Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

fire-oil-california

Flames grow near oil wells on the eastern flank of the 16,000-plus-acre Guiberson fire, burning out of control for a second day on September 23, 2009 near Moorpark in Ventura County, California. (Photo: David McNew/Getty Images)

Scorching Big Oil Profits on a Burning Planet

As parts of the world reel under unprecedented heat, oil companies are raking in unprecedented profits. In the first three months of 2022, the 28 largest fossil fuel companies made close to US$100 billion.

In the second quarter, Exxon made US$18 billion, Shell and Chevron close to $12 billion each and BP $8.5 billion—much higher than their record first-quarter profits.

Using those companies' products as intended—that is, burning oil, gas and coal—contributed to heating never before experienced in some countries.

A recent study shows the oil industry has raked in profits of $3 billion a day, or $1 trillion a year, for the past 50 years. As the Guardian notes, "These profits are driven not by some fantasy of free enterprise and perfect competition, but by the exact opposite—cartels, mega-corporations and the regulatory capture of governments, conspiring to create a market free of both competition and of a price that reflects the actual cost to the world of the product that is being sold."

Using those companies' products as intended—that is, burning oil, gas, and coal—contributed to heating never before experienced in some countries. In the U.K., temperatures climbed past 40 C in July for the first time—10 to 15 degrees warmer than normal. In the U.S., 92 all-time highs were recorded up to July 16. Globally, 188 heat records were broken. In Verkhoyansk, Russia, the temperature hit 38 C on June 20, the highest ever documented in the Arctic. Canada has also experienced record high temperatures.

This has brought increasing wildfires, severe health problems and death, warming and increasingly acidic oceans, melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, more intense and frequent tropical storms, mass evacuations, flooding, and more.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has driven oil prices and profits higher, again demonstrating that our fossil fuel habit destabilizes social order and economies as well as the climate.

"It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities, at a massive cost to the climate," UN secretary general António Guterres said, urging governments to "tax these excessive profits, and use the funds to support the most vulnerable people through these difficult times."

Noting that "Household budgets everywhere are feeling the pinch from high food, transport, and energy prices, fueled by climate breakdown and war," Guterres also called on governments to manage fossil fuel demand and to offer "social, technical or financial support" to help developing nations shift to renewable energy.

Oil companies say they're investing in the transition: "Today's results show that BP continues to perform while transforming," CEO Bernard Looney said. "We do this by providing the oil and gas the world needs today—while at the same time, investing to accelerate the energy transition."

It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities, at a massive cost to the climate.

Are they? The world's biggest oil and gas companies spend less than one percent of their budgets on green energy. Most of the money is going to share buybacks and shareholders. Executives, meanwhile, say the way to address rising prices is to pump more oil. "I assure you that Chevron is doing its part to help address these challenges by increasing capital expenditures to $18 billion in 2022, more than 50% higher than last year," Chevron chief executive Mike Wirth wrote to U.S. President Joe Biden.

Industry executives have successfully lobbied for ever-increasing subsidies and tax breaks, including $151 billion from G20 governments for Covid-19 recovery, and they've been spending hundreds of millions a year on efforts to block and delay climate policies.

That has more people calling not just for windfall profits taxes, but also measures such as a "Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty." Tzeporah Berman, international program director at Stand.earth and treaty initiative chair, argues this would "end the expansion of oil, gas and coal, phase out existing production to limit warming to manageable levels and accelerate a fair energy transition where wealthy, fossil fuel-producing nations lead and support other countries so there is affordable, clean energy from sun, wind and water for everyone."

Those who profit from coal, oil and gas can't be trusted to address the climate crisis and ensure a livable planet for our children, grandchildren and generations to come. Governments must take their global commitments seriously and stop supporting the fossil fuel industry while doing everything to facilitate a rapid transition to cleaner energy.


© 2019 David Suzuki Foundation
David Suzuki

David Suzuki

David Suzuki , an award-winning geneticist and broadcaster, co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. He was a faculty member at the University of British Columbia, and is currently professor emeritus. Suzuki is widely recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology and has received numerous awards for his work, including a UNESCO prize for science and a United Nations Environment Program medal.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

'Intentional Vandalism' Leaves Thousands Without Power in North Carolina

One right-wing extremist implied that multiple electrical substations were targeted to disrupt a drag show in Moore County. Local law enforcement authorities and the FBI are investigating.

Kenny Stancil ·


GOP Silence on Trump's Call to Axe Constitution Reveals 'Full Embrace of Fascism': House Dem

"Last week the leader of the Republican Party had dinner with a Nazi leader and a man who called Adolf Hitler 'great,'" said Rep. Bill Pascrell. "Yesterday Trump called for throwing out the Constitution and making himself dictator."

Kenny Stancil ·


Protesting Fuel Poverty, People Tell UK Government to 'Keep Everyone Warm This Winter'

As energy bills—and fossil fuel profits—continue to soar, demonstrators around Britain demanded immediate action from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and members of Parliament.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Turn Off the Tap on Plastic,' UN Chief Declares Amid Debate Over New Global Treaty

"Plastics are fossil fuels in another form," said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, "and pose a serious threat to human rights, the climate, and biodiversity."

Kenny Stancil ·


EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo