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.
The 16 and 17th Rules of Acquisition are:
A deal is a deal.
A contract is a contract is a contract, but only between Ferengi.
The idea of these rules are that you fulfill your contracts (when it’s mutually beneficial) but you exploit your customers when it’s not mutually beneficial. Especially if they are not your allies. It’s a twisted form of honour among thieves.
There is an implicit deal between the different fossil fuel players that helps explain why fossil fuels are so hard to combat even though renewables now cost less than fossil fuels. Every player in this coalition wants the status quo to continue since they all stand to profit from how things work today. Hence, they resist change for differing but compatible reasons. Fossil fuel is not the only industry in this conundrum. Companies that have built empires around low-fat foods have reason to resist new science proving fats are not the demons we all grew up learning them to be, because it will harm their established business models. This also exists in the healthcare industry, drug industry, and many others.
A quick summary of why each of these players want fossil fuels to continue reigning supreme:
- Fossil fuel companies: Profit
- Cities/states/countries: Royalties, (tax) revenue, jobs
- Utilities: Predictability and experience with legacy technology, plus margins that are well understood
- Right-wing politicians: Comfort (progress is scary), “donations” from fossil fuel companies, votes from reality deniers
- Tesla shorts: Profit
- Automakers: Profit, comfort with the status quo/stranded assets, and control. A collapse of their comfortable oligopoly is not a prospect anyone would look forward to. Also, large vehicles that consume disproportionately more fossil fuels have much higher profit margins than smaller vehicles, and increasing the efficiency of vehicles with better technology slightly increases costs, reducing profit.
- Customers: Fear of progress, something all the other players are happy to exploit and manipulate. We all grew up with fossil fuels, and as Douglas Adams told us, change is often considered unnatural. Also, there’s lack of knowledge about alternatives.
So, what do we do about these differing motivations. We analyze each one carefully and work out solutions, which are available for most of these facets. For some, there are no solutions and we have to accept reality. For others, the solutions work better than the status quo (jobs, clean air, and a stable climate are far better than the path we are on). Finally, consumer fear of change is not a technical or financial issue, it’s an emotional one. And motivation is adjustable, as advertising is constantly reminding us.
The 18th Rule of Acquisition is:
A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.
This is cultural reinforcement that is saying that if you don’t dedicate your life to earning more money, then you’re not a worthy person. The “American Dream,” America being the land of opportunity, is also meant to perpetuate a philosophy that unless you endeavor to earn and more more money, you’re not fulfilling your potential.
Selling yourself out for money is no big deal as long as you make money out of it. Ditto for selling out our species for runaway climate change.
This is a self-solving problem. In a few generations, people will wake up to what we already know from psychological research today — happiness does not come from being rich, dedicating your life to making more money, or finding new ways to acquire a buck. But this ideology has been part of human society for generations and will not die easily. We must not forget that our capacity to delude ourselves is almost infinite.
We can solve this much sooner than a few generations if we take a hard look at the facts at hand and resolve to learn from science. If our culture was based on happiness instead of the acquisition of wealth, we would be able to forge a better future for all of humanity. This would require us to let go of discrimination, hate, and lies. A tall ask.
The 21st Rule of Acquisition is:
Never place friendship above profit.
If you never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity (Rule #6), then you most certainly don’t allow friendship to matter more than profit. This also relates to Rules 16 and 17 above.
Once again, ethics are arbitrary when there is money to be made.
Our best defense against money over human life is to vote as if our future matters and stop voting for hate and lies (and fossil fuels).
As the explanation for Rule 18 pointed out, happiness does not come from having more money.
The 22nd Rule of Acquisition is:
A wise man can hear profit in the wind.
This rule is related to Rules #7 and #9 (Keep your ears open. Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.)
The Ferengi need a great deal of rationalization. It seems deep down they know how destructive profit at any cost is, so must create many rules to reinforce their philosophy of greedy “capitalism.”
Of course, this means future rules will also hearken back to already covered rules and will have even more rationalizations.
If you can hear profit in the wind, you can stay fixated on looking for new ways to create markets for your high-margin products and to scale the production of your product. Ethics not included.
The easiest antidote to this rule is to realize that we must look out for ourselves and transition away from fossil fuels. And not fall for bad advertising, fear mongering, or fear of progress.
The 23rd Rule of Acquisition is:
Nothing is more important than your health, except for your money.
In reality health is more important than profit (once you reach the poverty level in income), but when you have a culture of money at any cost, you have to keep reinforcing that more money is the path to enlightenment.
Fossil fuel companies have taken Rule 23 to heart because they oppose anything that would reduce their profit — environmental regulations, air pollution regulations, new technologies, and so forth. They don’t care how many get sick, get cancer, or die from fossil fuels as long as they make money. And you can bet they use their money to extend their own lives. (It doesn’t always work, of course.)
The best response to this is to get off fossil fuels and to understand the latest research on their health effects (know your enemy). And to insist on strong government regulation to protect the lives of all humans.