Early this month, I wrote, Global Warming and the Insanity of the GOP. In it, I discussed this recent series of articles from Inside Climate News that documented how Exxon’s own scientists had been warning the company about global warming 40 years ago. What did they do? “Exxon and the other oil companies responded in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies had responded to the research that showed it caused cancer: denial.” That’s not hard to understand. But even I have a tendency to forget just how big the incentives are in this regard.
If you are my age, you remember back to the 1970s and the gas lines. That had nothing to do with actual physical gas shortages. The government had simply implemented price floors. But it didn’t stop people from talking about oil shortages and so on. The truth is that we are not looking at physical oil shortages any time in the near future. We are still discovering huge oil fields. For example, in 2000, the Kashagan Field in Kazakhstan was discovered. It contains an estimated 38 billion barrels of oil — 13 billion recoverable. That represents upwards of a trillion dollars. And that’s one oil field, discovered quite recently.
Similarly, the Lula Field off the coast of Brazil was discovered in 2006. It has almost 8 billion recoverable barrels of oil. That’s roughly half a trillion dollars. This is not just a tremendous amount of money. This is a tremendous amount of money that no one even knew about a decade ago. There is no way the people who work in the oil industry are going to stand aside and say, “We’ll pass on this money for the sake of the world.” They are going to use all the tools available to them to manipulate science, public opinion, and politics to keep this money flowing out of the ground.
This all takes me back to Chad Stanton and his idea of Impulse Control and Global Warming. We are constantly told that the problem with poor people in this country is that they lack impulse control. But global warming is a perfect example of how the rich have no impulse control. The idea of doing something for the long term is anathema to the capitalist way of looking at things. What’s the overall sustainability of the planet compared to a small number of people making a lot of money over the next quarter or year? This is the equivalent of eating your seed corn, except in this case, it is one or two people who eat it, so there isn’t even widely shared short term benefit for the long term tragedy.
It’s easy enough to focus on things like the Ghawar Field in Saudi Arabia, which was discovered in 1948. It remains the largest oil field in the world with production of 5 million barrels per day — roughly $100 billion per year. It’s just oil that is sitting around. But ExxonMobile and the rest are not just waiting to extract the oil that we know about. They are pushing forward to find ever more oil. And it is there to be found! And I fear that as long as there is big money to be made, they will continue to do so.