For decades, Big Oil has been spreading various rumors about the conspiracy theory behind the claims of environmentalists and scientists who warned us about the direct interlinkages between fossil fuel emissions and climate change which could be catastrophic to planet Earth. These multinational corporations convinced millions of people into actually believing that climate change was a myth and debunked all the scientific evidence which implicated them as the perpetrators of climate change.
However, a series of recently uncovered investigation reports show that Big Oil and various other polluters were aware of the consequences of their actions decades ago and they did nothing about it. They knew the effect of their business on the environment and yet they deluded their shareholders and the public for years without admitting that they were responsible for the largest disaster in human history.
But this is not the first time big industries have lied to the public about the hazardous effects of their corporations just to feed their corporate greed. Big Tobacco had also used similar strategies and gimmicks by undermining medical evidence and statistics about the hazards of smoking and advertising their products as ‘mild’, ‘fresh’ and using other advertising tools to make cigarettes seem safe for consumption. However, once their façade was exposed, heavy regulations and massive penalties were imposed on them, thereby making it more difficult for them to carry out their operations. However, even now they continue to make huge profits in the densely regulated industry because of the long lasting effects of their earlier campaigns. This is true especially in the global south where there is still widespread lack of awareness about the consequences of smoking and Big Tobacco keep getting richer and richer as thousands of lives are lost in the process.
Investigations into Big Oil corporations such as Exxon Mobil have revealed that they too have followed the same tactic used by Big Tobacco for decades. Legal scholars and practitioners argue that similar penalties must be imposed on Big Oil for violation of fundamental human rights and largescale environmental degradation. In fact, a landmark suit was filed by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (a constitutional body with the power to investigate human rights violations) against 47 big polluters including Big Oil members such as Chevron, BP, Shell, etc. accusing them of violating basic human and fundamental rights to life, food, water and environment. This lawsuit aims to hold major polluters accountable for the hardships faced by the people of Philippines due to climate change. Climate change has caused severe disasters such as storms and floods which have ravaged the Philippine islands and left millions of dead and destitute behind. The Commission demands that the polluters explain how these human rights violations will be remedied, eliminated and prevented.
As per the internationally recognized polluter pays principle, those responsible for causing environmental degradation must be held liable. This principle is one of the cornerstones of international environmental jurisprudence and must be applied to Big Oil. They must be held liable to pay damages for the destruction they have caused and they must immediately be stopped from burning fossil fuels and causing further emissions. The International Court of Justice has used this principle successfully in the past to hold factories and industries liable for environmental damage in cases such as the Pulp Mills case, Chorzow Factory case, etc. Another important aspect in relation to emissions resulting in climate change is the principle of transboundary environmental harm. This principle fixes liability on industries causing environmental pollution which extends beyond the sovereign territory of their country. Since, the impact of Big Oil emissions has caused global warming and affected countries across the globe, especially vulnerable countries in the global south, they must be held liable for transboundary environmental harm as well.
The Philippine case is a first major step in the right direction. It is high time that polluters face the consequences of their actions and explain themselves to the public. Like Big Tobacco, Big Oil and other major carbon emitters must be heavily penalized and be compelled to remedy the damage they have inflicted. An efficient international carbon tax policy must be designed which will make it economically unfeasible to burn fossil fuels and force corporations to switch to cleaner alternatives. Unlike the tobacco tragedy, the climate change genocide is irreversible and of larger magnitude. It is high time that we stopped believing that climate change is a myth and a conspiracy. Climate change is real, it has already happened and continues to happen even as we deliberate. As a collective species, we have little time to remedy the damage done and prevent further emissions. The time for half measures is at an end and polluters must be held absolutely liable and be made to pay to remedy the damage they have done to Earth. Clean energy is the only way forward and we have the necessary technology to harness clean energy. There is absolutely no excuse for our dependence on fossil fuels anymore and the longer we ponder on the possibility of climate change, the shorter will be our time on planet Earth.