Our prosperous lives depend on activities that damage the planet

Climate campaigners should not ignore culpable industries other than oil and gas

An oil rig in Barryroe, 50km from Co Cork. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke/Providence Resources/PA Wire

An oil rig in Barryroe, 50km from Co Cork. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke/Providence Resources/PA Wire


No corner of the oil industry is immune from protest. Yesterday Fabian (he refused to give his surname) from Extinction Rebellion tried to disrupt Providence Resource’s extraordinary general meeting at Davy’s offices in Dublin.

It was well meaning but futile. The formal business was over, investors had given Providence the go-ahead to raise $3.76 million (€3.5 million) by selling new shares, so Fabian had no impact on the oil and gas exploration company’s fortunes.

Nevertheless, he gallantly lectured the gathering, until shareholders and executives moved to another meeting room as security saw Fabian off.

Climate action campaigners are the oil industry’s latest demonisers. So synonymous is the sector with destructive capitalism that it has been providing fictional bad guys, such as JR Ewing in Dallas in the 1980s and James Ross in Upton Sinclair’s 1920s novel Oil, since long before we knew the climate was in trouble.

It is an old tradition, given new life by the connection between climate change and fossil fuel consumption, but it seems to ignore other, similarly culpable, industries.

Palm oil

For example, much of the world’s vegetable oil, the main constituent of spreads and an ingredient in many foods, comes from palm plantations in Borneo. To make way for these, planters cut down swathes of rainforest, home to the endangered orang-utan, simultaneously hitting biodiversity and the planet’s ability to absorb greenhouse gas. Despite this, nobody thinks ill of margarine.

Smartphone components come from hydrocarbon-guzzling, ecology-threatening mines in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The data centres that support them, along with Extinction Rebellion’s website and social media pages, guzzle huge amounts of energy.

Our long, prosperous lives depend on climate-damaging consumption. Fossil fuel will continue to be part of those lives while we try to move to a less-damaging way of leading them. Failed bids to disrupt oil company shareholder meetings might be diverting for those present, but they won’t change those realities.