The Fossil Fuel Industry's Big Jobs Lie

The Fossil Fuel Industry’s Big Lie

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

It’s hard to look at the world’s relationship with fossil fuels and not see a classic abusive relationship. And one of the things all abusers do is try to convince their victims that they cannot live without them. The fossil fuel industry does this in a few key ways, but one of its most pervasive tactics is to tout itself as a key job creator and employer. They want us to think that the world would literally collapse without them, even as it’s in freefall with them.

On this week’s episode of Hot Take, we decided to kick the tires on that myth with one of the reporters who’s done some serious work on what kinds of jobs the fossil fuel industry actually creates and what kinds of lives the workers actually live: Sara Sneath. Sara’s done some fantastic—and enraging— reporting —on the fossil fuel industry’s undermining of labor rights and even basic human dignity. (Plus, she has a fascinating depth of knowledge about alligators.)

As the midterms kick into high gear, we are bound to get a heavy dose of the “fossil fuels=jobs” hogwash (Sara is also a pig wrassler), so it’s important to know how to spot this lie and how to push back on it. I highly recommend listening to this conversation, but the bottom line: they don’t create that many jobs and the ones they do create…kinda suck.

P.S. after you listen to the episode, go read some of Sara’s work:

Oil Workers On Foreign-Flagged Ships Are At The Mercy of Corporations | HuffPost Impact

The oil and gas industry is pushing misinformation about its impact on climate, coastal restoration. Louisiana politicians are repeating it. – Southerly

Offshore oil and gas worker fatalities are underreported by federal safety agency – Southerly

A decade after BP spill, Gulf of Mexico has rebounded, but wounds still visible

Offshore oil and gas accidents, deaths spike amid regulatory rollbacks | Environment |

Plastic bottles you recycle at Jazz Fest won't curb coastal erosion, contractor says | Environment |

After three workers died in oil explosion, government struggles to hold offshore contractors accountable | Environment |

The Reproductive Justice Hole in the Climate v Kids Debate

By Amy Westervelt

Oh yay, we’re doing yet another round of “is it moral to have children in a climate crisis?” As we discussed recently on the podcast, this latest discourse was kicked off by Ezra Klein who grappled with it in The New York Times in a way I can only describe as tailored to elite white people. It reminded me of the time I interviewed an editor at a prestigious New York publication. When the recording had ended and we got to chatting about life, I asked if he was worried about his own children’s future given the climate crisis. He looked at me like the question had never occurred to him, and then mused about all the wonderful ways his children would adapt to a climate-ravaged world, puttering around in boats in Miami like some sort of climate-apocalypse version of The Jetsons.

Klein, who only spoke to highly educated white people for his column, made a similar bid for “your” kids, “our” kids being alright, for not worrying too much about climate change. After all, hey, you might just give birth to the next Greta Thunberg. White feminist Jill Filopovic had a different take with her click-baity title “Having Kids Is Bad for the Planet,” [I’m not linking to it, Google it if you must]. She argued in her newsletter that people shouldn’t shy away from messy conversations about the morality of having kids who will not only have to live through the climate crisis, but also will (if they are like most kids in the U.S.) greatly contribute to the crisis as well. For all her “what about” arguments, Filopovic did exactly what she criticized Klein for doing: spoke only to and about well-off white people, universalized the experience of white women, and ignored other populations almost entirely, save a throwaway line about how the global poor will suffer most from the climate crisis.

I agree that we should be able to have messy, complicated conversations about this subject, but neither of these pieces actually did that. I’m a white-presenting woman with one non-white parent who has absolutely benefited from that identity, and definitely spent a good number of years being ignorant as hell about the realities non-white women face when it comes to reproductive choices. As such, I feel okay saying: White people, we can probably shut the fuck up about this subject for a while. I really encourage folks to read the work of scholars like Patricia Hill Collins and writers Cherríe Moraga, Louise Erdrich and, more recently, Angela Garbes, on intersectional approaches to mothering and reproductive choice. Man, it pains me to think how much better Klein’s column, or podcast episode on the same subject, would have been had he asked Garbes (who has a fantastic new book out!) this question.

Folks who are interested in exploring the messy intersection between reproduction and climate change should also bone up on the history of forced sterilization and eugenics in this country, on who gets to even have reproductive choice, who gets praised or vilified for those choices and why. It’s only been a few decades, but a lotta folks seem to have already forgotten that one of the original rifts in feminism grew out of the abortion debate and white women ignoring the fact that many non-white women had had abortion and sterilization forced upon them. If that’s your reality, you might be quite keen to have a mandatory waiting period for abortion, for example, a very different perspective from a woman who might feel that the waiting period is an obstacle to her choice. These differing experiences were largely ignored by Second Wave white feminists, and they’re still often ignored today.

Second Wave feminism has impacted this conversation in another way too. Despite many decades of “women’s liberation,” people with uteruses are still expected to put those things to work growing the human race. Should they choose not to, they will almost assuredly be asked to justify that decision. Never mind that for many many people it’s not a straightforward choice anyway (from fertility issues to lack of a partner, there are way more factors at play than one person’s desires). For the past 20 years or so, climate change has been a handy answer for those who feel they need one. If society deems it “selfish” not to have children, we must make the argument that well actually it’s selfish *to* have children if you think about it in terms of planetary resources. Instead of, I don’t know, just rejecting the whole framing of selfish/selfless entirely when it comes to this issue?

I’ve written about kids and climate change a lot over the years, and I’ve seen a pretty marked shift in people’s thinking, from “I’m worried my kid would contribute to the climate crisis” to “I don’t feel morally okay about condemning a child to climate chaos.” That shift feels pretty meaningful, and tracks with the fact that lots of things are getting measurably worse for humans on this planet and in this country and it makes sense that anyone aware of that might think twice about the world they’d be bringing a new human into. But reproductive choice has always been influenced by myriad factors that are intensely personal, ranging from the relationship one had with their own parents to the culture one grew up in, religion, financial stability, and on and on.

You cannot have a conversation about reproduction and climate focused solely on white people without sounding, at best, like a hopelessly out-of-touch elitist—and, at worst, like a eugenicist. But perhaps more importantly, devoid of context and a variety of viewpoints, or any discussion of the systemic drivers of the climate crisis, conversations about the morality of having kids amidst the climate crisis are meaningless, unproductive, and a distraction from the task at hand.

Southern Politicians Are Missing a Key Point in their Platforms

By Mary Annaïse Heglar

Back in 2006, then-Mississippi governor Haley Barbour launched his “Let’s Go Walkin,’ Mississippi” campaign as a response to the state’s ongoing health crisis, with out-of-control rates of diseases like diabetes and heart disease, many of which would be mitigated by more active lifestyles. This was the year I graduated from college, and one year after the state had been ravaged by Katrina. By the time the campaign had kicked into high-gear in 2007, I was already one of many Southern transplants in New York City. I remember seeing the commercials on TV when I went home to visit my family and thinking: “walk on WHAT, governor??”

With its crumbling or even just nonexistent sidewalks, Mississippi ain’t exactly walkable. And I’m from the third oldest town in the state…Meaning, it existed long before cars, but all the infrastructure is geared toward people having personal vehicles. It’s pretty hard to live your life there without a car. No way to get to the doctor, to the grocery store, to school or work. It’s part of what made New York, with its endless walkability, such an attractive option for me. I didn’t know how to drive then, but also didn’t like the idea of having to depend on a car.

All of which brings me to my main question: where are the Southern candidates who are willing to run on one of the biggest issues plaguing the region: the lack of transit? It could fix so many problems. First of all, it would save people money—not only at the pump, but some people could probably be freed from their car loans and insurance payments as they gave up their personal vehicles altogether. Then, yes, I agree with the former governor that it could alleviate some health problems since bodies are meant to be in motion and a sedentary lifestyle is brutal on your long-term health. It would also create jobs! Someone has to drive the buses and build the train tracks! Someone has to run the dispatch and all the other things about transit I don’t understand. Lastly, it could be one hell of a climate solution as greenhouse gases from cars are a huge contributor to national emissions. Honestly, I’m not seeing a downside here!

Just on a hunch, I bet it would start to attract more businesses to the South, too, because more workers would be able to navigate it more easily. That would also help the South stop losing its most valuable resource: young Southerners who move to places like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Leaving the South was an incredibly heartbreaking decision for me, but I didn’t see a way for me to make a life there.

It’s not even like we don’t have the bones for it. The Montgomery bus boycotts weren’t that long ago, and they had to have a bus system to boycott it, right? Same thing for the Freedom Riders. They had to ride something, right? My new hometown, New Orleans, is actually accessible by foot and public transit. Sure, it could use some upgrades too, but the system is functional and people do use it and I know plenty of people here who do not have cars of their own. In fact, I wanted to move to New Orleans after college for exactly that reason but… New Orleans was in no position to take in a broke college graduate so soon after Katrina. I had nothing to give the city and the city had nothing to spare for me.

It doesn't even have to stop at public transit like trains and buses (though I’d argue it absolutely should start there). The roads in the South could use some major upgrades and the routes could be streamlined to make more sense for where the major cities are today, which could cut down on the amount of time people need to spend on the road with their engines spewing noxious gas into the air. It would also help make evacuation routes safer in the now-routine event of extreme weather.

But… whenever I go to the webpages for Southern democrats, even the ones I’m excited about, there’s rarely anything about transit, let alone climate. It’s like what Amy and I talked about on our recent episode, the South needs candidates who are fighters. And this is an issue I want to see them fight for. If I’m missing someone, PLEASE let me know! I will donate to that campaign TODAY, and go knock doors for them. I’ll drive on the shitty roads to wherever they are to help them pave a road to the New South.

Climate Action Has Always Been a Target in the “Culture War”

By Amy Westervelt

A new report out last week from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue provides an updated look at the narrative frameworks, strategies, and key messengers of climate obstructionism. As with last month's InfluenceMap report, researchers found that "culture war" messaging is emerging as a dominant trend in climate disinformation, particularly the idea that climate policy is the realm of liberal elites, not "real" Americans, and the tendency to lump climate concerns under the umbrella of "identity politics."

There are those in the climate space—many of them climate scientists—who have argued for years that muddying the waters of climate with social justice is a losing strategy. They might imagine themselves vindicated by this report. They are not.

For a start, this messaging is not new. Corporations and others who benefit from the status quo have always dismissed environmental concerns as elitist, from Rachel Carson's "silly" concerns about the birds to the climate alarmism of coastal intellectuals. The environmental movement made a conscious choice to avoid engaging in social justice movement, and the climate movement carried on in the same vein for decades, refusing to connect ecosystem destruction to the unjust power structures that catalyzed and continue to allow it. But ignoring issues of power (race, class, and gender, etc) allowed the climate movement to become a place for wealthy white people to avoid grappling with these issues, denying how they directly intersect with the climate crisis. That was a weakness, not a strength. A weakness that was easily exploited, first by oil companies "wokewashing" and now by obstructionists painting climate with the "cancel culture" brush.

Here's the thing: Those who oppose climate action have always, always combined that work with voter suppression, segregation, misogyny, anti-LGBTQ and anti-worker efforts together under one roof and in one message. Nancy MacLean documented meticulously in her book Democracy in Chains, for example, that the Kochs were initially galvanized by the Brown v Board decision—they were segregationist, vote-suppressing, white supremacists who started the charter school movement as a backlash to school desegregation long before they became the kings of climate denial, and the brothers Koch and their many minions have continued to combine all the many threads of hate and control with climate obstructionism since the issue appeared on their radar. In other words, they have always seen climate as another front in the so-called “culture war,” which by the way has nothing to do with culture and everything to do with power and control. Their cohorts have similar histories. The Bradley Foundation? Anti-union, anti-school integration first, then "pro-family" (anti-women's rights) and finally anti-climate policy. Searle, Olin,'s been suppression and oppression as an anti-regulation strategy all along, always fighting against equality and climate policy at the same time.

None of which is to say that this recent pivot of the anti-climate crowd, from greenwashing to "fuck green," isn't worth noting and tracking, just that it needn't prompt a knee-jerk reaction, a retreat away from an intersectional lens on climate. It reminds me a lot of something Mary brought up in our podcast episode with David Wallace-Wells, about the research showing that when white people found out that Covid-19 was affecting Black and Brown people most, they stopped working so hard to stop the spread, and how some folks in the climate space have begun to worry that maybe talking about how Black and Brown people are hit first and worst by climate is doing the same. The answer is not to stop talking about it, but rather to actually, finally, tackle white supremacy.

I also think those who would challenge this framework have to understand where it comes from, how it evolved, and how long their opponents have seen climate policy as just another regulatory control they don't want. And realize that what we're seeing now is fear. Fear that the work to dismantle white supremacy and patriarchy has actually begun. Fear that all the movements they've been fighting against might slowly be figuring out that we're fighting for the same thing…and that we're stronger together.


Rising Temperatures, Rising Tides

Arizona Wildfire Reaches Kitt Peak National Observatory, Telescopes Possibly Damaged, by Kevin Hurler for Earther

Yellowstone Flooding Is a Sign of What's to Come for National Parks - The New York Times, by Jim Robbins, Thomas Fuller and Christine Chung

Greece’s First Climate Minister Prepares for Summer Heat Wave, by Eleni Varvitsioti for Financial Times

How Extreme Heat Kills, Sickens, Strains and Ages Us, by Raymond Zhong for The New York Timesd

Feeding a Hotter Planet - The New York Times, by Somini Sengupta

Yellowstone flooding upends lives and portends a new climate reality, by Nick Mott for High Country News

Japan battles flooding amid deepening climate crisis, by Kazunari Hanawa and Wataru Suzuki for Financial Times

59 dead, millions stranded as floods hit Bangladesh, India, AFP

Hunger in Somalia - The New York Times, by Somini Sengupta

Surreal Scenes in Yellowstone as Unprecedented Floods Destroy Homes, Bridges, by Becky Ferreira for Vice

Spain battles wildfires as it swelters in heatwave, Reuters

As Po dries up, Italy's food and energy supplies are at risk, by Paolo Santalucia for AP

Heat Kills Thousands of Cows in Kansas, by Molly Taft for Earther

Yes, May Was Definitely Hot - The New York Times, by Elena Shao

New Mexico fire sparks anger at fire service, by Alicia Inez Guzmán for High Country News

Pollution from California's 2020 wildfires likely offset decades of air quality gains, by Tony Briscoe for The Los Angeles Times

How Logging Is Affecting the Democratic Republic of Congo - The New York Times, by Dionne Searcey, photos by Ashley Gilbertson

The Collapse of a Major Atlantic Current Would Cause Worldwide Disasters, by Lauren Leffer for Earther

Across the US, a day of extreme weather prompts heat warnings, severe flooding and power outages for hundreds of thousands, by Elizabeth Wolfe for CNN

Dead Fish Are Nearly All That's Left of a Lake in Drought-Stricken Chile, by Angely Mercado for Earther

Hundreds of Little Blue Penguins Are Washing Up Dead in New Zealand Amid an Ocean Heatwave, by Lauren Leffer for Earther

Here's What It's Like Living in One of the World's Hottest Cities, by Sahar Habib Ghazi for Vice

Where Are California's Bumble Bees? By Molly Taft for Earther

Europe Heat Wave Creeping North Leaves Record Highs in Its Wake - Bloomberg, by Laura Millan Lombrana

Will These Be the Last Polar Bears on Earth? - The Atlantic, by Ed Yong

A Hotter, Poorer, and Less Free America - The Atlantic, by Robinson Meyer

Extreme heat to grow even more intense next week in Midwest, Southeast, by Matthew Cappucci

The ocean is a critical solution to climate change, groups tell Biden - The Washington Post, by Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano

A string of climate disasters strike before summer even starts - The Washington Post, by Anna Phillips and Tom Howard

Rare birds' arrival an 'unmissable sign' climate emergency has reached Britain, by Patrick Barkham

Burning planet: why are the world's heatwaves getting more intense? | Extreme weather | The Guardian, by Fiona Harvey, Ashifa Kassam, Nina Lakhani, and Amrit Dhillon

Thousands Of Cattle Killed By Brutal Heat, Humidity In Kansas, by Roxana Hegeman for AP

Western Wildfires Force Evacuations In Arizona, California, by Felicia Fonseca for AP

Tundra Fire Raging Through Southwest Alaska Threatens Villages, by Mark Thiessen for AP

The Climate Presidency?

The White House Will “Partner” With Caribbean Countries on Climate Change—Just as Long as They Don't Ask for Too Much Money | The New Republic, by Kate Aronoff

Joe Neguse Didn't Come to Congress to Fight Wildfires. Climate Change Had Other Plans, by Justin Worland for Time

Why Did Democrats and Solar Companies Just Kill a Climate Bill in New York? By Kate Aronoff for The New Republic

The Defense Production Act Is Biden's Gridlock-Buster | The New Republic, by Grace Segers

Emissions From New US Natural Gas Projects Will Equal 18 Million Cars, by Molly Taft for Earther

Biden Wrote a Stern Letter to Oil Refiners. His Government Should Take Over the Industry Instead, by Kate Aronoff

Why Joe Biden is invoking a war power to build heat pumps and solar panels, by Neel Dhanesha for Vox

Can Carbon Capture Be Part of the Climate Solution? - The New York Times, by Paul Tullis

The US Forest Service's controlled burn strategy started started New Mexico's largest wildfire - Vox, by Neel Dhanesha

Biden repeats call to world leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions, by Steven Mufson for The Washington Post

Meet Biden's 'energy whisperer' on climate, gas prices - The Washington Post, Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano

Fossil fuel leasing program undercuts Biden's climate goals, report says - The Washington Post, Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano

Biden hosts climate meeting amid high gas price pressure | AP News, by Seth Borenstein and Chris Megerian

Climate Accountability

Hansen, Heede and More File Petition Demand EPA Regulate Greenhouse Gases Under TSCA, by Amy Westervelt for Drilled

UN Chief: Fossil Fuel Companies “Have Humanity by the Throat” – Mother Jones, by Fiona Harvey

Why investors suddenly care about saving the environment, by Benji Jones for Vox

UN Climate Talks End in Acrimony and Accusations of Betrayal, by Camilla Hodgson and James Politi for Financial Times

Objective Analysis, Sponsored by ExxonMobil, by Kate Aronoff for The New Republic

One Site, 95 Tons of Methane an Hour, by Henry Fountain for The New York Times

Global banking regulator urges closer links between pay and climate risks, by Laura Noonan for Financial Times

'Vegan Leather': How Fashion Giants Recast Plastic as Good for the Planet - The New York Times, by Hiroko Tabuchi

German auditor queries standards for EU green bonds, Reuters

Rupert Murdoch's Sky News Australia Is a Cesspit of Climate Misinformation, Study Finds, by John Buckley for Vice

Global Warming Is on the Local Ballot This Year, by Liza Featherstone for The New Republic

Tense Mid-Year Climate Talks Raise Concerns of COP27 Flop, by Laura Millan Lombrana and John Ainger for Bloomberg

Australia invokes emergency powers to block coal exports in energy crisis, by Nic Fildes for Financial Times

How to Push Wall Street to Ditch Fossil Fuels for Clean Energy - Bloomberg, by Alistair Marsh

India takes tough stand at climate talks as Delhi endures brutal heatwave, by Amrit Dhillon for The Guardian

Biden's Climate Goals Rest on the Defense Production Act - The Atlantic, by Robinson Meyer

UN climate talks end in stalemate and 'hypocrisy' allegation, by Fiona Harvey for The Guardian

How Dom Phillips Effortlessly Taught Me to Be a Better Journalist, by Nayara Felizardo for The Intercept

Montana Gov. Spent Days Vacationing In Italy As His State Suffered Historic Flooding | HuffPost, by Chris D’Angelo

Justice Is Justice Is Justice

On Climate Change's Front Lines, Hard Lives Grow Even Harder, by Mujib Mashal and Hari Kumar for The New York Times

Climate Denial's Racist Roots | Atmos, by Mary Annaïse Heglar (!)

She Spoke Out Against Vietnam's Plans for Coal. Then She Was Arrested. - The New York Times, by Sui-Lee Wee

In his own words: Dom Phillips' reporting on Brazil and the Amazon, The Guardian

Ministers creating 'hostile environment' for protesters, say MPs, by Nadeem Badshah for The Guardian

‘Bolsonaro’s fingerprints are all over this’: how president’s war on Amazon played part in double killing, by Andrew Downie for The Guardian

The climate crisis is hitting the planet's working classes the hardest and they know it | Jeff Sparrow | The Guardian

Right-Wing Judges Say It's “Harmless” to Label Climate Activist a Terrorist, by Natasha Lennard for The Intercept

Glimmers of Hope

America Can Cut Emissions in Half by 2030—if We Choose To – Mother Jones by Matt Simon

Climate change is all about power. You have more than you think, by Rebecca Leber for Vox

Meet the Peecyclers. Their Idea to Help Farmers Is No. 1. - The New York Times, by Catrin Einhorn

Queering the Food System, by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner for Atmos

How to Fight Climate “Delay”—Denial's Hipper, More Dangerous Cousin, by Liza Featherstone for The New Republic

Strange, Isolated Group of Polar Bears Discovered in Greenland, by Angely Mercado for Earther

Saving a Texan Bayou, '16 Bottles' at a Time, by Cara Buckley for The New York Times

Vettel uses Canadian Grand Prix to protest tar sands, by Steve Keating for Reuters

These Polar Bears in Greenland Can Survive With Less Sea Ice - The New York Times, by Henry Fountain

U.S. EPA ordered to reassess impact of glyphosate on health, environment, by Jonathan Stempel for Reuters

Climate Tech Investors Advise the Boom Is Here to Stay - Bloomberg, by Mark Bergen

Ukraine Engineers Create New Electric Bike Model During War - Bloomberg, by Ira Boudway

As urban temperatures climb, here's what the modern city should look like | Bob Ward | The Guardian

Climate in Culture

Can Plant Medicine Survive Climate Change? | Atmos, by Andrea Polanco

Warming Trends: How Hairdressers Are Mobilizing to Counter Climate Change, Plus Polar Bears in Greenland and the 'Sounds of the Ocean', by Katelyn Weisbrod for Inside Climate News

What gas prices do — and don't — tell us about the economy, by Rebecca Leber for Vox

The surprising story of 'warming stripes' - The New York Times, by Somini Sengupta for The New York Times

Nurturing the Next Generation | Atmos, by Ashia Ajani

In An Unusual Step, a Top Medical Journal Weighs in on Climate Change, by Victoria St. Martin for Inside Climate News

Róisín Pierce's Radical Reimagining of Zero Waste Fashion | Atmos, by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner

Plus More

Crumbling Capital | Atmos, by Kate Aronoff

Stop telling kids that climate change will destroy their world, by Kelsey Piper for Vox

We All Fall Down | Atmos, by Willow Defebaugh

Why Photographic Literacy Matters, by Daphne Chouliaraki Milner for Atmos

Reality Defeats All Empires - The New York Times, by Ben Okri

UN crowdfunds to prevent oil spill from FSO Safer tanker off Yemen - The Washington Post, by Ellen Francis and  Sarah Dadouch


Only paid subscribers can comment.
Please subscribe or sign in to join the conversation.