Barbara Kellerman and Todd L. Pittinsky, in their book “Leaders who Lust,” describe that the lust for money is an insatiable desire for more money. Some people want to gather enormous sums of money for a larger purpose, such as improving schools, enhancing the arts, or sending a spaceship to Mars. Others want to accumulate money and then more money, with no larger goal in mind. Either way, however high the pile of money, it is never high enough.
The leaders of large corporations in the fossil fuel industry are amassing wealth by advantageously raising energy prices. This is all because of their insatiable lust for money. We are all aware that private enterprise is the foundation of the capitalist system. However, when a commercial enterprise is given the unrestricted freedom to make unlimited profits, it creates ripples in market economy systems. The fossil fuel industry has been blamed for contributing significantly to the destruction of our climate.
The fossil energy companies profit from the exploration, drilling, transportation, and sale of coal, oil, and gas. The primary source of carbon dioxide and methane emissions into the atmosphere is the extraction and combustion of coal, oil, and gas. But the owners, shareholders, and executives of the world’s largest energy companies are obsessed with making endless profits and accumulating wealth.
Shell is also a global private enterprise that is involved in oil and gas production. About eighty thousand employees work for this company, which operates in more than seventy countries. Shell’s success story begins in 1833, when an entrepreneur named Marcus Samuel decided to expand his London-based antiques business and took advantage of the popularity of seashells by importing and selling them from countries in the Far East.
After the death of Samuel, the business was transferred to his sons, and they also started exporting oil. But their major problem was that the oil was exported in barrels, which could leak and take up a lot of space for transportation and storage. To solve this problem, they acquired a fleet of steamers to carry large quantities of oil. The same fleet also included that ship which was the first oil tanker to pass through the Suez Canal. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the first oil tanker of the Shell Transportation Company revolutionized the transportation of oil.
Such large-scale transportation greatly reduced the price of oil, which led to an increase in the business volume of the industry. This was the period when the race for higher profits started in oil production and transportation companies. Shell opened its first refinery in the Dutch Borneo region to outpace its only competitor, Standard Oil, in the battle to outperform competitors. Later, when oil was discovered in the United States, Royal Dutch, a small competitor of Shell, started building its own oil tankers. In 1907, it was decided to merge the Shell Transport and Trading Company with Royal Dutch to form the Royal Dutch Shell Group. Later renamed Shell for short, the company began operations across Europe and Asia.
Not only this, but also in Russia, Romania, Venezuela, Mexico, and the United States, oil exploration and production continued to increase. Due to the discovery of oil and the growth of the industry from the 1960s to the 1980s, Shell rose to the position of undisputed king in the Gulf States. Since then, it has been a timeless story of continuous success, new possibilities, innovative energy projects, and trendsetting growth. Shell recently announced record-breaking profits, the company’s highest profit for any year in over a century. Although Shell is operating projects in many other industries, it has shown the largest annual profit in oil and gas. It earned over $43 billion in 2022, which is double the profit compared to last year. Environmental activists are stressing that Shell and other major energy companies have made record profits after a rise in global oil and gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The wealth-amassing tendency of big energy firms has been criticized by media and political activists, as well as environmental activists. They compare these companies’ high revenues to rising energy costs for their customers and a lack of investment in clean energy projects. Companies like Shell have also been criticized for investing too much in fossil fuels.
On one hand, these dominant companies are calculating their record-breaking profits while on the other hand people around the world are counting the losses caused by record-breaking droughts, heat waves and floods. As climate change is directly linked to the increasingly irresponsible use of energy, environmentalists believe that record-breaking profit-making companies should be forced to pay for the pollution they spread across the planet.
If the companies involved in the energy sector had historically separated their business from fossil fuels long ago, this environmental crisis might not have arisen. Accusations of greenwashing have also been placed on these companies. In a recent complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, it has been said that Shell’s performance is also equivalent to greenwashing. Greenwashing is a term used for companies that present a business or product as more environmentally friendly than it actually is.
After the start of the Ukraine war, consumers are facing a sharp increase in energy prices due to the disruption in supply. The governments of most countries are reluctant to impose adequate taxes (windfalls) on fossil fuel companies at the rate of their multiple profits. And there is a growing public demand that these companies should not be allowed to earn bumper profits.
Earning sky-high profits when faced with a global crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is extremely demeaning and inhumane. This is a great injustice to consumers of energy products, including the families of workers of big energy firms. Most of the population is struggling to pay their bills and meet their expenses. While the shareholders and a few of those in management positions who profit from the companies’ profits amass enormous wealth.
The writer is a London-based researcher, educator and author. He can be reached on Twitter @MIMazhar and [email protected]