Oily politics: A critical assessment of the oil and gas industry’s contribution to climate change

Grasso, Marco
Energy Research & Social Science

The article investigates the role the oil and gas industry has played in climate change. Two-thirds of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions over the past two centuries can be traced to the activities of a handful of companies, most of which belong to this industry. Emissions generated by oil and gas companies’ products and processes have significantly increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. To add to this, some of the oil and gas majors have funded, shaped, and advanced climate denial. Through this behaviour, these companies have besmirched the entire industry and substantially contributed to paralysing global climate policy for decades. In brief, the oil and gas industry has – either directly through emissions or indirectly through denial – played a major role in anthropogenic climate change, the impacts of which are causing serious harm to humanity and the planet. This article carries out a review of the relevant literature in order to explore and justify this claim, as well as to lay the groundwork for analysing the consequent moral and political implications. It opens by overviewing the oil and gas industry, before going on to focus on the contentious and inconsistent process that led oil and gas companies to – grudgingly, and in a limited fashion – acknowledge climate change, a vivid testament to their awkward coexistence. Thereafter, the article turns its attention to the oil and gas companies’ direct contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions; and finally on how their efforts to upend accepted climate science through denial has been a powerful indirect contributing factor to climate change.