Exposing the Dirty Money In Politics

As of this writing, the United States of America has experienced 15 billion dollars worth of climate disasters — including severe temperatures, tornados, flooding, wildfires, droughts, and more frequent and severe hurricanes — which can be traced largely to the greenhouse gases produced by fossil fuels. From the August fire that destroyed Maui’s Lahaina, to California’s record snowpack this winter, to June’s choking air on the East coast from Canadian wildfires, we are paying an enormous price for our dependence on non-renewable energy. Global warming was first identified as a possibly existential problem in 1975, and despite it causing millions of human deaths in those 48 years, very little has been done.

Why? Because in the U.S. (and many other countries), the extractive energy industry controls legislation by coercing politicians to safeguard their profits through massive donations and those donations work. despite the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is real, the U.S. government still gives 20 billion dollar subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry every year, with the global figure coming in at 1 trillion dollars. Given those figures, it’s hard to picture even billions of composting, recycling, aluminum reusing, fast-fashion avoiding Prius drivers defeating the Big Oil Goliath. But we can, by leveling the playing field, and reminding governments they exist to serve “the people,” not corporate interests. To address the root cause of climate change, citizens must assert their natural power and say “no” to corporations that substitute their interests for those of the average American.

Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and other fossil-fuel companies send at least 200 million dollars every year to candidates who support extraction industries. In the first quarter of 2022, they spent more than 12.4 million dollars lobbying members of Congress, with Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) receiving 735,859 dollars during the year. Is it any surprise that Manchin, whose family owns a coal-industry business, almost single-handedly defeated President Biden’s sustainable-energy initiatives, and has long protected corporate energy interests? With at least 29 Senators and 105 Representatives, owning stock in fossil-fuel companies in 2021, it’s no wonder why climate progress is so difficult to come by. Like the average citizen, politicians often “vote with their pocketbook.” Money talks — and currently, there’s far more corporate money than citizen money in the election process.

What can responsible citizens do? Besides incorporating “green culture” into their daily lives, individuals should vote for legislators who support clear, defined, and achievable climate action. The U.S. has traditionally been the world leader in solving major human problems, such as pushing for the United Nations, creating the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, forming the Peace Corp., distributing trillions of dollars in foreign and humanitarian aid. But under Donald Trump, the U.S. pulled out of the climate change based 2015 Paris Agreement (which 196 countries signed), setting us back several years in global efforts to combat climate change. It is not surprising to learn, consequently, that the fossil-fuel industry gave 9.3 million dollars to a Trump re-election fund in 2019-2020, while giving just 40,465 dollars to Joe Biden, who supports the Paris Agreement. According to a YouGov poll, most Americans agree with Biden on this issue, including 69 percent of registered voters, but their voices are drowned out by corporate megaphones and corporate money.  

One solution to this problem is to establish a Climate Political Action Committee that can go toe-to-toe with the fossil fuel industry in both public education and back-room politicking. Its highly profitable, highly subsidized business model must be superseded by sustainable energy businesses that can deliver everything the petroleum industry does, but with a much lower environmental cost. Big Oil has been pressured to go “go green” for decades, but has mostly produced “greenwashing.” With life on Earth literally in the balance, it’s long past time to force the fossil fuel industry to take accountability. A Climate PAC would raise money to elect climate champions. School protests and bake sales are a start, for publicity purposes; some money would be raised by youth climate coalitions, like those in the Sunrise Movement, whose lives may quite literally depend on achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals (above all, to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius). The PAC would also engage and educate voters, recruit and develop a new generation of climate-savvy, scientifically informed politicians, and help generate a political environment in which climate change is regarded as an existential threat. It would also highlight the self-interest and backward-looking policies of fossil fuel apologists like Manchin, Trump, and Ted Cruz, who is the recipient of the most oil and gas donations in the Senate

Citizens must work together to create a greener future, because we won’t have any future if it is predicated on fossil fuel promises. Instead of changing their practices once the horrific, life-threatening side effects of the extraction industries became known, the major corporations denied responsibility, buried their own damning research, and cried “Drill, baby, drill!” to get oil out of the ground before environmental laws could take effect. Our informed, collective voice remains our most powerful defense against the encroachment of anti-climate rhetoric and more importantly, fossil fuel companies with their deep, weaponized pockets. The world’s oil and natural gas producers reached a record 4 trillion dollars in net income in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency, and the only way to fight that Goliath is with an army of Davids. We must protest, raise money, hold sit-ins, make phone calls, motivate others, write articles that challenge climate deniers, and together create new, effective ways to get our messages across. If we don’t, our parents may never get to hold any grandchildren… For who wants to bring innocent new life into a dying world?