While there is a certain appeal in labelling one industry as the “villain” in climate change discussions, this oversimplification falls apart under closer scrutiny.
First off, companies are extracting oil and natural gas for one simple reason: modern economies, lifestyles, and medicines all require the energy and chemical building blocks that come from these fuels. This irrefutable fact is ignored or misunderstood by divestment and “Keep It in the Ground” activists.
While it’s certainly more comfortable to blame an amorphous corporation, the truth is that we all rely on fossil fuels. They not only fuel cars and provide electricity for our homes, but also create plastics (think IVs, water pipes, cell phones), synthetic materials (seat belts, memory foam, waterproof jackets), and chemicals that create literally millions of products that make modern life possible.
The fact is fossil fuels provide huge benefits to society. Children are saved every day by medicines, car seats, and the sanitary food packaging that all come from oil and natural gas. Our modern agriculture, transportation, and commercial infrastructure would grind to a halt without these fuels, as would the fledgling alternative energy industry— solar panels and wind turbines can only be created from petrochemicals.
Producers, refiners, and transporters are meeting a need—and as long as consumers want the economic, health, and security benefits of modern life, then the market will continue to meet it. The questions at hand are whether we’d prefer to get our energy from domestic or foreign sources, and how much we would be willing to pay for it.