A Frank Take

Greed and Worship Conspire to Thwart Climate Action

The planet’s climate system is crumbling and the world’s economic system is rigged. Both need a radical reboot in 2024.


The rich and famous believe they can run from the climate emergency they are largely responsible for. (istock)

When you’re only thinking of yourself
You’re missing out on everybody else

— Margaret Glaspy

The privilege that seeps from Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive in Newport, R.I., recently provided a distasteful reminder to those trying to mitigate the climate crisis: the rich and famous believe their desires trump reality. The collective we allow it to be true. We fawn all over the rich and famous, alive or dead, for no good reason.

This reverence toward false idols has left us in a lurch. Two words sum up our inability to confront the biggest challenge humanity faces: greed and worship.

The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%, according to research by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute and shared late last year with The Guardian, with dire consequences for marginalized communities and global efforts to address the climate crisis.

This affluent group — made up of 77 million people including billionaires, millionaires, and those paid more than $140,000 a year — accounted for 16% of all carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, enough to cause more than a million additional deaths due to heat, according to the extensive research. (2019 was the most recent year for which there was comprehensive data.)

Twelve of the world’s wealthiest billionaires produce more greenhouse gas emissions from their megayachts, private jets, helicopters, cars, luxurious mansions, and financial investments than the annual energy emissions of 2 million homes, according to the Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute research. (Those filthy-rich emissions account for nearly 17 million tons of greenhouse gases annually.)

These modern-day robber barons pollute and devour at will while we mindlessly pay to use their services and products, mostly because they are convenient, cool, or trendy. Besides fouling the planet’s air and water, escalating the climate crisis, and gobbling up natural resources, these gluttonous tycoons force independent operators out of business, bully competitors, exploit workers and the environment, and at least one enjoys spreading hate.

Those with the most greedily continue to take more from everyone else. For example, profiteering played a sizable role in boosting inflation in 2022. Many corporations, including energy companies ExxonMobil and Shell, mining firms Glencore and Rio Tinto, and food and commodities businesses Kraft Heinz, Archer-Daniels-Midland, and Bunge, made “super-profits” based on their ability to push through price increases and then blame it on inflation.

It worked. An ignorant neighbor has groaned to me about “Biden steaks.” He was hardly the only one convinced the president and not piggish CEOs was to blame. The same nonsense is applied when gasoline prices increase.

“This surge in profits happened as wage increases largely failed to keep pace with inflation, and workers suffered their largest fall in disposable incomes since the second world war,” according to a story in The Guardian about the “greedflation” report.

On Aquidneck Island, the Preservation Society of Newport County has filed lawsuits against two offshore wind projects. The Newport-based organization, which worships the extravagant Gilded Age mansions and lifestyles of now-dead robber barons, is concerned about rich ocean views being marginally altered — not about the massive global changes being caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

The organization’s pretentious lawsuits hide behind cries of due process — both projects had public comment periods but the guardians of opulence are offended the federal government didn’t specifically ask for theirs — and misrepresented statistics.

(The Bellevue Avenue nonprofit, with $83.6 million in total assets, pays its executive director $391,880, plus a $34,826 clothing allowance, according to the organization’s 2022 990 form. The organization held a holiday gala at The Elms, a 31,401-square-foot former summer residence of a late coal baron.)

It’s part of the selfish pattern that got us into this crisis in the first place. Like the tobacco industry, the fossil fuel industry knew its products killed, lied about their destructive nature, hid the data that proved it, and failed to warn us. Profit over people.

Six fossil fuel behemoths — BP, Chevron, Equinor, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies — more than doubled their profits in 2022, to $219 billion. The record-breaking windfall allowed the corporations “to shower shareholders with cash,” according to a Reuters story about Big Oil’s blockbuster profits.

Riches for the “super-majors” — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, and TotalEnergies — and their backers followed them into 2023. The world’s five largest listed oil companies rewarded their investors with dividend payments and share buybacks worth $104 billion.

“Billionaires generate obscene amounts of carbon pollution with their yachts and private jets — but this is dwarfed by the pollution caused by their investments,” Oxfam International’s inequality policy adviser told The Guardian. “Through the corporations they own, billionaires emit a million times more carbon than the average person. They tend to favor investments in heavily polluting industries, like fossil fuels.

“The world’s poorest communities, those who have done the least to cause climate change — those who are least able to respond and recover — are the ones who are suffering the worst consequences. This is unfair and immoral.”

Last September at one of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world, the Monaco Yacht Show, a Guardian reporter found most attendees were not concerned about the climate-destroying emissions being spewed from the enormous pleasure craft on display.

A superyacht, or even a regular yacht, is the most polluting single object a person can own, according to a 2021 study. Private jets are a very close second. (In Rhode Island for the past 30 years there has been no sales tax on boats, including yachts — mega, super, or otherwise — and power craft. Bicycles, however, are taxed. There’s also no excise tax in the Ocean State on pollution-spouting yachts and powerboats.)

An Instagram star at the Monaco Yacht Show, who was about to buy a superyacht that runs on diesel, told The Guardian, “There is no other way. For sure, if it’s possible, you take the green one … [but] if you want a big one, there is nothing fully electric.”

A recent Oxfam report found that it would take about 1,500 years for someone in the bottom 99% to produce as much carbon as the richest billionaires do in a year.

“The super-rich are plundering and polluting the planet to the point of destruction and it is those who can least afford it who are paying the highest price,” according to Oxfam’s senior climate justice policy adviser.

Data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) detailed the energy-related carbon emissions per person in 2021 in a dozen major countries, plus the 27-nation European Union. In the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the EU, the richest 10% have carbon footprints about 15 times greater than the poorest 10%.

We — the Global North — fund the pummeling of the natural world and the misery of voiceless communities by buying a new phone every year. By driving gas-guzzling supersized pickups to run errands and poke about town while plastic testicles swing from the rear bumper. By electing rich, mostly white guys to Congress and by reelecting people who use the power of the office to get rich. By standing behind a wannabe billionaire and aspiring dictator running for reelection. By refusing to change our consuming behaviors or make lifestyle changes in the face of record climate emissions, ferocious wildfires, and deadly droughts.

It is an indisputable fact that the burning of methane (cleverly labeled “natural gas” by the racketeering fossil fuel industry) oil, gasoline, diesel, propane, and coal is damaging the planet’s climate system.

It is also abundantly clear that the corporations that own the world’s fossil fuel reserves and those who use the dirty hydrocarbons to power their lavish lifestyles — private jets, yachts, helicopters, Hummers, and multiple homes — don’t care about the consequences.

In fact, in an effort to keep the fossil fuel bonfire blazing, so CEOs and shareholders can continue to reap the financial rewards, the world’s hydrocarbon giants, often backed by the rich and famous, have proposed building vast engineering monstrosities — which the industry has dubbed “carbon capture” or more ridiculously “clean coal” — to catch their climate-changing pollution and force it back into the earth.

It’s a bogus solution — one attempt after another has failed and been abandoned — to a mounting crisis. But carbon capture fantasies help keep the bonfire burning and offshore bank accounts flush.

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — in a gift to fossil fuel, petrochemical, and industrial agriculture corporations seeking a lucrative way to rebrand as “green” — appropriated $11.5 billion in government subsidies to spur innovation in the unproven carbon capture industry. That money should have been used to modernize the power grid and improve public transit.

Despite years of underwhelming results in carbon capture experimentation, based on a technology that has failed to deliver on its promises, the idea of clean coal allows the most heavily polluting industries to profit as they ruin the planet.

The world burned more fossil fuels in 2023 than it did in 2022, according to the Global Carbon Project, spewing 1.1% more planet-heating carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a time when greenhouse gas emissions must nosedive to stop extreme weather from growing more unpredictable and violent.

Major media organizations have no problem greenwashing the fossil fuel industry’s dirty laundry. (istock)

Greed is also good for the media behemoths. Their fossil fuel PR efforts scrub clean the reporting of their own journalists.

Many of the world’s biggest English-language news outlets — Bloomberg, The Economist, The Financial Times, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters, and The Washington Post — regularly lend their reputations to the fossil fuel industry’s messaging on climate-related topics, according to a recent report co-authored by DeSmog and Drilled.

These media-backed messages — from the false promise of carbon capture to the prominent role the fossil fuel industry claims to be playing in transitioning us away from nonrenewable energy, despite persistently low investments in anything other than increased fossil fuel production — sound like they have been pulled from the public-relations departments of the world’s largest oil companies, but they were produced and promoted by the in-house ad agencies of major media organizations, according to the report.

While the Times and Post’s marketing departments put a shine on petroleum, fossil fuel companies are investing twice as much in oil and methane extraction as they should if the world hopes to limit rising global temperatures, according to the IEA. The France-based organization has noted the industry spends just 2.5% of its capital on cleaner energy technologies such as renewables and electric vehicle charging.

The media’s role is not unlike the theater productions the rich and famous put on every year. These annual Conference of the Parties do little more than provide a smokescreen for the Global North to continue business as usual.

For instance, an oil industry executive led the COP28 climate summit held in Dubai, the most populous city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), late last year. A few days before the U.N.-backed talks began, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber claimed (falsely) there is “no science” that says phasing out fossil fuels is necessary to keep global warming under the critical Celsius threshold. He used a tried-and-true tactic, fearmongering, to rail against a phaseout, claiming such a move wouldn’t allow sustainable development “unless you want to take the world back into caves.”

The most alarming thing about the sultan’s unsurprising comments is that after three decades of climate negotiations we’re still just talking about possibly phasing out fossil fuels. Fits the script. All talk and no action protects the status quo.

The 21st-century robber barons have no intention of quitting their black gold until every last drop has been burned. The UAE is among the world’s 10 largest oil producers. About 96% of the country’s roughly 100 billion barrels of oil reserves are in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. “is a global leader in the oil and gas industry and is active in all sectors of the industry.” Al Jaber is the head of the fossil fuel giant. (COP28 organizers granted attendance to 475 lobbyists working on carbon capture.)

The two-week performance ended with an agreement riddled with loopholes and concessions to the behemoths. For instance, language backed by fossil fuel interests found its way into the agreement, including the use of “transition fuels” — “bridge fuel” was the former code phrase for methane — and carbon capture technology is cited as a potential solution.

Saudi Arabia and a few other fossil fuel-rich countries objected to the inclusion of any reference to reducing the production and consumption of fossil fuels in the text of any agreement. (Middle-income countries, such as Colombia, Nigeria, and Uganda, were also concerned about the phasing out of fossil fuels, saying revenues from their sale could pay for a transition to cleaner energy.)

They all got their wish. The agreement doesn’t include an explicit commitment to phase out or even phase down fossil fuels. It calls on countries to contribute to global efforts to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

This jargon sounds like all the other COP promises that have been ignored. Excuse me as I throw up in my mouth.

After gaveling the theater production to an end, Al Jaber reportedly received an ovation from delegates and a hug from the U.N. climate chief. The world deserves much better from its purported leaders.

“While nobody here will see their views completely reflected, the fact is that this document sends a very strong signal to the world,” said John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate.

Agreed. Another Conference of the Parties deal lays bare the hypocrisy of wealthy nations, particularly the United States. It leaves the voiceless and the natural world exposed. To quote The Police:

“And every single meeting with his so-called superior

Is a humiliating kick in the crotch.”

In a related greedy matter, Saudi Arabia is looking to get poor countries addicted to fossil fuels. Also, the world’s largest fossil fuel producers, including Saudi Arabia, India, Russia, Brazil, Canada, and Kerry’s United States, are planning expansions that would blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over, according to a multi-organization report. These energy plans would lead to 460% more coal production, 83% more methane, and 29% more oil in 2030 than it was possible to burn if global temperature rise was to be kept to the internationally agreed upon 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Many of our elected officials have no ethical qualms about doing the bidding of fossil fuel corporations as long as they make a profit. (istock)

The many miscreants who sit in Congress help keep the fossil fuel bonfire aglow.

At the end of last year, House Republicans added some 250 poison pill policy riders to their draft spending bills. Among the hundreds of adopted floor amendments were poison pills that were designed to weaken the U.S. response to the climate crisis, including stopping federal agencies from considering the societal costs of greenhouse gases and blocking President Biden’s executive orders on climate change.

This political move was hardly surprising, as one in four members of Congress reportedly own stocks in fossil fuel companies, worth a total of between $33 million and $93 million. The Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute research says this helps to explain why global emissions continue to rise, and why governments in the Global North provided $1.8 trillion to subsidize the fossil fuel industry in 2020.

Rich nations, like the United States, can mobilize billions for war — often fought over fossil fuels — and destruction but can’t find enough money to properly address the climate crisis, help society’s most vulnerable, make public transit dependable and efficient, or fund a logical health-care system.

The president even ignored his own climate change executive orders and promises, when, last March, his administration put up for auction an enormous swath of the Gulf of Mexico, spanning an area the size of 96 Rhode Islands, for oil and methane drilling.

The Gulf of Mexico auctions came just a few weeks after the Biden administration approved the controversial Willow project, a drilling venture in the remote tundra of Alaska’s arctic that will extract some 600 million barrels of oil over its lifetime.

The planet’s climate system is collapsing and the world’s economic system is rigged by the rich and famous. Fossil fuels aren’t the problem. We are the problem. The collective we need to demand — and force with our spending — radical change. Time to flip the script.

Note: I begin the new year writing about this climate emergency because if we don’t radically address the situation now nothing else really matters.

Note II: The first song referenced to is Get Back; the second is Synchronicity II.

Followup: Last week’s column noted 2023 was expected to break the record for the warmest year. It did so by plenty, smashing the record for the hottest year by a huge margin, at least in climate terms. The planet was 1.48 degrees Celsius (2.66 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter last year compared with the period before the mass burning of fossil fuels ignited the climate crisis. Earth’s average temperature for 2023 was 14.98 degrees Celsius (58.96 degrees Fahrenheit) — 0.17 degrees Celsius higher than in 2016, the previous record year.

Frank Carini can be reached at [email protected]. His opinions don’t reflect those of ecoRI News.


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  1. Mr Carini,
    With respect, you are unhinged. The Preservation Society of Newport County, is one of the largest revenue sources in RI, providing great jobs and recreational and education opportunities to the public. It does not worship the rich, it presents an opportunity for people to learn about Newport history from the 18th to the 20th Century, think about what they are observing and draw their own conclusions about the sociology of those times. Tourists flock to the Newport mansions to see the beautiful materials and craftsmanship in the public rooms, and equally popular are “behind the scenes” exhibits of the kitchens and storage spaces. A visit to the Breakers is fun for local families and tourists alike. One can roam the houses as if they were your own; strolling the lawn, taking in the view of the limitless horizon is both relaxing and energizing. That’s America—a family outing open in a space open to the public. Similarly, the public flocks to local beaches like Second Beach and Breton State Park for the views and inspiration of nature. It’s entirely appropriate for the Preservation Society to hold the government accountable to follow its own rules and regulations when siting large wind farm projects. The process was not conducted properly by BOEM and BOEM must face the consequences in court. And by the way, I hope it is not lost on you that the wind developers are largely foreign-owned fossil fuel companies with new names, up to the same old tricks. Danish Oil and Gas is Orsted, etc. They are in it for the profits and government subsidies paid by US taxpayers. Let’s expand alternative energy sources but be sure that the approval processes is fair, equitable and based on fact, and let’s not rush to build projects that are sited irresponsibly just because the system is awash in government subsidies and foreign fossil fuel companies, disguised as wind developers up smell profits!

  2. I relate completely with your “throwing up in my mouth” reaction. Really, what’s left to be said?
    Oh, in hope, I’ll share one of the little things I do to help the environment; I hang the laundry to dry in the passive solar room my Dad had built in the 1980s. The thought of his having done that, back when he did, inspires me to do more.

  3. Spot on, Frank. Thank you. With climate spinning out of control and tipping points reached faster than ever predicted, we need to name the real causes for this disaster and support radical change of immoral behaviors, and of what we all do in their support—knowingly or implicitly. Applause to you for taking the lead!

  4. Preach Brother Frank/ totally right on. Barbara Chapman is just plain lying. The BOEM conducted a full and fair process but the rich always lie. If we want real prosperity in our communities we need a Climate JUSTICE economy. The rich are a drain on our communities, and economies work much better when they are more equal. As Steve Miller sang, Tax the rich, feed the poor, until there are no rich no more. And yes, if we do not fix the climate, we will not have a livable planet. People like Barbara Chapman are pathetic in their defense of rich privileges and should be sentenced to hard labor in summertime Phoenix AZ

  5. To hear the former Executive Director of Save The Bay argue that unfettered views for tourists are more important (despite the fact that the turbines will be barely visible and are no more intrusive than the barges, car carriers and other vessels that regularly appear off the Newport coast) than moving away from a fossil fuel-based energy base to reduce the impacts from human-driven climate change was shocking! If we had begun the shift back in the HW Bush era, when we very nearly did until the concerns of the fossil fuel industries once again trumped the good of the people and the future, this would have been so much easier and cheaper. Continued failure and delays only increases the cost in lives and resources. There is a TREMENDOUS cost to doing nothing and it is time that we all realize that.

  6. Barbara: It is hard to square “with respect, you are unhinged”. We seem to have a different idea of what respect means.

    You say NPS does not worship the rich….but, what exactly do you think they are celebrating ? A fair and just society ?

    “One can roam the houses as if they were their own…” is packed with irony – and helps explain the sad anesthetic of projections. These were not welcoming or inviting people; nor is there anything to indicate any greatness to their nature – except gluttony.

    My view is that all of us in Newport should boycott NPS. They are not of us. They are against us.

  7. 1) Offshore wind is what Big Oil transitioned into to get their hands on Rhode Island’s offshore resources.
    2) Greenwashing of what is heavy industrialization in the very area relied on by the species protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act is still exploitation that deserves protection from Big Energy.
    3)Frank your missing the point with all due respect because the amount of whales that we’re negotiated away as “take” sequester the amount of carbon that a forest the size of Massachusetts does; the habitat is worth more in the conditions you found it than for your comfort.

  8. Greed, Barbara, is what has unhinged Newport Preservation Society people who want to associate themselves with Gilded Age high society and its mansions. Now Society people are making an old-fashioned money grab the robber barons would be proud of.

    Greed inspires Preservation (High) Society people to hide behind an unfounded due process claim (Society people missed the deadline to make claims! The turbines have already been approved) and an absurd claim that turbines barely visible on the distant horizon on a good day will devastate tourism and mansion views. The amount of losses they project is even more absurd and unfounded.

    But Gilded Age ruthless greed in Newport is back as Preservation Society people use their clout and lawyers to pose the threat of endless legal delays to put wind turbines, much needed to address the climate crisis, at risk so they can leverage a money grab from the wind company. Unhinged by greed, I would say.

    Money grab? Check out what the High Society lawyer Greg Wekheiser said:

    “If Dominion had to mitigate $91 million for just a few transmission towers and no economic impacts, what should Orsted and other developers pay for 457 turbines — 599 for Block Island — for both views and economic impacts.”

    Realizing fishermen had (deservedly) received mitigation funds for valid claims for a different project, you can almost hear Werkheiser and the High Society people rubbing their hands as they imagine the hundreds of millions of undeserved dollars they hope to haul in for their false claims.

    Let’s all make sure the new robber barons don’t win!

  9. Frank, I think you are overdoing the rant about the rich, especially in Newport. Though I don’t think views of some turbines will much affect the tourist industry there and the lawsuit sounds like a big mistake, but I suspect its more about fear of hurting their industry than worship of the rich.
    I don’t know about the adequacy of the process the Feds followed, and neither your post or others that I have read on either side had much substance about that one way or the other. Apparently Save the Bay is concerned about their procedures, and since we all may have reason to be skeptical about Federal energy agencies at times, maybe we should keep an open mind about that.
    I also think giving so much attention to the rich is concerning as that kind of thing gives the middle class a sense its entitled to consume all they want, as the problem is the rich – thus we get crowded airports, huge SUVs driving fast, people driving when thy easily walk, bike or use transit, turning up the thermostat rather than wear a sweater, demanding a large lawn and big house, unlimited meat, have lots of children…. – these are not the rich but are very much more numerous

  10. Thank you Frank for the research and information, but more importantly for your outrage. Facts are essential but outrage is what is needed to motivate us to act, myself included.

  11. The essence of your article is this, that after years of rebuildable solar and wind infrastructure “The world burned more fossil fuels in 2023 than it did in 2022”, as it did the year before that and the year before that. We are in fact using more fossil fuel than ever before. Why? Because these energy intense technologies require massive amounts of fossil fuels to produce and those emissions are added onto what is already being used, not subtracting. Thus “spewing 1.1% more planet-heating carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a time when greenhouse gas emissions must nosedive to stop extreme weather from growing more unpredictable and violent.” Rebuildable energy capturing devices are not clean except through greenwashing and are only making our predicament worse. In fact the trillions in government subsidies given to this sector only makes the rich richer.

  12. There is a solution to some of the issues raised by NPS, place solar panels on the visitor center and all of the mansion grounds and construct a solar canopy on each of the parking lots. Newports very own Newport Solar is one of the best in the nation. Let them do it. What a great educational opportunity for NPS to the millions of visitors that come to Newport.

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