A New Climate Campaign: International Accountability, Neoliberalism and Labour Leadership

Cecilia Eve discusses the climate emergency. She analyses on the causes of climate change and how Labour Party policy needs to reflect this. 

Recently, speaking at a climate event with the organisation Mutiny, (direct action group similar to XR) I found myself asking the question of why there is such an utter black hole of awareness of who and what the key global climate criminals are. In a room full of environmental activists with a not just academic, but value-centric focus on the ecological crisis we face, these names should have been on the tips of our tongues: Amin H. Nasser of Saudi Aramco. Mike Wirth, of Chevron. Alexey Miller: Gazprom. Darren Woods: ExxonMobil, and Roknoddin Javadi of National Iranian Oil. CEOs of the top five contributors to GHG emissions, both private investor and state-owned. And yet no one could even name the top three.

Media Framing and Greenwashing

The fault didn’t lie with us. It lay and lies with media complicity and the lack of mainstream reporting on the devastation these companies cause. It lies with profit being put before planet; money talking and the truth staying silent. A study earlier this year found that the largest five stock-market-listed oil and gas companies spend nearly $200m each year lobbying to delay, control or block policies to tackle climate change.

It lies in particular with political negligence; from climate denialists to governments downplaying the damage to the cryosphere, biodiversity and the wider effects, determined not to upset their corporate drinking buddies. Recent studies have documented that the fossil fuel industry was broadly aware of the climate risks of their products since at least the mid-1960s, and that companies sought to publicly discredit climate science while taking steps to protect company assets from these risks. Organisations everywhere are greenwashing; disseminating disinformation to present environmentally responsible images whilst they continue, business as normal behind the scenes with no meaningful alterations. For example, BP launched a multimillion pound global advertising campaign, the largest it has in a decade, to mislead customers into thinking that it was transitioning to renewable energy when in fact, more than 96 percent of its annual capital expenditure is on oil and gas. ExxonMobil has also just dismissed a shareholder proposal calling for the company to disclose how it plans to align its business with Paris Agreement climate targets, going so far as to call the proposed report ‘materially misleading’. With little to no legal ramifications for repeated governmental failure to meet environmental targets, or corporate ecocide, these companies and their political partners are not going to suddenly find their dormant altruistic souls and cease.

Paradigmatic change in the narrative has never been more necessary. Pressure needs to be mounted from all angles; voting, constituents, investors, appropriate media framing, party manifestos, consumers, social media and civil disobedience. Just imagine if the media sensationalism was currently equal to that of coronavirus. An daily updated death toll, case counting, the governmental response coverage and urgent lifestyle change warnings. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming, to the tune of 71 percent of global emissions, and over half of those emissions since human induced climate change was officially recognized can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producing entities. The environment needs to become the locus of each and every political campaign; the epicentre of voting decisions, not just a factor. Aspiring and incumbent politicians need to be hyper-aware that their election and re-elections are predicated on their climate strategies. The Mayoral elections are a start, with Sadiq making carbon neutrality targets the focal point for his manifesto, yet the opposition is still defending the Conservatives’ failed record. 

From Anonymity to Awareness

Whilst chairing a Labour leadership debate with the Fabian International Policy Group, with Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP (RLB campaign), Stephen Doughty MP (KS) Stella Tsantekidou (former YF National Exec for LN) and BBC Today In Parliament reporter Thomas Mason, I noted the spectrum of topics that were raised as vote determining questions. It was heartening compared to previous focusses, ranging from mental health, to housing, to the endemic gender bias holding certain candidates back in comparison to their policy-paralleling male counterparts. I waited to see whether the environment would surface, and was not disappointed, fielding a question about other candidates’ prospective climate commitments going forward, compared to Rebecca Long-Bailey’s instrumental role in Labour’s Green New Deal. But it needs to go further. Questions are a positive sign of the issue shifting into the limelight, but the question of electability should be based far more heavily on how far we trust the next leader to defend our planet from exploitation.

We have seen that neoliberalism, this pseudo-evolutionary theory of humanity, does not work for us. In recasting inequality as virtuous, (see Boris Johnson on inequality) advocating a false innate human predisposition for hierarchical structure, and shaping attempts to limit the competition to be seen as inimical to liberty, it is the all pervasive ideology underpinning our lives. Which is far more sinister for our financial welfare, psychological welfare and planetary welfare than it appears. Epidemics of loneliness, widening chasms of wealth inequality and corporations, both privately and state owned, insidiously justifying ecological destruction with economic ‘growth’ are all symptomatic of the fundamental rot present in the fabric of our society. Just as these oil tycoons enjoy relative media anonymity, so does the philosophy that props up the system from which they benefit. Our response needs to prioritise an awareness campaign; the greatest defense to an invisible enemy is to label it.

Destruction to Equal Divestment

CEOs of these companies need to be called out, and their destruction laid bare.  Loopholes allowing companies to refrain from disclosing their environmental plans need to be closed, and precedents need to be set that legally penalise those who fail to meet targets. A rule is worthless if it is unenforceable. Divestment needs to become the next consumer protest. Climate action is no longer confined to the direction given by policy makers - it is now a social movement, commanded by both economic and ethical imperatives. Investors in fossil fuel companies carry influence over one fifth of industrial greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. And thus, so does divestment. The Tate Modern recently severed ties after 26 years with BP over climate protests and now feature climate activists in its exhibitions-it can work. XR are now setting their sights on Barclays, who invest £85 billion into fossil fuels. Yes, even your bank is involved.

We have a limited scope of emotive capacity for issues, so it needs to be used efficiently. Not, as I have noticed, in poking microcosmic holes of ‘hypocrisy’ in each other individually, for example ‘You can’t love animals if you’re not vegan’. We do not need a minority of perfect vegans, we need a majority to reduce their meat intake. ‘You cannot campaign for the environment if you travel a lot’. We do not all have Greta’s platform to be able to sail everywhere. Individually reducing carbon footprints is brilliant, but we do not need to tear each other down for not daily achieving liberal, ethical and ecological perfection. What we do need to do is unite around protecting our common home, and look at the macrocosmic picture; for example, raising awareness of those 5 top climate criminals to start with. Labour must be consequentialists about this; we are out of time.

Cecilia Eve Jastrzembska is a parliamentary policy advisor, women’s rights activist, animal welfare campaigner and former leader of two international NGO outreach programmes. She writes on artificial intelligence, coaches public speaking and is on the Fabian International Policy Group and Young Fabians Environment Network Committees.

She tweets at @CeciliaEve4


Resources to recommend:
The Climate Accountability Institute: https://climateaccountability.org/
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): https://www.ipcc.ch/
A Facebook group a friend of mine runs which connects activists across London for environmental talks, events and workshops: Search ‘Environmental Talks and Events London’
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