‘It’s fossil capital, stupid!’

To support fossil fuel companies, the biggest banks have continued to increase their investments in them, even in the covid year of 2020 (Rainforest Action Network, 2021).

One might have thought that the increasing risk of fossil fuels becoming unextractable in the future would have discouraged such support, but this would be to ignore the promise of huge profits that can be made before the transition kicks in.


So fossil capital and agri-businesses are largely responsible for causing climate change. Oil companies such as Exxon and Shell have known this for decades (as early as 1957 – Grasso, 2022, p25), but they have lied and cheated throughout, using their huge wealth and influence to avoid being required to admit that responsibility.

Since the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to two degrees was signed in 2016, fossil fuel companies have spent billions of dollars on trying to undermine it (Influence Map, 2019). 

Tragically, they have largely succeeded in this enterprise. In recent years, they have changed their tactics from outright climate scepticism and denial to greenwashing such as setting bogus targets of net zero carbon based on unproven technologies of carbon capture and storage and on reforestation at a questionable scale (Kusnetz, 2020).

But nothing has really changed. The siren voices of these merchants of doubt, with their self-serving discourses of climate delay, continue to hold sway in the world’s corridors of power.


Over the years, the abject failure of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) even to mention fossil fuels in its publications, not even in its 2018 Summary for Policymakers on Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, and the continuing dominance of fossil fuel-linked companies in the Conferences of Parties (the main international decision-making body on climate change) bear testimony to fossil capital’s continuing hegemony.

The prospects for a green recovery from the Covid pandemic have already faded as only 2.5 per cent of recovery spending has been on green activities (Callaghan and Murdock, 2021).

It was only in 2021 that the International Energy Agency (IEA) recognised that the fossil fuel industry’s business model was not sustainable.

The IEA expected a steep decline in demand for oil by 2030, from 90 million barrels of oil a day to 24 million barrels, and acceleration of investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency, together with electrification of transport, industry and heating, in order to reach Net Zero by 2050.


Even now, however, the IEA provides no clear guidance on how fossil-fuel companies are to be persuaded to accept such a decline (World Energy Outlook, 2022).

The situation looks hopeless but actually the way forward is clear. Citizens everywhere must call for their governments to mandate the necessary changes in the fossil-fuel industry, ceasing all new fossil-fuel development and making clear proposals to phase out existing production.

Transitions in all sectors need to be planned on clear timescales up to 2030 and beyond, with appropriate regulation for industry, transport, buildings, agriculture and land use, with an emphasis on energy efficiency, decarbonisation, electrification and carbon sequestration.

As Christian Breyer and his colleagues have shown, it is practically possible to achieve 100 per cent Renewable Energy Systems in Europe by 2040.

This Author

Peter Somerville is emeritus professor of social policy at the University of Lincoln.


McGuire, B. (2022) Hothouse Earth: An inhabitant’s guide. London: Icon Books.

Grasso, M. (2022) From Big Oil to Big Green: Holding the oil industry to account for the climate crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.


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