By Julia Krzyszkowska, campaigner at 350.org
50 years ago, the directors of one of the world’s biggest oil companies, Total, learned about climate change. It was 1971. I wasn’t even born yet. My father was eleven years old.
Since then, climate science has matured, even as the planet heated up. But one fact remains. For half a century now, the rich men of this world have known that their growing wealth would come at a price.
And they left us to pay that bill: with the suffering of millions of people struggling against wildfires, heatwaves, floods and hurricanes. With the destruction of wild nature. With an ever increasing stress and urgency felt by an entire generation of children born in the era of the climate crisis.
Total’s executives chose this future for us. They knew – and they didn’t care. They lied, they denied, they dug and burned, they got richer and richer and more powerful. They stole fifty years of action to stop climate breakdown. They did it with eyes wide open – and with impunity.
In 1988, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 350 parts per million – a safe limit, for which 350.org was named. That year, Total, Exxon and other oil majors joined forces and launched their first climate denial strategy. It was a success. The doubt they first sowed lives on.
I was born in 1988. I’m 33 now. It’s odd to think that I was born into a world that still had a chance. The groundbreaking scientific work of the 1980s gave us that chance: understanding climate change meant being able to stop and reverse it.
The men at Total’s board table stole that chance from me – from all of us alive today. I imagine they did it lightly, like it didn’t matter. They knew – and they put everything they had to stop others from knowing. Every single year since then they’ve gotten richer and more powerful, while the world I was born into 33 years ago is plummeting to the brink of irreversible climate breakdown.
My niece was born 20 years later, in 2008. My nephew was born in 2018. The 10 years between them doesn’t seem like that much, when you see the two of them together.
But what happens in the 10 years that follow could be what makes or breaks their future. What the people in charge of our laws and our money choose to do about Total and other oil giants could mean the difference between pulling back from the cliff’s edge, and jumping headlong into the unknown future.
When you work everyday with the climate crisis looming over your head, present in every email, the topic of every meeting, it’s easy to become desensitised. Hope is an elusive thing; but so is anger, its edge blunted by everyday use.
But I read about Total’s lies and I get so angry it’s difficult to breathe. I imagine these men in suits the moment they first learn, without a doubt, that their business is literally putting life on Earth at risk. I imagine their laughter and their indifference when they take a vote that will carry consequences for an entire generation, a vote in which they choose money and influence and their own comfort over the health of the planet and the well-being of their fellow humans.
The world isn’t going to end, because we are not going to let it. But something is ending right now: the era of the power of the fossil fuel industry. The era of Total and Exxon, of BP and Shell. There’s a wave gathering momentum that’s about to break and carry away the lies and destruction and greed of oil executives.
This isn’t the time to just sit back and hope that things will get better. This is a time to face our rage: to embrace it and shape it into action. It’s a time to make them pay: for their lies, their greed, their indifference. It’s time to demand justice and draw a red line and make sure everyone, everywhere knows: Total knew. Exxon, Shell, BP, and others: they all knew.
Get angry and do something. Start here: TotalKnew.com