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Big Oil: Under a Gun, Over a Barrel

Recall what happened to tobacco stocks...?
 
LAST MONTH was "transformational", says Bill Bonner in his Diary of a Rogue Economist.
 
Yes. That's the word. A big, clunky, gobbledygook word...hiding a mountain of claptrap.
 
Two transformational things happened...
 
Joe Biden announced a budget in which $6 trillion would change hands. Here's CBS News:
"Despite campaigning to an extent on moderation, Mr.Biden's budget is, even in the words of White House officials on a call with reporters, 'transformational' and assumes a broader role for the federal government in the social safety net."
We'll come back to that later.
 
Today, let us begin connecting the dots by looking at another transformation taking place – in the oil industry.
 
The last Wednesday in May was meantime a bad day for the oil companies, a "crushing" day. Said CNBC:
"Some of the world's largest corporate emitters have suffered a series of landmark boardroom and courtroom defeats, reflecting the waning patience of investors pushing for much faster action to tackle the climate emergency.
 
"In just a few hours on Wednesday, shareholders at US oil giant ExxonMobil supported a tiny activist hedge fund in overhauling the company's board, investors in US energy firm Chevron defied management on a pivotal climate vote and a Dutch court ordered Royal Dutch Shell to take much more aggressive action to drive down its carbon emissions."
It was "The Day the World Changed for Big Oil," says a headline at Bloomberg.
 
The International Energy Agency scolded us last week that we must drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. And it called for stopping the sale of all internal combustion engine automobiles by 2035.
 
According to a The Wall Street Journal report, the agency wants all investment in the fossil fuel sector to come to a halt "immediately."
 
And the aforementioned court in the Netherlands ordered Royal Dutch Shell to take more serious measures to protect the planet...or risk being charged with causing environmental harm. The company is supposed to cut its global carbon emissions in half over the next nine years.
 
Hmm...This is a bit like telling a candy store to stop using sugar or asking a panda to lay off the bamboo shoots. Yes, it's a "transformation". But the panda dies.
 
The French oil giant, Total, is ahead of the curve, having voted to change its name to TotalEnergies. According to French media outlet Europe 1, "Total's shareholders approved a climate strategy and the new name, which is meant to represent new objectives [for the company]."
 
Not since Big Tobacco in the 1970s and 1980s has an industry been so under the gun and over a barrel. Its product is now thought to be harmful to the entire world. From a PR standpoint, Exxon might as well be in the slave trade.
 
But energy (including Big Oil) is on the "buy" side of our Trade of the Decade. (Paid-up Bonner-Denning Letter subscribers can find out all the details online.) Dense, fossil-fuel energy is critical to maintaining today's living standards.
 
Not only that, if the world-improvers are going to switch to windmills and solar panels, they're going to need a lot of oil to make it work. Transformations take energy, too!
 
So what's ahead for the oil companies? For insight, let's look at what happened to the tobacco companies.
 
Less than a year ago, a group of activists decided to measure their transformation:
"The first Tobacco Transformation Index, released today and made possible with funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, finds that most of the 15 largest tobacco companies are not making substantive progress in phasing out cigarettes and other high-risk tobacco products and transitioning smokers to reduced-risk alternatives."
But Big Tobacco has been transforming itself for a long time. As you'll recall, tobacco was blamed for lung cancer and other ailments – even those of people who didn't smoke.
 
"Second-hand smoke" was supposed to be so dangerous that smoking was banned from all public places – including restaurants and bars, where people traditionally went to smoke.
 
Just because something is harmful to you doesn't usually give the feds the right to ban it. We've yet to see a federal statute requiring restaurants to turn away fat people, for example.
 
But the do-gooders argued that smoking was not just a private threat, it was a public threat, because it increased the government's medical care costs.
 
No proof of the "second-hand" hypothesis was ever offered. (There was much "evidence" but none conclusive).
 
As for the costs, smoking shortened lives, thus reducing the government's Social Security and Medicaid burdens.
 
But when you're in transformational mode, there's no time for arithmetic.
 
And now, it's "climate change" in the headlines. Practically every day brings a new allegation.
 
The glaciers are receding. Sea levels are rising. Even the Laps in Lapland are beginning to sweat.
 
And the corpses are piling up:
"Between 1991 and 2018, more than a third of all deaths in which heat played a role were attributable to human-induced global warming, according to a new study in Nature Climate Change.
 
"The study, the largest of its kind, was led by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of Bern within the Multi-Country Multi-City (MCC) Collaborative Research Network. Using data from 732 locations in 43 countries around the world it shows for the first time the actual contribution of man-made climate change in increasing mortality risks due to heat.
 
"Overall, the estimates show that 37% of all heat-related deaths in the recent summer periods were attributable to the warming of the planet due to anthropogenic activities. This%age of heat-related deaths attributed to human-induced climate change was highest in Central and South America (up to 76% in Ecuador or Colombia, for example) and South-East Asia (between 48% to 61%)."
But readers waiting for proof that oil has made humans worse off are likely to get old before they get satisfaction. The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has given us plenty of numbers. But where is the arithmetic?
 
More people die in winter than in summer. So how many people don't die because winters are milder than they used to be? How many don't die because their houses are heated with oil? How many don't die because they are driven in a gasoline-powered ambulance to a hospital?
 
The study estimates that between 1991 and 2018, 141 additional people died each year in New York because of human-caused heat.
 
Surely, that is a minus (if true)...But where are the plusses?
 
How many more people are alive today because of the vast productivity increases – in farming, hygiene, transportation, shelter, and medicine – made possible by fossil fuels?
 
The number must be in the millions.
 
More to come...much more.

Bill Bonner has co-authored a number of New York Times Bestsellers including Financial Reckoning Day, Empire of Debt and Mobs, Markets and Messiahs. In his own opinion, Bill's most recent title, A Modest Theory of Civilization: Win-Win or Lose, is his best work yet. Bill also founded The Agora, a worldwide community for private researchers and publishers, in 1979. Financial analysts within the group have exposed and predicted some of the world's biggest shifts since that time, starting with the fall of the Soviet Union back in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the Dot Com (2000) and then mortgage finance (2008) bubbles, and more recently the election of President Trump.

See full archive of Bill Bonner articles

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