This was originally published in CommonWealth magazine on March 5, 2023.


RIGHT NOW, the fossil fuel industry is booming.

A recent Reuters report said that Exxon Mobil made record annual profits in 2022, raking in $55.7 billion, exceeding its previous record of $45.2 billion in 2008. In 2018, the top 200 oil, gas, and mining companies had a combined revenue of $8 trillion – more than double Canada’s GDP. And those same companies are sitting on $20 trillion worth of untapped reserves.

The Paris Agreement’s emissions reduction targets haven’t come to fruition. Even more alarming is that we are dangerously close to being unable to prevent the global average temperature from rising above 1.5° C (2.7° F). The problem is that if we want to avoid catastrophic levels of climate change, we need full cooperation from governments, markets, and the fossil fuel industry. However, instead of investing in a just transition to renewable energy, the fossil fuel industry continues to pour money into exploration and extraction. They’re even planning to open up new frontiers in the Arctic and offshore drilling – despite warnings from scientists that these activities will have irreversible impacts on our planet.

All this comes as no surprise when you consider that the CEOs of major oil companies are some of the highest-paid executives in the world. In 2017, ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods took home $28 million – nearly 300 times what an average Exxon employee earned that year. And it’s not just oil companies — last year, coal company Peabody Energy paid its CEO $11 million, even after declaring bankruptcy.

This level of inequality is unacceptable – especially when you consider that people who have done nothing to contribute to climate change are already feeling its worst effects. According to a recent poll conducted by Data for Progress, most Massachusetts respondents think big oil and gas companies are to blame for today’s high energy prices. The poll found 57 percent of respondents believe that oil and gas companies are “a great deal” to blame for the high energy costs in the state. That’s compared to just 19 percent who said those companies are “not at all” to blame. When asked if they thought oil and gas companies should be required to pay their “fair share” of the costs associated with climate change, 55 percent of respondents said yes. Just 22 percent said no.

Clearly, there is strong support in Massachusetts for holding oil and gas companies accountable for our current energy prices and climate change. Subsequently, climate activists have filed legislation, bringing the Polluters Pay federal model filed by Sen. Van Hollen from Maryland to the Massachusetts state legislature. Experts agree that billions are needed to mitigate the problem and fund adaptation projects. In 2019, NBC Boston reported that due to current locked-in warming, a large storm could cost the Bay State up to $72 billion, and in that same scenario, parts of Cape Cod could face up to 10 feet of water from a flood alone. Property damage would exacerbate that number, and insurance would soar in the coming years.

Should the Polluters Pay bill become law, the state will have a sizable downpayment to achieve its climate goals and build resiliency for the Commonwealth. With a democratic stronghold in both the executive and legislative branches and the first-in-the-nation climate chief, Massachusetts is poised to deliver on climate strategies that we can all agree on.

Make polluters pay.

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Legislative Manager for 350 MA, Political Manager for 350 MA Action, Emerge MA Alumni, DSC member representing 2nd Suffolk and Middlesex. Tweets are my own.