Sunday, April 6, 2008

Big Oil in Trouble Again

As I'm sure many have read by now, the execs from the major integrated oil companies have been testifying in Congress this week, justifying their record-breaking profits in the midst of a slumping economy many attribute at least in part to the ever climbing cost of oil on the consumer side. Congress has called upon the leaders of Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips, BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell and convince them to not repeal the $18 billion that oil companies currently receive in tax breaks to encourage production. The companies were chastised for not putting more money into renewables and for capitalizing on the American oil dependence for unprecedented profits.

I find both sides to have valid points in this matter. It does seem a little ridiculous that at a time when all we see in the news is a slumping Dow and the rising cost of wheat (and consequently all food), ExxonMobil was able to make $40.6 billion in earnings, which is comparable to the GDP of entire nations like Ecuador and Luxembourg ($41.4B and $41.5B respectively). Also, global warming is an issue that few dispute anymore, and big oil companies are a big contributor to that problem. However, it seems a little ridiculous to me to ask these same companies to demand a fix to the global warming problem, invest in technologies outside of their expertise, and remain solid pillars of an economy slowly crumbling. Perhaps subsidies in oil would be better put to use in researching alternative energies in the long term, but is now the best time to put money into areas that yield very low short term dividends? Perhaps it is, maybe we are in a now or never situation with the environment, but if this is in fact so, why do we point the blame at oil companies rather than ourselves? Rather than bully companies operating in capitalist economies into investing into cleaner fuels, why not campaign for American households to use less energy in the home? Why not cap the kWh available to the general public, or impose a heavy tax on homes that use excessive amounts of electricity (I'm looking at you, Mr. Gore)? I do think that we need to transition to better fuels, but rather than using Exxon or Chevron as scapegoats for our current situation, perhaps it would be better to accept the blame as individuals and as a society, and figure out how to intelligently and economically turn the tide.

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