Stop It With the '100 Companies Responsible for 71% of Carbon Emissions' Already

It was never true, and now it is being used as an excuse for just about anything.

Don't blame me for climate change, it's 100 companies' fault!
Don't blame me for climate change, it's 100 companies' fault!.

Istock/Getty Images

The 2017 headline in The Guardian may well be the most quoted and repeated one they ever printed—four years later it is still making the rounds. I previously noted that the "100 companies" description fail to distinguish between companies like ExxonMobil and national entities like China, the label applied to the biggest emitter in the Carbon Majors Report behind the article, or that 90% of those emissions are "Scope 3," downstream emissions that happen when we heat our homes or drive our cars.

Headline in the Guardian
Headline in the Guardian, 10 July 2017

The headline has been quoted by reasonable people to make the case that personal responsibility and carbon footprinting don't matter, that 71% of the problem rests with those carbon majors, who coincidentally foisted the whole idea of carbon footprinting on us as a diversion. Treehugger's Sami Grover has written that "fossil fuel interests are all too happy to talk about climate change—as long as the focus remains on individual responsibility, not collective action."

Bitcoin justification
Screen capture, Twitter

But the headline is also being used, often hilariously, by unreasonable people to justify just about anything under the sun. The first tweet I noticed used the 100 companies to justify bitcoin, which consumed gigawatts of electricity generated by burning coal in China, the biggest single entity in the 100 companies.

Air conditioning tweet
Screen capture, Twitter

Then there is air conditioning, which runs on electricity that's generated with fossil fuels, warming the planet to keep us cool.

Screen capture, Twitter

Have a hamburger and don't have a cow, it's not your fault, you are not personally responsible.

Ikea recycling
Screen capture, Twitter, edited for profanity

We have shown studies indicating "the majority of people believe the most important thing they can do to reduce greenhouse emissions and fight climate change is recycling as much as possible" but this tweeter says we don't even have to bother with that, what's the point?

flying less and driving less
Screen Capture, Twitter

You begin to wonder if they understand that there is a connection between filling cars with gasoline and planes with jet fuel and the companies making the stuff. There seems to be no comprehension that if these companies were changed and put out of business, then the plane wouldn't get off the ground.

private jets
Screen Capture, Twitter

At some point, you have to wonder whether this isn't parody when it is used to justify private jets. Given who is copied on this one, I suspect it is a joke, but it is hard to tell.

lalo climate deniers
Screen Capture, Twitter

I have come to agree with this tweet, suggesting that "people who blame corporations entirely for climate change are as just as bad as climate deniers"—it has become the go-to excuse for not only doing nothing but for actively and consciously making things worse.

As I noted previously, 100 companies are not responsible for 71% of global emissions. They are not companies, they are mostly national entities following government policy. Meanwhile: "Over 90% is actually emitted by us. It's going into heating our houses and moving our cars and making the steel and aluminum for our buildings and cars and F35 fighters and concrete for our roads and bridges and parking garages."

With the release of the latest IPCC report, it is clear that we have run out of time to blame 100 companies. We still need to take to the streets, we still need to change our politicians. But we also have to look in the mirror, take personal responsibility, and do everything in our power to stop buying what they are selling.

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