Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on July 3, 2019

Bookmark and Share

Should we Pay Exxon to Leave Oil in the Ground?

Should we Pay Exxon to Leave Oil in the Ground? thumbnail
Today’s movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British and American governments took to abolish slavery in the 19th century, one peaceful and the other violent. Image:

This article is the second in a series that compares today’s fight for climate solutions with the successful movement to abolish slavery in the nineteenth century. Read the first installment, “The Fight against Climate Change Must Become the New Abolitionism.”

Recently, Congress considered whether African Americans should receive financial compensation for centuries of slavery and nearly 160 years of discrimination after emancipation.

Though seven out of ten Americans overall, and about half of blacks, oppose the idea, an increasingly large minority thinks that it’s time for the United States to consider righting a long-time moral wrong from the past and correcting economic inequalities today at the same time.

In the past, compensation was a successful strategy to improve the lot of Africans and their descendants in the New World. But this was a very different type of compensation than the reparations to African Americans that activists including actor Danny Glover and writer Ta-Nehisi Coates have asked Congress to consider.

In the past, it was enslavers, not the enslaved, who got the compensation.

As morally repugnant as it sounds to reward the very people whom abolitionists of the day referred to as “man stealers” for their crimes against enslaved people, paying slave capitalists to release their property rights in humans led to a peaceful and orderly emancipation of enslaved people in the 1830s in the British Empire.

By contrast, without any agreement to compensate slave masters in the American South, the United States had to wait another thirty years to free all of its slaves, and then only at the end of a bayonet in a bloody Civil War.

This history of slavery compensation in the past offers a way forward on climate change today, according to an investment advisor specializing in the environment.

When it comes to fighting the climate crisis, time is running out. Any way to speed up progress and break the logjam over abolishing carbon pollution is worth considering, especially if it’s an idea that’s succeeded against great odds in the past.

Emancipation Faster and without War

Investment advisor Richard Barker argues that today’s climate movement should take a page from the movement to abolish slavery in the 19th century. But he prefers the peaceful British approach over the bloody American one.

Paying fossil fuel companies to leave most of their remaining reserves of oil, coal and natural gas in the ground may be necessary to avert climate apocalypse, argues Richard Barker of Iona Capital.

Otherwise, if dirty energy companies stand to lose trillions of dollars in wealth, they will continue fight the abolition of fossil fuels tooth and nail. And we’ve seen where that has gotten us — despite thirty years of activism, the world’s nations have failed to stop the increase of greenhouse gas pollution and dangerous climate heating.

That’s largely because oil, gas and coal companies have successfully used their political power and influence to stop governments from taking serious action on climate, especially in the United States, as documented by authors including Ross Gelbspan and Naomi Oreskes.

Barker looks to history for his model of carbon abolition today: the gradual, compensated emancipation of slaves in the British Empire starting in 1833.

Less well known in the United States than the emancipation of enslaved people by Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army in the Civil War, and completed after the war by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery in 1865, the British approach offers key lessons for American climate activists today.

After decades of campaigning by British abolitionists such as William Wilberforce capped off by a frightening slave revolt in Jamaica starting on Christmas 1831, the British government came up with a plan to end slavery in the West Indies and elsewhere in the empire by paying slaveowners about half the market value of each enslaved person.

Additional compensation came in the form of a mandatory “apprenticeship” program, requiring enslaved workers to toil unpaid for another few years for their masters before enjoying full freedom.

After taking both of those benefits together as compensation, slaveowners wound up taking a loss of about 20% on the value of their property in enslaved workers according to Barker’s calculations.

Ed Atkinson of Citizens’ Climate Lobby in the UK also makes the argument for compensating fossil fuel companies based on the precedent of British compensated abolition. That compensation didn’t come cheap. The government had to pay 46,000 British slave owners a total of £20 million, representing 5% of Britain’s GDP at the time.

Talk about a serious commitment: slave compensation turned out to be “the largest “bailout” in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009,” as Atkinson puts it. His Majesty’s Government financed compensation payments with a loan for £15 million, a debt that was only fully paid back in 2015.

But Atkinson thinks the benefit was well worth the money, since compensation helped neutralize political opposition from powerful people in society. “The British upper class were those benefiting from exploiting the misery of slaves and were also those able to exercise power in Parliament…this extended down to many in the middle class as well.”

Atkinson applies the same principle to climate action:

In order to introduce robust action to address climate change, we must overcome the vested interests of the fossil fuel multinationals, the lobbyists, even the SUV owners and the frequent flyers.  [Abolition in] 1833 informs us that this can be done…[the Citizens’ Climate Lobby] policy of Fee and Dividend is well suited because it does not outlaw the SUV owner or oil boss in the same way that slave investors were treated sensitively in the 1830s.

Investment advisor Barker agrees that paying owners to free slaves was a good deal for not just for slaveowners but also for enslaved people and for the whole British economy.

To start with, compensation made abolition possible politically and accomplished a goal for which abolitionists had been fighting for half a century.

As a side benefit, compensated abolition wound up boosting the whole British economy. Deprived of opportunities to grow their sugar plantations in the West Indies, the slave-owning class wound up investing its compensation payments into new opportunities at home. These included the railroads and factories that wound up making Britain the leader of the Industrial Revolution. Wealth in slaves turned into much greater wealth in machines and commerce.

(Barker fails to mention that all not money from slave compensation payments went into investments in newfangled technologies. Some British investment continued to go into slavery, no longer in the West Indies, but after 1833 in the cotton-boom states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.)

Three decades later across the Atlantic, tensions between North and South over the Peculiar Institution would explode into the shots fired at Fort Sumter and four years of war that would pit Americans against each other and cost more than 700,000 lives.

In addition to death and destruction, if you do the math on the financial cost of the Civil War, you discover that the price to liberate each enslaved person in America at the end of the war in 1865 was 17 times higher than the British had to pay in the 1830s, Barker explains.

So, it paid dividends both financially and politically for Britain to compensate its slave owners in the 19th century. This means it might also be a good investment today to pay fossil fuel companies to stop adding to greenhouse pollution. As Barker puts it,

Finally, and unpalatably for some, we may need to pay compensation to the world’s polluters, to take those polluting assets out and allow the new sustainable technologies to take their place.

Endless Carbon War or Peaceful Settlement

Barker warns that if we fail to succeed in abolishing fossil fuels, the world may face a crisis of weather, politics and the economy in the future as bad as the U.S. Civil War was in the 1860s.

This conclusion is hard to argue with. But it’s also hard to accept.

When I think of abolition in the past, my sympathies are with Lincoln and abolitionists who pushed him like William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to abolish slavery without paying slaveowners a dime. After all, it’s just what they deserved.

It’s hard to shed any tears for the planters of the Old South, though uncompensated emancipation may have cost them $10 trillion in today’s money.

Obviously, in the absence of any promise of compensation, that kind of money goes a long way towards explaining why slaveowners fought so hard to keep slavery going. Thus, in the absence of compensation, the need for a war to forcibly separate slaveowners from what they considered to be their property.

Today, proponents for reparations to African Americans like Glover and Coates are right that our nation owes a great debt to black Americans for slavery and for unfair treatment after slavery, right up to the present day. Morally and economically, compensation to victims of slavery seems like an idea worth considering.

Moving over to the climate crisis, my heart is with carbon abolitionists like Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and Naomi Klein against the greedy oil-holders who run ExxonMobil and the complacent investors who leave their money in Exxon stock as the company’s product continues to destroy the climate.

Yet, as a practical matter, Barker may have a point. Climate activists can continue to butt heads with Exxon for the next fifty years. We can try to make them pay, in every sense, for decades of pollution and lies.

Those of us in the climate movement can continue to stand on the moral high ground, even as the low ground at our coasts slips beneath the waves of rising seas and the American heartland heats up beyond all human endurance.

Is it worth considering paying Exxon to stop polluting instead?

— Erik Curren, author of The Solar Patriot

Transition Voiceby Erik Curren

9 Comments on "Should we Pay Exxon to Leave Oil in the Ground?"

  1. Anonymouse on Wed, 3rd Jul 2019 6:17 pm 

    This article seems muddled and confused. It seems to be trying to conflate a number of issues and events, that have no real direct connection or relevance to one another. Rather than sticking to….whatever point it is this guy he is trying to make, he meanders all over the place and the end result in just a confused mess.

    If wants to write about slavery in the amerikan empire, he should write an article that that, and not try to conflate the history of uS slavery, with climate change.

    Think you can skip this one.

  2. Theedrich on Thu, 4th Jul 2019 5:31 am 

    Let’s be clear:  abolition was a WHITE man’s idea.  The whole idea of racial equality, of “alle Menschen werden Brüder” (the “Ode to Joy” in Beethoven’s ninth), of Albert Schweitzer paying for his Weltschmerz in Lambarene, of Jimmy Carter’s fixation on Jesus (the latter’s “Sermon on the Mount”), etc., etc., is a WHITE pathology, driven to frenetic exaggeration by the Christian psychodynamic of guilt.

    The sensation of guilt is itself a form of neurosis, which is in turn the result of a genetic inhibitory predisposition weakest in Negroids, middling in Caucasoids, and strongest in Mongoloids.  (This gradation is aligned with the similar distribution of many other physical, mental and psychological racial characteristics found among the races.  For more on this, see an archived version of Professor J. Philippe Rushton’s “Race, Evolution, and Behavior: A Life History Perspective)

    As with any mental disorder, neurosis, if pushed to excess, can devolve into psychosis.  Due to the extremism inherent in 19th century American Christianity, the psychic energy formerly expended in religious wars and witch-hunting turned to abolitionism.  A madman (certifiably mad) and murderer named John Brown (whose “body lies a-mouldering in the grave — Glory, glory, hallelujah”) helped ignite a savage Civil War in America which temporarily sated the bloodlust of the Jesus crowd.  Today the current U.S. elites are attempting to refresh that guilt-psychosis in order to pay imaginary “reparations” to the lowest race, and also to import primitive coloreds of every other shade into the country.  And as with any psychopathy, external facts do not matter.  Only compulsive violence will lead to temporary catharsis:  only complete destruction of the demonized target.

    That is what some of the Climate fanatics want as they lean heavily on “White-guilt” neurosis and assert, with traditional Christian fulminations, that they themselves “stand on the moral high ground.” 

    But the truth is that they, like White-guiltists in general, are mad.

  3. DerHundistLos on Thu, 4th Jul 2019 6:13 am 


    “Jimmy Carter’s fixation on Jesus.”

    I got news for you……President Carter lived his life like a good Christian- honest, trustworthy, founded Habitat for Humanity and worked as a carpenter to help the poor, champion of human rights, negotiated a true and lasting Middle East Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt, etc.

    Unlike your Republican phony friends who love to advertise their support for the Moral Majority and other Christian hate groups while at the same time getting their ass fucked by a gay prostitute.

    You’re just as bad as the phony hypocrites.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 4th Jul 2019 7:12 pm 

    Should we pay Exxon to leave oil in the ground?


    Another dumb liberal idea.
    Right up there with free healthcare
    for illegal aliens, and abortions
    for gay men in pink raincoats.

    Go Trump 2020!
    Fixin’ to be another McGovern versus
    Nixon remake. McGovern 72, LOL.

    It was Nixon by a landslide.

  5. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 5th Jul 2019 1:10 am 

    Hi Everybody:

    I really admire my brilliant insight as it reveals my true identity:

    “I’m with Davy on this one. I hope Trump turns himself into a dictator so that he can send all the democrats to Auschwitz in railroad cars.”


    Now JuanP can’t claim we are not on the same page. You know, ‘Great minds hate alike.’

    Keep up the hate.

    Jesus loves you this I know for the bible tells me so.



  6. Theedrich on Fri, 5th Jul 2019 2:28 am 

    Hey LooseHound, Geezer Jim Carter despises Whites.  He wants a Habitat for Humanity, not for his own race.  I certainly do not deny that he is an idiot savant with a high IQ.  However, there are lots of high IQs that are maniacal and deranged.  President Woodrow Wilson, Ph.D., who got us into WW I and wrecked the West permanently, was one of them.  Senator Ted Kennedy, a drunkard and lifeguard for Mary Jo Kopechne, was another.  Yes, like you and your Democrat and RINO ilk, the Negroes love JC.  He fantasizes about heaven on earth, with every last hominid having an IQ of 70.  Destroy White culture in order to bring it into line with the lower primates, just like Jesus wants.

    Also, just as you, Yeshúa and JC pray for, the U.S. Constitution is a suicide pact. It allows, e.g., a single non-White judge in the Ninth Circuit to destroy America by blocking any and all attempts by the national Executive Branch to save the country from ThirdWorld invasion.  Both Democrats and RINOs want this corruption to continue, just as they want the spendthrift explosion of debt for their own political purposes.

    The combination of Dem-Bolshevik freebies-for-all-sentient beings, and Republican warfare in many dozens of countries, is obviously leading to death through overextension.  It is only a matter of time before, as in ancient Rome, the republic turns into an imperial dictatorship led by Marxist emperors.

    As far as business and economics are concerned, current political altercations revolve around arguments about business owners and corporation leaders making $zillions more than the peons in their companies, and about how “unfair” this is, or is not.  Few seem to understand that the purpose of business is to make money for its top echelons, not to give people something with which to occupy their spare time, to alleviate their boredom, and to give them money to spend.  The idea that making everyone the same is good is simply ancient, diversionary, kill-the-golden-goose politics.  What IS wrong is stealing from the common taxpaying man to give money and privileges to rich corporate moguls who bribe politicians with kickbacks.  Yet this is the system we have, masked as “democracy.”  And it is the reason why money has become the deluge which has turned government into a bribe-ocracy.  (Note that Georg Sörös, biggest owner of the Democratic Party, is not a simple worker on some factory floor.)

    Both parties know this, and are diverting the attention of the masses to admittedly serious threats such as global warming and global overpopulation in order to allow the current death spiral to continue.  The elites will do nothing in earnest to address these and other planetary perils because, as stated above, the U.S. Constitution is a suicide pact.  I know, HoundDog, that it is above your lowly pay grade to understand this, but all that matters is political power.

  7. Paul on Fri, 5th Jul 2019 5:44 am 

    Businesses need customers and most customers are now broke. Business owners now rely on government handouts to survive. Boeing, Raytheon and even the local paving company in my state would not survive without large government contracts.

  8. Dave Thompson on Fri, 5th Jul 2019 11:10 am 

    The idea of leaving the FF in the ground is complete BS. Unless we want to witness the mass die off of humanity sooner then it is already happening.

  9. Boom Boom on Fri, 5th Jul 2019 11:26 am 

    I doubt there is enough fiat currency in government coffers to incentivize the Exxons of the world. Besides, these corporations own the governments. Better to put one’s efforts to more direct actions of disruption.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *