The trouble with fossil fuels: CSR and the future as Russian Roulette
Authors: McQueen, D.
Start date: 6 October 2015
Journal: L'Impresa di Domani: Innovativa Sostenible Inclusiva
Volume: Il Salone della CSR e dell'innovazione sociale riflessioni, contributi, esperienze
This paper explores several ways in which fossil fuel industries must change in order to become more socially responsible and safeguard a future for the wider energy sector under radically different operating conditions. Drawing on critical public relations literature and analysis of the oil industry’s impact on the environment, political institutions and communities around the world, five key changes are identified that require immediate action to secure a continued licence to operate. These changes can be listed as follows: firstly, attention and significantly increased resources allocated to worker safety and the integrity of drilling, pipeline and oil transportation structures and technologies to avoid catastrophic accidents and destructive environmental impacts. Secondly, the negative effects of oil extraction on communities, especially in developing nations and areas suffering historic problems with oil spills, such as the Niger Delta. Thirdly, lobbying and oil companies’ history of underhand efforts to ‘manufacture doubt’ about global warming and influence the political process in undemocratic ways. Fourthly, corruption - oil companies must stop bribing and treating political elites for influence in the developing (and developed) world. Fifthly, there must be an end of corporate tax avoidance to safeguard the sector’s legitimacy in the eyes of the general public.
Finally, a sixth change is the most fundamental and requires and immediate and irreversible disinvestment in fossil fuels and re-investment in renewables. With the latest studies showing three-quarters of known reserves of fossil fuels must remain in the ground to avoid runaway global warming, the industry must transform itself without delay into a powerful driver of sustainable energy. This is the only real foundation for a continued licence to operate – anything else threatens the very existence of life on earth. Hence, the range of intractable CSR challenges facing the energy sector require nothing less than the shutting down and shuttering of the age of fossil fuels.