Are These 100 People The Biggest Contributors To Climate Change?

Chief executives of the top fossil fuel companies likely need to shoulder the responsibility for reducing emissions. Image: Victor Lauer/Shutterstock

Climate change and environmental destruction are global issues, which means the responsibility to be part of the solution falls on all of us. However, while it’s all very well and good using the same teabag twice to cut back on energy consumption, there are some people out there who have the power to make a considerably larger contribution.

A controversial map created by The Decolonial Atlas provides the names and locations of the CEOs of the 100 companies that produce the most industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Together, these corporations are responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere between 1988 and 2015.

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Image: The Decolonial Atlas

The map was compiled using data from the 2017 Carbon Majors Report, which revealed that China’s state-owned coal production company was the leading producer of industrial greenhouse gases during that period, emitting 14.32 percent of the global total. The Saudi Arabian Oil Company (otherwise known as Aramco) and Gazprom were second and third on the list, with Shell coming in ninth and BP eleventh.

The map has been distorted so that the size of each country reflects its share of carbon dioxide emissions since 1850, when the Industrial Revolution began. It also indicates where the chief executive of each of the organizations on the list lives.

The chief executives of many of the world's largest fossil fuel companies live in North America, with seven residing in Houston, Texas. Image: The Decolonial Atlas

The creators of the map say their intention is to name and shame the “top ecocidal planet killers” into changing their ways and investing in renewable energies rather than fossil fuels. However, this label is somewhat controversial, given that it isn’t entirely fair to blame a CEO for the environmental impact of an entire organization.

Firstly, it ignores the fact that the actions of these companies are largely driven by consumers, which means regular people need to reduce their energy use if the industrial activities of these companies are to be curtailed. Secondly, shareholders tend to have the biggest influence over corporate decision-making, and given that around 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by publicly-owned companies, it’s ultimately up to society as a whole to decide the future of these corporations.

The size of each country has been distorted to reflect its share of global carbon emissions. Image: The Decolonial Atlas

Regardless, the chief executives of these fossil fuel giants have a massive responsibility to protect the future of the planet. On an individual level, we can all turn down our thermostats or wear our dirty underpants inside-out rather than washing them, but the report states that if fossil fuel extraction continues unchecked for the next 25 years, then global temperatures could rise by a catastrophic 4°C.

Ultimately, economic concerns are likely to be the biggest drivers of any business decisions that affect the environment. Fortunately, though, coal, oil, and gas investments look set to become increasingly risky due to a combination of global action on climate change and the development of renewable energies. According to one report, fossil fuel companies risk losing $2 trillion over the coming decade if they don’t switch to greener alternatives.

As such, there is hope that renewable energy sources could replace fossil fuels before it’s too late, and we can all wear clean underpants every day.

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