Fossil fuels have helped build our society to where it is today; no one is arguing that it didn’t. And certainly there are good people in the fossil fuel industry who are innocent of causing the harms we’re about to cover. Unfortunately there are a lot of bad apples in the fossil fuel industry who have done a lot of harm, and that’s who we’re talking about here.
We have already heard about the damage to nature, climate and economy. But the fossil fuel industry and the use of fossil fuels have hurt a lot of people in many ways, over many years. There have never been apologies for this harm, just more work to keep letting them harm so they can keep making money for shareholders at any cost to the rest of society.
“From 2008 through 2017, 1,566 workers perished trying to extract oil and gas in America. About as many U.S. troops died fighting in Afghanistan during that period.” —Texas Tribune
“Coalmining has historically been a leading job occupation where workers contract and suffer from respiratory diseases due to the dust they’re exposed to on the job. Though reported black lung cases hit an all-time low at the end of the 20th century, high rates of black lung disease have emerged in recent years in coalminers and other industries. Silica dust has been cited as a contributor to recent rises in black lung disease, particularly in central Appalachia, despite initial progress in nearly eradicating the disease among miners. In 2018, black lung disease in miners hit a 25-year high. In Appalachia, cases of black lung rose to levels unseen since the 1970s, when modern coal dust regulations were implemented.” —The Guardian
“Fossil fuel extraction leads to violence against and trafficking of Native women. The industry comes in, sets up man camps, and things get bad for women. Many have disappeared and nothing is done. The companies are not held accountable.” —Scientific American
As we have already discussed, fossil fuel pollution was responsible for 1 out of 5 global premature deaths in 2018. If we have a better way that won’t cause those deaths, shouldn’t we take that way?
There are other ways that fossil fuels are failing. As coal companies go bankrupt because they can’t compete on the market, they deliberately take steps to get out of paying their employees’ promised benefits and pensions. According to one analysis:
“Murray Energy [coal company] intends to follow the example of companies like Westmoreland Mining and Blackjewel, using bankruptcy to evade coal miners’ healthcare and pension costs. In a particularly dastardly case, in 2007, Peabody Coal created Patriot Coal, a doomed-to-fail spinoff company, and dumped 10,000 retirees there; they lost their pensions after Patriot promptly filed for bankruptcy. But these bankrupt companies still manage to make good on their debts to banks and hedge funds.”
So they give the miners black lung disease by fighting against regulations so they don’t have to protect their miners, their miners get sick, and the companies go bankrupt so they don’t have to pay their promised healthcare benefits. This is a common practice in the industry; some of these CEO’s are literal comic book villains, but absolutely not funny. These companies fight against regulations that protect workers so they can make more profits, even though their employees get sick and die. If people have to die for you to make a profit, you should find a new line of business.
Many of these injustices have occurred in the past because people did not have the resources and power to stand up for their rights, or they didn’t know and were just happy to have a job. They needed the jobs and were responsibly supporting their families, counting on their employers to do the right things. This must be called out and stopped in every instance when it’s already occurring, and evaluated in all new actions that are taken. Consider these examples:
|Workers at coal plants going out of business lose their promised pensions and health care||Coal companies go bankrupt on purpose to avoid paying employee benefits; Almost no coal companies were paying into the funds for workers as required; The US government covered the costs in 2019|
|People who are mandatory “members” of utilities and cooperatives stuck with bad power agreements||Peabody Coal dumped a lemon coal plant on rate-payers in 200 communities across the Midwest, who are now on the hook for a ridiculously expensive and dirty coal plant as well as billions in debt. Read a four-part article by IEEFA.|
|People next to dirty energy and industry and left behind – Superfund sites||Hazardous waste from factories and production of goods is often left behind by industry, and communities often don’t have the resources to fight, so the EPA has to come in and enforce cleanup by guilty parties. Check this website for all the current cleanups underway in the US.|
|People who live next to dirty power plants – Poor and People of Color||Power plants with lots of pollution are most often placing the most burden on the poor and people of color, who often don’t have the resources to fight back. Read about a 2012 study by the NAACP.|
|People living along the coast||Climate gentrification happens when poor people are forced out of their neighborhoods to make room for high-dollar investors losing their properties along the coast. It’s already happening in Florida.|
|Climate migrants||People in the United States, especially indigenous peoples who live in close concert with nature as part of their lifestyle, are having to move their communities because of environmental changes brought about by climate change. Read about the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Tribe in Louisiana and Newtok, Alaska. It’s a huge problem in many parts of the world and is only going to get worse, especially for women.|
|Youth||Without action on climate change, the millennial generation as a whole will lose nearly $8.8 trillion in lifetime income. The economic losses caused by climate change are substantially greater than the damages of other economic challenges. Read more in “The Pricetag of Being Young.”|
|Victims of extreme weather||In 2020, the US experienced the highest ever 22 weather or climate disasters that resulted in damages of over $1 billion. Read about it on Climate.gov.|
It’s usually about money, power and greed, hoarding of profits that they earn climbing over the dead bodies of others. In some of these cases, guilty parties are clearly identifiable and should be held accountable. In other cases, the US government’s inaction on climate change is to blame. Corporations make these moves to make more money, without regard to the monumental costs in people’s lives who are negatively affected, riling up their workers to “fight against the man” while killing them off. There’s this effort to build up this kind of life as adventurous, risky, tough, etc., but there are a lot of people out there who do risky things every day but aren’t exploited by psychotic money grubbers. There’s nothing heroic about having to sacrifice people to make money, it’s just part of the whole big show to make more money. Politicians claim to want to protect these workers and then let the industry get away with murdering them. It’s right there for all to see, and it’s not pretty.
We have to hold these industries and politicians accountable and take a better way. This is going to keep happening unless we learn as a society to understand how these issues are affecting people and how to fix these problems so they don’t keep happening. If you haven’t been victimized yet, consider yourself fortunate and help to make sure these things don’t happen to you or anyone else.