What do we mean by ‘Big Oil’ anyway?
It’s the umbrella term for BP, Chevron, Eni, ExxonMobil, Shell, and Total, the world’s six largest and richest publicly-traded oil and natural gas producers. Then there’s OPEC. An intergovernmental organisation set up in 1960 by five of the world’s largest oil producing countries, it co-ordinates the petroleum policies of its 15 member nations in its Middle East heartland and in the Far East, Africa and South America. Then there are the non-OPEC oil giants: China and Russia.
Between them, these are the big players behind an industry which drives the release of so much CO2 that the planet will become uninhabitable within decades. Not in some distant, hard-to-imagine future – but within the lifetime of today’s children.
The main obstruction to stopping the rolling apocalypse is denial and greed at the highest levels of global power, both in the private sector and amongst elected and non-elected state actors. For half a century scientists have warned about global heating – and for half a century they have been largely ignored, in large part because the fossil fuel lobby has pumped vast sums of money into stories calling climate science into question.
But those who profit from the ruination are not the only ones in denial. For the vast populations living on or below the level of subsistence, the warming climate isn’t a priority because a hungry belly has its own imperatives. In the rich countries though, the psychological phenomenon known as normalcy bias kicks in. It’s normalcy bias that prevents us from getting our heads round catastrophe of any kind, let alone something as vast as global societal collapse, because we instinctively resist any shake-up of the status quo. Think of the restaurant diners on the Titanic who carried on eating after learning the ship had hit an iceberg and was going to sink. They simply refused to believe the news. Denial. Normalcy bias in perfect working order.
But a reckoning is on its way. This week, the four heads of ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell appear before the US Congress House Committee for Oversight and Reform. This could be even more historic than the Big Tobacco face-off in the mid 1990s, which changed the face of tobacco marketing and distribution and de-popularised smoking considerably – partly thanks to those terrifying images on cigarette packs. For decades, the tobacco companies had assured people that cigarettes were definitely not addictive. Just as they lied for years about the health dangers of smoking, so the Big Oil companies have lied about the dangers of burning fossil fuels. Now, the Big Oil Four will be grilled about a ‘long running industry-wide campaign to spread disinformation about the role of fossil fuels in causing global warming.’
If they are found guilty of deception, we may see some kind of volte face in a hitherto impenetrable mega-industry – and even a ‘beginning of the end’ scenario for oil production. That could lead to significant change.
And soon COP 26 will be upon us. Thousands will be demonstrating, including Writers Rebel. We must get out there and be seen and heard. We know the peril we are in. The shit-show is coming down the road. Fast. It’s Code Red. So prepare your placard and get set for every type of protest imaginable during the summit. We all need to be seen, and heard. We all need to speak truth to power.
We can’t say we didn’t know. Or we forgot. Or we never saw it playing out before our eyes. We can’t allow those in power to extinguish human life in the only home we have: this Earth.
Monique Roffey is a co-founder of Writers Rebel and an award-winning Trinidadian born British writer of novels, essays, literary journalism and a memoir. Her most recent novel, The Mermaid of Black Conch, now in development for Film Four, won the Costa Book of the Year Award in 2020 and was nominated for eight major awards. Her other Caribbean novels, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle and House of Ashes have been nominated for major awards, and Archipelago won the OCM Bocas Award for Caribbean Literature in 2013. Her work has been translated into several languages. She is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University and a tutor for the National Writers Centre.
Act Now: Download and print our iconic Babylon posters below (original artworks by Zak Ove, Monique Roffey and Ebon Heath) or from our Big Oil Poster drive and post them wherever you can. Please use recycled paper if possible.