Oil Companies Have a New Strategy

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Fossil fuels are on their way out, so the industry is finding new tactics.
It's not a great time to be in the fossil fuel business. Countries are starting to get serious (or at least less totally in the dark) about climate change, and oil companies know they won't be able to sell as much fuel as they used to.

But a company is like an animal, and an animal doesn't just shrivel up and die when it runs out of food. It looks for different food. Oil companies have a new tactic: they're trying to get plastic in everything – as Lloyd detailed yesterday in Get ready for pushback in the war on plastic.

Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator (you know, before a former coal industry lobbyist started running the EPA) and director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard, pointed out that oil is used to make plastic, and plastic can be used for just about everything. So oil companies are selling plastic to industries that normally would have used natural materials.

Our plastic bag-filled dumps are one sign of this trend, but plastic has other, less obvious uses. Oil companies are building massive plastic factories to get plastic in things like pipes, manufacturing processes and housing.

"I think that’s the game plan," McCarthy told me. "You see plastic moving in everywhere."

In 2010, people produced 275 million tonnes of plastic waste globally. I know you probably can't conceive of that big of a number, because I can't, but I think we can all agree that is too much plastic. Besides, people fight wars over oil. Is this really the best way to use it?

Not to mention the health consequences. Oil isn't just making its way into our pipes. It's getting into us.

"If you take anyone’s blood sample, you see plenty of synthetic chemicals in it," McCarthy added. "We need to explain [to people] that it’s not about polar bears and ice sheets. It's about us and our families and our future."