Nov 21, 2022

How to Defeat the Fossil Goliath?

By Dr. Aaron Thierry /
How to Defeat the Fossil Goliath?

The KEY question, I'm asked by students when I guest lecture about the #ClimateCrisis is 'but what can we do?'

So I recently rewrote my materials to try & tackle that question head on. Feel free to adapt them.

Buckle up - here's a LONG thread🧵about how we can fight back!

First, let's just recap and take in where we are:

Following the latest @IPCC_CH report @UN Secretary General @antonioguterres made clear this was a
🚨"Code Red for humanity"🚨 Image

The @IPCC_CH report states clearly that we have a "brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all" Image

The co-chair of WG3 Prof. Jim Skea concluded that "It is now or never" and that we need "deep emissions reductions across all sectors" if we are to meet our climate targets and avoid catastrophic impacts Image

But scientists have been warning about this in reports in ever more alarmed terms for decades... Image

Yet governments around the world have failed to act and each and every year concentrations of polluting greenhouse gases climb to new record highs... Image

So, we need to ask why it is that we are failing to act on the scientific warnings.

This is what @IsakStoddard et al. do in a fantastic review in @AnnualReviews.

Their conclusion?: It's about political power!…Image

In particular, this thread is going to look at how we can counter the power of vested interests tied to the fossil fuel industry…Image

As this is a key barrier to climate action identified by @IsakStoddard et al in their review Image

It's also a key conclusion of the technical summary of the @IPCC_CH WG3 report. 

H/T @NiranjanAjit




The way in which this power is wielded is being mapped in ever greater detail by sociologists who study the obstruction of climate policy.

And as we'll see this work gives us key insights of how we can fight back!

Here's a summary by @ClimateSSN -… Image

It's crucial to understand, that despite huge amounts of greenwashing. None of the fossil fuel majors are aligning their business plans with a low-carbon pathway compatible with the Paris agreement.

As shown for example in work by -… Image

Discussion Paper: Big Oil Reality Check — Assessing Oil And Gas Climate Plans - Oil Change International

New analysis of eight major oil company climate plans reveals that none come close to aligning with the urgent 1.5°C global warming limit.

The fossil fuel industry are continuing a strategy of 'predatory delay' as explained brilliantly in this new book by Daniel Nyberg, @ChristopherWr11 and @VanessaMBowden…Image

Organising Responses to Climate Change

As @UNEP's 'Production Gap' shows currently “world’s governments plan to produce more than twice the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C”


2021 Home - Production Gap

Tracking the gap between governments’ planned fossil fuel production and global levels consistent with the Paris Agreement's limits

Taking all of the economically viable fossil fuel reserves (as done by @FossilRegistry) you find companies & governments own seven!!! times more carbon than can be burned if we are to limit to 1.5C.

Climate action means these become stranded assets…Image

Finally we have a Global Registry of Fossil Fuels - Carbon Tracker Initiative

Major boost for transparency on fossil fuel supply, as the first public database of emissions from...

This is established science, its not controversial, its why @fbirol the executive director of the IEA is clear that "there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal' 


No new oil, gas or coal development if world is to reach net zero by 2050, says world energy body

Governments must close gap between net zero rhetoric and reality, says International Energy Agency head

Yet governments are willfully ignoring this science! ImageImage


I'm forced to conclude that we are seeing is the *corporate capture* of our democracies.

That governments are now acting for the benefit of vested interests in the fossil fuel industry and not to protect people & the planet - so what on earth do we do about that? 

A key shift we need is to recognise that the political economy of fossil fuels means that we are in a contest - as @JeffDColgan @greenprofgreen @thomasnhale outline in this excellent paper.

We're fighting for our futures here! 


Asset Revaluation and the Existential Politics of Climate Change | International Organization | Cambridge Core

Asset Revaluation and the Existential Politics of Climate Change - Volume 75 Issue 2

*THE* key question of our times is; how can we create powerful social movements that can resist and challenge that corporate capture and reclaim our democracies?! Image

I believe that fundamental to this is for us to shift from a 'monolithic' view of power, to a 'pluralistic one' based on pillars of support and alliance, which can be withheld or removed.

The rest of this🧵will now look at examples of how this is being done in practice Image

What follows is not an exhaustive list of possible interventions, but hopefully will give a framework for thinking strategically.

It is also primarily focussed on campaigns in the global north, which I am more familiar with 

First up, efforts for legislative change.

Fossil fuel industries work within our legal frameworks - currently its legal for them to operate destructively - so what campaigns can we look to that are actively pushing for criminalising such behaviour?Image

Let's think big - what about bans on fossil fuel development? Seeing as that's what the science demands.

One proposal, as put forward in this paper by @PeterJNewell_ and @AndrewSimms_uk is for a 'Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty'




We have since seen the emergency of the @fossiltreaty initiative, which is rapidly gaining wide-spread support.

Cities and subnational governments are passing motions of support, putting pressure on national-legislatures and helping prohibit local developments. 


People can sign up to organise campaigns in support of the treaty in their own localities

Cities Toolkit — The #FossilFuelTreaty Hub

Another global campaign is seeking to make ecocide a crime, to put polluters on trial!
"We are working, together with a growing global network of lawyers, diplomats, & across all sectors of civil society, towards making ecocide an international crime" 

Stop Ecocide International

The global campaign to establish a law of ECOCIDE, making large-scale & systematic destruction of nature an INTERNATIONAL CRIME alongside War Crimes, Genocide & Crimes Against Humanity

At a national level we have seen group such as @sunrisemvmt organise to effectively shift legislative priorities of key political parties.

In the UK we have groups like @GNDRising and @LabGND organising to do the same thing. 

As a result of all these campaigns we are starting to see new laws being brought in restricting fossil fuel production! Image

Next is litigation.

Where possible we must enforce existing laws to push back against fossil fuel interests and protect people's human rights to a liveable future!Image

Recently published research shows that this can be a powerful force for change…Image

A great example of this was the victorious case brought against the oil giant @Shell by @milieudefensie. This had 17,000 co-plaintiffs! The dutch public using their courts to protect themselves from a rouge business. ImageImageImage

You can read more about the background of the case in this helpful guide...…Image

These victories force other companies and their investors to reexamine their business models and whether or not they are liable to similar lawsuits…Image

Climate litigation as climate activism: what works?

This briefing examines post-Paris Agreement 2015 legal mobilisation, discussing the who, why, how and what for of this new wave of activity.

We are seeing more and more such legal challenges against companies as well as governments! Image

You can look up ongoing legal cases, as well as new climate legislation, in this database run by @GRI_LSE 

Climate Change Laws of the World

Climate Change Laws of the World is a global database of climate change laws, policies, climate targets and litigation cases

Now on to divestment.

We can take away fossil fuel companies social licence but cutting our financial ties to them!

(Incidentally, this was how I got involved in climate campaigning - thanks , 🧵✊) Image

Work by @fergusgreen shows how the #FossilFree divestment movement radically reshaped the public discourse on the #climatecrisis by drawing attention to questions of morality.

As @billmckibben says "If its wrong to wreck the planet, its wrong to profit from that wreckage!" Image

What started as a student movement on university campus, quickly spread to other institutions (faith groups, trade unions, local town councils etc) ImageImageImage

It snowballed, as groups took inspiration from each other with over 1500 institutions with 💲trillions in assets 💵 now off limits to fossil fuel companies!

Data from: Image

We are now seeing whole countries divesting their public fiances! Image

Let's move on to public relations.

Fossil fuel co's can only keep operating so long as they keep the public on board - something they're willing to pay billions for!

But only so long as PR firms are willing to take money to do their propaganda…Image


UN boss slams PR for ‘raking in billions’ by ‘enabling’ fossil-fuel companies

Sociologists such as @RBrulle have detailed the ways in which the PR effort is crucial to protecting the fossil fuel industry from proper scrutiny, and for promoting discourses that delay climate action. Image

This is why we are seeing so much greenwashing in the media or what @GretaThunberg calls "Blah,Blah,Blah!".

It's all designed to give the impression of action when there is none, so as to stifle political demands for genuine change.…Image


The clean energy claims of BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell: A mismatch between discourse, actions and investments

The energy products of oil and gas majors have contributed significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and planetary warming over the past century. Decarbonizing the global economy by mid-c…

It's important to be able to identify these 'discourses of climate delay'.

This paper by et al is really helpful for learning how to spot them Image

Here's a quick summary of the 12 discourses of climate delay published in @CarbonBrief…Image


Guest post: How ‘discourses of delay’ are used to slow climate action

You have probably already heard a discourse of climate delay. Perhaps it came from a friend, a colleague, someone famous or someone powerful.

People are organising resistance in this sector as well.

Take the amazing campaigners at @cleancreatives: "a movement of advertisers, PR professionals, & their clients cutting ties with fossil fuels." 

Clean CreativesThe future of creativity is clean. It's time for PR and ad agencies to drop fossil fuels.

Or 's who are now using the laws around advertising standards to mount legal challenges to push back on greenwashing by and similar disinformation campaigns by other firms 

Or the efforts of @FVReclame who are successfully getting ad bans for fossil fuels across municipalities in the Netherlands.

With efforts now underway for a European wide ban on fossil ads!

Historical! Amsterdam first city world wide that wants to ban fossil fuel advertising - Reclame Fossielvrij

Amsterdam wants to ban advertising from the fossil fuel industry and ads for air travel from the city. The municipality is taking this step after a letter from 51 local organizations coordinated by ci…


Next let's turn attention to financial sector.

No fossil fuel company can continue to grow and make new developments without a constant supply of capital, and for insurance to cover their investments.


Work by @RystadEnergy and @Global_Witness shows that the just the twenty largest fossil fuel companies look set to spend almost $1 Trillion in new oil and gas development this decade!

Money that could be being invested in clean alternatives!…Image

IPCC clarion call puts spotlight on fossil fuel industry’s hypocrisy | Global Witness

World’s largest oil and gas companies are projected to spend over $930 billion on new developments

So people are organising to #StopTheMoneyPipeline (@StopMoneyPipe) by "pushing banks, insurance companies and asset managers to end fossil financing. If we stop the flow of money, we stop the flow of oil." 

The heroic efforts of @InsOurFuture are pushing the insurance market to walk away from backing new fossil fuel projects. 

Insure Our Future Global

Insurers must stop insuring fossil fuel expansion. Most have stopped insuring new coal but continue to underwrite oil and gas expansion.

And its beginning to work. Banks are insurers are increasingly cutting ties, leaving fossil fuel companies with out the funds to proceed with their business plans!

Brining us that bit closer to the end of the era of fossil capital! 


Ok. Hope you're feeling inspired by this point. I am ☺️

Fossil fuel companies can only operate so long as people are willing to work for them. No employees, no business!


And increasingly they are finding that young people won't! 

Oil Has a Millennial Problem as Talent Pipeline Trickles

Oil companies have a problem, and his name is Robert Paver.

Recently, @peopleandplanet launched a new student led Fossil Free Careers campaign "calling on UK University careers services to end recruitment pipelines into the oil, gas, and mining industries."

My bet is it'll take off like divestment did! 

People & Planet's Fossil Free Careers Campaign

The Fossil Free Careers campaign has already got the backing of @nusuk, as well as the @ucu and students unions around the UK are passing motions calling on their Uni's to cut all ties to fossil fuel recruiters! 

Just last month showed great leadership and became the first uni in the UK to ban fossil fuel companies from recruiting campus! 

Fossil fuel recruiters banned from UK university careers service

Exclusive: Birkbeck, University of London, is first institution to blacklist firms ‘most responsible for destroying the planet’

Next we turn to sponsorship.

Fossil fuel companies buy social license through being associated with national insertions - the arts, culture or sport for example.

But increasingly these deals are being blocked.Image

These sponsorships are a form of social sanctioning, which is why they're so valuable to these companies.

If trusted institutions are willing to associate with oil, coal or gas companies - then the fossil fuel industry must be respectable, right?…Image


Noteworthy here in the UK context is the work of @Cult_Unstained@ArtNotOil and @drop_BP.

Whose work has led to a string of victories... Image

We're also increasingly seeing sports fans and stars pushing back on sponsorship deals with climate polluters

Finally, last but not least, we have direct action ✊

People putting their bodies on the line to block fossil infrastructure directly.

As in this example of thousands of people acting to shut down a coal mine in Germany Image

This has proven to be remarkably effective. As this paper by Thiri et al shows it is often a key ingredient in campaigns against fossil fuel developments. Image

It's vital here to recognise the indigenous leadership of these resistance struggles.

This recent report found "that Indigenous resistance to carbon over the past decade has stopped projects equivalent to 400 new coal-fired power plants"!!! 

New Report: Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon — Indigenous Climate Action

We are seeing more and more people successfully using these tactics in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Image

But we are also seeing a crackdown on these effective tactics with more authoritarian police powers and harsher penalties.

"...threatening and silencing activists thus seems to be a new form of anti-democratic refusal to act on climate"


Environment protest being criminalised around world, say experts

More than 400 climate scientists sign letter that says activists are being targeted at pivotal time in fight against global heating

As @NaomiAKlein argues in her amazing book 'This Changes Everything'...

"Blockadia is turning the tables, insisting that it is up to industry to prove that its methods are safe - and in the era of extreme energy that is something that simply cannot be done."Image

So this is how we win:

▶️By growing & diversifying the climate movement.
▶️By taking away all the pillars of support of the fossil fuel industry.
▶️By fighting back!✊💚



Remember - as the UN Sec. Gen. @antonioguterres says:

“Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals.  But, the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels” Image

I'll finish up by saying that this is why I now believe that scientists and scholars are justified in taking part in acts of civil disobedience for action on the #ClimateCrisis. As I explained with colleagues in this recent comment in @NatureClimate…Image


Civil disobedience by scientists helps press for urgent climate action - Nature Climate Change

Time is short to secure a liveable and sustainable future; yet, inaction from governments, industry and civil society is setting the course for 3.2 °C of warming, with all the cascading and catastroph…


As I tell my students this is not on them and their generation to fix alone. I feel duty bound, given what I now know, to stand by their side in this fight for their futures ✊💚 /END

(Thanks for reading all the way!!!)Image

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