I suspect, being a progressive bunch, at least a few of us are Star Trek fans. Climate denial is mostly funded by oil company greed and oil company actions are meant to maximize their profits. So, the idea of this series of short (somewhat satirical) articles is that climate change denial will be analyzed under the lens of each stated rule, how it applies, and what we should consider for our strategies to achieve climate victory over oil company greed.
For those who do not know, the Rules of Acquisition are guidelines followed by the fictional Ferengi race, which are obsessed with pure, unadulterated greed (i.e., accumulating wealth at any cost). They would sell their souls for another dollar. If you’re not familiar with Star Trek but are a fan of The Simpsons, imagine a whole race of Mr. Burns.
Here’s the first article in this series in case you missed it: Rule of Acquisition #1.
The 3rd Rule of Acquisition is:
Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to.
In order to keep the revenue coming in, fossil fuel companies spend their money on ideological “think tanks,” politicians, advertising, media manipulation, and more. The goal is to keep us addicted to dinosaurs and keep their profits rolling in. But, compared to the untold billions of dollars in profit they make, the amounts spent on keeping us addicted are actually quite small. The return on investment (ROI) is enormous. The top 15 companies showed almost $3 trillion in revenue in 2018.
Politicians are also not that expensive. A few strategic races are only a few million dollars. A lot of money to you and me, but here is just one comparison: in the US, Koch Industries grossed $110 billion in 2017 and spent 9.5 million on lobbying. This is 0.00864%. Less then a rounding error!
And let’s not forget Mike Pence believes cigarettes are not harmful to humans. And this cost cigarette companies less than half a million dollars (perhaps close to $300,000).
They also lobby against “job killing” regulations that reduce profits (partly because adhering to regulations creates jobs and thats an expense), they fight against employee safety regulations, and they fight against pollution containment/mitigation/prevention. This is all to reduce their costs — privatize profits and socialize costs.
They also look for easy-to-extract oil, and part of the return from buying politicians is to get access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other public lands that contain fossil resources they can cheaply exploit. Pristine land, endangered animals, nothing is as important as making more money from fossil fuel.
Interestingly, they also cheap out on their operations — from the Exxon Valdez to multiple spills daily to the Deepwater Horizon, they act like scrooges squeezing every dollar out and then end up screwing the public. Only sometimes when they get caught do they end up paying more than they saved. As one example of the absurdity, their investment in right-wing politicians easily got the regulations repealed that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon. In the end, it’s always the taxpayer who pays the full price for ecological disasters — reparation money can’t undo everything, nor can it bring back the dead.
They are also fighting the climate liability lawsuits. Not only are there parallels between tobacco and climate denial, but they see the writing on the wall and hope they can buy enough politicians to manipulate the courts and keep reality off their backs, because if they have to pay reparations, then they are out a lot of money — destroying the climate is a much bigger kettle of fish than a single spill. This hearkens back to Rule Number One.
We can deal with these issues by making sure they pay their royalties and working to strengthen them, which helps us in three ways: it raises the cost to extract oil (but does not raise the cost to consumers, as it’s a commodity-priced product), it helps make the public partially whole so that some of the profits flow back to those who personally pay the environmental and health costs, and it makes renewables more attractive. Also, while it does not raise the customer cost of oil, it squeezes margins and makes renewable margins look more attractive.
We can also shine a bright light on their media and public opinion manipulation. As George Bernard Shaw told us, “The only secrets are the secrets that keep themselves.” (Interestingly, Finland is teaching its citizens how to think critically and see through lies.)
In addition, we can strengthen worker safety and public/pollution laws. This helps make fossil fuels less attractive to mine and helps somewhat mitigate the harm they are expanding under current administrations and getting away with.
Money they have spent on right-wing politicians has allowed huge abuses to go unchallenged. The abuses have even expanded and Trump/McConnell have stacked the courts, which helps them evade justice by rewriting laws and interpreting current laws favorably for these purveyors of death. This is a terrible juggernaut we have to break, and soon.
Finally, we can pass laws that disallow them from buying politicians. The right and bad-faith corporations will howl like banshees about how this will destroy humanity, supreme irony because they are the ones who would rather destroy humanity to keep making more money. We must turn a deaf ear to these cries against accountability.
The 6th Rule of Acquisition is:
Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
As I just finished saying, oil companies would prefer to destroy the human race for their own monetary gain (notice how they don’t seem to realize they will be screwed as well, as there is no Planet B and colonizing Mars is not even yet theoretical). The sixth rule is meant to rationalize greed by pointing out that people are expendable and money is more important. It’s okay to screw over even your own blood for more money.
We should recognize that these are not ethical people we are dealing with. We owe them nothing and we must take the appropriate actions to safeguard our futures. This is not meant to rationalize ecoterrorism or violence, even for the “greater good,” but it is meant to remind us that we have the technology to save ourselves and the only thing stopping us from deploying it is single-issue voting for hate and lies.
We can scale that technology today. Modeling tells us it can be achieved as soon as we are committed and take action. This must be our focus. No one can get rich selling fossil fuels if we stop buying them.
The 7th Rule of Acquisition is:
Keep your ears open.
It’s virtually guaranteed that purveyors of fossil fuels are constantly taking the world’s pulse on transitioning to renewable energy (and reading CleanTechnica, among other renewable energy news sources).
Their misinformation campaigns respond to current events and local elections. When possible, they crush local initiatives to promote renewable energy by manipulating voters (when they can’t buy enough politicians). Again, notice also how little this costs compared to their revenues.
They are also keenly attuned to the climate lawsuits, as previously covered.
In response we have to be adaptable. They will adjust their tactics as renewables rise, and we must be vigilant and ready to counter their upcoming moves.
The 9th Rule of Acquisition is:
Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
Right now, the opportunity is manipulating voters and buying politicians to keep cheap oil available and moving. Their instincts are finely honed to use their money to accomplish these things. They are risk takers and the risk is incredibly small for the most part. If right-wing politicians turned on them, then they have lost very little money (and the risk of that approaches zero anyway).
The biggest risk is voters turning on right-wing politicians and climate lawsuits succeeding. We can make these things happen by voting and campaigning for politicians who don’t take oil company money and who work to fight climate change. This will sidestep the corruption problem. Also, pushing shills out of office prevents them from manipulating the judiciary to do the bidding of fossil fuels. Interestingly, many right-wing voters do accept the reality of climate change, even though they vote for climate deniers. The reason is that the issues they care most about are not climate change or air pollution. However, if they decided en masse to vote for climate-mitigation candidates, then their new leaders could be less corruptible — if they choose wisely. Something to think about.
Image courtesy Overseas Development Institute (ODI)
The 10th Rule of Acquisition is:
Greed is eternal.
Not only is selling fossil fuels part of their money-making juggernaut, but they have an alternative income stream as well, subsidies. A few double standards turn voters against subsidies for renewables even while fossil fuels enjoy $5.2 trillion a year in direct and indirect subsidies. Not only this, but their purchased politicians keep the money train coming in their direction.
Loyalty to reality or your friends (see Rule Six above) gets in the way of making more money. Ethics are arbitrary because their north star is extracting more money at any ecological or societal cost.
Voters will have to realize that their own fortunes are tied to their votes, that single issues and easy answers won’t save them from reality. Greed is not a virtue, it’s a an egregious flaw.