expansion. On the same day, a Reuters headline read, “Big Oil’s good times set to roll on after record 2022 profits.”
Worldwide, climate activists — and journalists and scientists — have been arrested, jailed, silenced and even killed for protesting to keep the planet livable for humans. Meanwhile, “The top executives at seven big energy companies had an average increase in their compensation of more than 21 per cent in 2021, compared with the prior year. In dollar terms, that was an extra $2.3-million for each, bringing the average pay package to $13.4-million,” the Globe and Mail reported.
For decades, oil companies covered up their own and other scientific evidence that their products could cause catastrophic climate disruption. Not only have they faced no consequences, they’ve reaped massive benefits.
New evidence shows the lengths to which they’ll go to enrich themselves and shareholders — even if it means supporting brutal governments. The world’s largest oil and gas service companies have been raking in enormous profits in Myanmar, propping up a murderous military regime. In 2021, oil giant Chevron lobbied against proposed sanctions that would hinder operations in the country.
The rewards aren’t just monetary; former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has dismissed evidence about climate change from his and other company’s scientists, was appointed secretary of state in the Trump administration.
Under our outdated economic systems, those who knowingly fuel a crisis that threatens human health and survival are richly rewarded, while those who try to halt the destruction — often young people whose future is most at stake — are punished.
Governments aren’t just subsidizing coal, oil and gas companies with tax and royalty breaks, loans and direct financing; they’re also using tax dollars to provide security for these companies through aggressive policing and enforcement.
The same is true of companies destroying forests and other natural areas critical to life on Earth, and the courageous people standing up to them. The latter often includes Indigenous Peoples, whose rights are being trampled as their knowledge of the function and importance of ecosystems is ignored. Many have paid with their lives.
It makes no sense. But it’s all considered reasonable in the context of global systems that prioritize wealth accumulation and rampant consumerism over everything else.
The problems won’t go away by stopping a pipeline project, coal mine, old-growth clearcut, oilsands operation or massive dam. That’s just playing “Whac-A-Mole.”
Governments should be working for the best interests of all people, not just wealthy corporations. If protecting the systems our health and survival depend on — from carbon and water cycles to forests, wetlands and more — isn’t in the public interest, what is?
Even the false promise of “jobs, jobs, jobs” is an anachronistic method of trapping working people in a system that does far more harm than good. If we were to reimagine our economic systems as ways to improve human health, well-being and happiness, we’d all be enjoying more leisure time — time with families and friends, time in nature, time pursuing education and interests. Instead, we’re caught in a seemingly endless vortex of working, consuming and spending.
We need to change our ways of thinking and acting. It’s not too late, but every delay increases the challenges and costs. A better world is possible. We just need to imagine it and make it real.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.
Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.