‘We must resist oil, gas and coal companies trying to shift the burden for solving the climate crisis to individuals. Instead, we must compel them to assume their immensely larger responsibility.’
Razzouk’s frank and frustrated rancour against the duplicity and mendacity of Big Oil, is well argued and justified throughout this entirely readable journey through the unwieldy narratives we have about the climate crisis and the systematic change that is desperately required.
As a clean-energy entrepreneur and high-profile climate communicator, his extensive knowledge and experience, as well as sardonic tone, are brought to bear in this message about demystifying and simplifying the multitude of climate messages and reducing the main focus to simple, clear aims.
In the opening five chapters, he adroitly sets the scene and concisely describes the state of the environmental world in which we live. He ends this section with a topical and provocative examination of the systematic change that is required and argues that capitalism does not have to be the villain. In each chapter, he carefully explains the problem, before outlining simple solutions, which are not naïve, but which are heavily delayed by oil, gas and coal companies who see the end of their profits in these markets. Razzouk then leads us to where our focus should be and the positive steps that we can take, before circling back to his central, repeated message that for too long, oil, gas and coal companies have been expert at abnegating their responsibility and have controlled the ‘consumer responsibility’ narrative to shine the focus away from their actions.
Tragically, Razzouk begins with his personal experiences of climate change-fuelled destruction and lists Pakistan as being heavily impacted. ‘I witnessed the incredible vulnerability of Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, India and Pakistan to floods.’ With over a thousand dead and over 30 million people being affected over the last few weeks in the most recent flooding in Pakistan, it serves as a sad reminder that history repeats the cycle until it is broken. ‘Today it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.’ were the words of the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, to remind the world that climate change needs our attention.
Razzouk makes it clear in his introduction that, ‘It’s time to change the conversation.’ He does not shy away from pointing the finger firmly at polluting companies and decries the ongoing strategies of Big Oil companies, arguing that they haven’t learned from past behaviour. ‘The fact that Shell, still has the gall to try and mislead the public shows that the road ahead continues to be paved with the bad intentions of wealthy and destructive corporations.’ Throughout this book, the author attempts to offset the pressure on individuals to change their behaviour and does focus more on corporations and companies. He does not criticise individuals for their changes in lifestyle, but urges that these, by and of themselves, will not bring down the rising emissions swiftly enough to reduce the climate impact as soon as we can. ‘Individual action, while good and important from a moral standpoint, makes little actual difference and may even be counter-productive in some cases. We are in critical need of major systemic changes.’
Razzouk challenges the need for a plastic pervasive society and argues that this has been created to benefit gas and oil companies. He comments that, ‘We eat, drink and breathe plastic because it’s a waste product of the oil and gas industry and because of the obscene money that has been made available to petrochemical companies to manufacture a lot more of it, insanely cheaply.’ Their need for money has become the hazard to our environment. He examines in depth the hazards of plastic pollution, fast fashion, mass industrial fishing, the exporting of recycling to developing countries, with an ‘out of sight and out of mind’ mentality, the damage caused by air pollution, the environmental impact of fracking and all the time highlights the only beneficiaries of such a system. ‘It really is an extraordinary gig: unleash poisonous pollutants everywhere, free of charge, and make lots of money doing it.’
Boycotting doesn’t work
As the book develops, Razzouk highlights one of the main difficulties with customer led action- that boycotting products doesn’t work. In the case of plastics, or palm oil, the reach of these products as ingredients is so great, that customers could not have the knowledge to avoid them all sufficiently enough to put pressure on companies to change. Legislation and regulation need to be strong and powerful. Razzouk advocates for accountability, transparency and responsibility from directors of oil and gas companies, which does not seem unreasonable. ‘If the directors were held legally responsible for the environmental harm caused by their supply chains and as a result insurance companies stopped covering environmental destruction in their policies, everything would change overnight.’ He argues that the default positions for companies, corporations and countries should be sustainability, or cutting carbon emissions- that these, should not be ‘targets’, but that prevention is better than the cure and that this should be the starting position for any decision-making process.
Fresh air is a myth
Thankfully, awareness and information about air pollution has been growing, so Razzouk’s chapter on it comes as no real surprise. Air pollution is a global killer. He states that, ‘The fundamental driver of air pollution is the burning of fossil fuels over the past 150 years, using the air as a free garbage can.’ He once again zeroes in on the fossil fuel companies who have given no thought to the consequences of their product and instead have focused on short- term company gain, at the expense of everyone else. This is a repeated message, that oil and gas companies have been given free rein to pollute and abuse eco-systems and now that attention is focused on them, they attempt to switch responsibility onto the individual consumer, with their ‘carbon-footprints’.
Overthrowing Capitalism Is A Waste of Time
Up to this point in the text, Razzouk sets the scene and lays out solutions clearly and carefully. We then come to one of the two chapters which I found personally challenging and provocative. Chapter 6, ‘We Don’t Have Time to Overthrow Capitalism’, came as a shock, as Razzouk had been suggesting radical system change in earlier chapters. Indeed, he begins this chapter by stating, ‘Only capitalism is likely to provide the answers to the climate emergency.’ What he does in this chapter is highlight that any ideologies or narratives that take us away from the central goal of reducing emissions, should be discarded as a waste of time and energy. He sets out the challenge that those who call for degrowth and system change are not perhaps being as practical as they could be. He suggests that no alternatives are suggested to replace capitalism and changing the system for multiple countries around the world would be counter-productive. ‘Instead of naively calling for the abolition of capitalism, we should focus on holding companies to their commitments and pushing more towards sustainability, whether in the production of goods or the supply…Capitalism is perfectly suited to regulate the system from within.’ Razzouk cautions about falling into narrative and ideological traps which distract from the main goal of reducing emissions. He states that the broad church of the climate movement is too broad and that it is ‘unwieldy and unfocused.’ He notes that as long as this is the case, polluting companies will continue to prosper. He highlights in this chapter that abolishing fossil fuel subsidies would be a powerful method of dismantling the fossil fuel juggernaut. ‘Yet according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we continue to this day to subsidize the production and burning of coal, oil and gas to the extent of $5.9 trillion, or 6.8 per cent of global gross domestic product. That’s $11 million every minute of every day paid to Big Oil to make the climate emergency more acute.’
Razzouk is clear on solutions. ‘We need to build circular economies.’ He explores the benefits of ‘green’ hydrogen, compared to ‘black’ and ‘blue’ hydrogen, though admits that ‘we’re not there yet.’ He is clear that change can happen very quickly and cites as an example of this, the global response to the dangers of CFCs. He makes the persuasive point that nuclear power ‘is so over’ and that there hasn’t really been growth in this industry over the last 30 years. Storage of waste, subsidies for the industry, the significant use of water and the cost implications of nuclear power are all examined fully. Again, Razzouk cuts through the noise and simplifies the issue. ‘But we know what we have to do to fight climate change. We have to stop using fossil fuels-oil, gas and coal- by 2050. We know how to do that: we need to decarbonize our economies and lifestyles using clean and green energy.’
He advocates for more climate litigation, though later warns that law firms may risk their ‘green’ reputations if they continue to have fossil fuel companies as clients. Razzouk outlines the dangers of ‘greenwashing’ done by companies in their efforts to ‘look good’ and states that carbon offsets and tree-planting have been used repeatedly in bad faith by companies. ‘Hundreds of thousands of companies think that they can continue doing what they do while generating carbon emissions and looking great doing it.’
The inexorable rise of emissions has continued with the obfuscation of fossil fuel companies over the last four decades. Razzouk’s point is that ‘The last time the atmosphere contained this much CO2 was more than three million years ago, at a time when global sea levels were several metres higher than they are today…We are now fast moving towards 450 PPM…We add approximately 3 PPM each year, so to reach 450 will take just 10 more years.’
By 2032 then, we could be living in a world of 450 PPM, if the rise continues at the same rate.
How do we avoid this?
Razzouk uses history to set out a successful strategy to avoid this potential future.
- Crystallise and zoom in on Big Oil
- Have a single compelling message (ideally positive)
- Have a coherent movement that has clear goals
- Convince the public that the cost of effecting change is low
- Create stable institutions that can give the message permanence.
Razzouk believes that having this clear focus on the ‘Nasty Ninety’ companies responsible for two thirds of the harmful emissions generated since the industrial age began, can help campaigners coalesce around narrower objectives. He chooses not to be distracted by other messages such as flight shaming, or the choice of having children, or the choice of veganism, or even global population. His view appears to be that these individual actions are morally laudable, but that they don’t effect the necessary change for emissions to be reduced by the fossil fuel companies. ‘Don’t lose focus on the fight that really matters: phasing out our existing oil, gas and coal use as soon as possible and stopping deforestation. Both are driven by big corporations with no moral compass that desperately need to be more regulated to be responsible.’
As a climate communicator, Razzouk finishes on the interesting point about how information about climate news is presented by the media and how it is received by the public. He compares the coverage of the failure of biodiversity, with more ‘positive’ news stories of royal babies or celebrity lives. He closes with two powerful images: one, if health warnings appeared of diesel-powered buses and cars, plastic products, gas stations, ships and planes. When Big Tobacco was forced to label their products with ‘Smoking Kills’, the propaganda spell was broken. This could be the same for the oil, gas and coal companies. ‘Fossil Fuels Kill.’ Secondly, he again uses the tobacco industry as an example and imagines oil executives from ExxonMobil testifying in court that they had knowing misled the public, with the possible bankruptcy this could bring to mutiple companies.
With the rise in climate litigation around the world, surely this day may not be too far away.
Don’t be distracted- be prepared to cut through the noise and focus on narrow objectives. Make those responsible for the continued rise in carbon emissions actually responsible.
Instead, of a conflicted unwieldy climate community, sometimes at odds with itself, Razzouk reminds us that we have a common enemy, as well as a common aim.
At present, what are we doing in terms of reducing emissions?
Razzouk’s answer: ‘It’s not enough’.