How Big Oil is Exploiting the Covid-19 Crisis

The onset of the Covid-19 global pandemic and orders to shelter in place have thrown most of us into a state of profound crisis. However we view the world, our world will never be the same. Now is the time to set our intentions for what kind of world we want to create on the other side of this crisis.

In a powerful video for The Intercept on “Coronavirus Capitalism and How to Beat It”, Naomi Klein quotes Milton Friedman: only a crisis can produce real change, but the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. What we need now is to make every effort to ensure that those ideas prioritize climate, jobs, and justice.

Case in point: even before the full effect of the pandemic depressed oil prices to the lowest level in decades, the fossil fuel industry was already in trouble because of the worldwide oil glut. When the pandemic abruptly curtailed demand, fossil fuel leaders immediately seized upon the crisis as an excuse to push some ideas they had lying around: getting rid of environmental regulations.

A squadron of fossil fuel executives lined up at the White House recently, using the coronavirus crisis to accelerate their agenda of free-market planetary destruction. Republican lawmakers also suggested that this heavily subsidized industry be excused from making royalty payments. And oil execs reopened the question of filling the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, although that comparatively modest $3 billion investment won’t solve their financial woes. But under cover of the covid crisis, this failing industry and its captive executive branch have wasted no time exploiting every angle to their advantage.

In a recent issue of Drilled News, journalist Amy Westervelt details the many ways in which stimulus money could be used to revive projects that were failing long before the advent of COVID-19. As if to illustrate this maneuver, the province of Alberta suddenly invested $1.1 billion to re-start construction on the Keystone pipeline, while also laying off 20,000 teachers on the pretext of budget constraints.

Indigenous activists whose lands lie along the path of the Keystone Pipeline are understandably concerned that the influx of workers, vehicles, and construction will bring the COVID-19 virus to at-risk people who are not prepared to deal with it. Not to mention that, as Bill McKibben put it in a recent Guardian article, all this is “in order to build a pipeline that would carry oil no one wants or needs, and which would go a long way toward wrecking the planet’s climate system.”

How can we respond from our separate shelters in place? Some utopian ideas have been floated. Said Mitch Jones, policy director of the nonprofit Food & Water Action, “The most effective course of action right now would be a public takeover of the major fossil fuel companies, with a plan to wind down their operations and create new ventures that would create millions of good green jobs and help combat the climate crisis.”

Such decisive, positive action isn’t in the cards, given our inept governments that seem totally at the service of the fossil fuel industry. And during this rescue phase we are refraining from taking to the streets. But there is still some room for collective action and digital protest, and plenty of time to discuss what should be part of a green stimulus package for the recovery phase. Want some inspiration? On April 22-24, join the Earth Day live actions during a 72-hour livestream.