January 28, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Jon Lamson | Illustration by Kira Schulist

I hate to be such a downer, but 2021 was a depressing year for the fight against climate change. Hopes for meaningful climate action in the United States following the defeat of President Donald Trump were gradually squandered, while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we’ve essentially locked ourselves in for at least 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming. Moreover, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) ended with few concrete commitments.

And while the marketing campaigns of ExxonMobil, BP, and other major oil companies say otherwise, none of this is your fault. But don’t worry, there is plenty of blame to go around. And so, to accompany the deluge of 2021 best-of lists, I present to you something a bit more deadly: the 10 most impactful climate villains of 2021.

10 – Tucker Carlson and the various flavors of right-wing media

With 2021’s top rated show in cable television, Carlson is the most recognizable ghoul of right-wing media. Over the past year, he has hosted climate deniers on his show, mocked climate action, and blessed us with quotes like “this is what science looks like when it’s been completely decoupled from wisdom, decency, and Christianity.”

In addition to Carlson, special honors go to the rest of the Fox News lineup, Ben Shapiro and  Candace Owens at the Daily Wire, Forbes’ David Blackmon (who also spent over 40 years in the fossil fuel industry), the entire Wall St. Journal opinion section, and the godfather of them all, Rupert Murdoch.

9 – Jamie Dimon

Chairman of the Board and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Dimon leads the bank that finances more fossil fuel projects than any other, spending over $300 billion on them since the Paris Agreement. Following intense public pressure from climate activists, JPMorgan Chase has finally committed to an extensive greenwashing campaign to refurbish their reputation while they maintain their investments in the fossil fuel industry.

8 – Al Monaco

President and CEO of the Canadian pipeline company Enbridge, Monaco makes this year’s list with the smashing success of the Line 3 crude oil pipeline. The pipeline, which became operational this fall, is similar in size to the canceled Keystone XL pipeline, and is capable of transporting up to 760,000 barrels a day from Alberta to Lake Superior in Wisconsin. In the process of building the pipeline, the company covered up their rupture of a Minnesota aquifer, bulldozed through tribal lands and resistance, and funded the police response to the protests, leading to the arrests of over 900 activists.

7 – The space billionaires

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos really deserve to be together, in outer space, forever. Respectively the two richest men in the world, Musk and Bezos have donated only a tiny portion of their combined $400 billion dollar fortune to fighting climate change (about $790 million so far for Bezos, while Musk has offered up a $100 million prize for a carbon capture contest). Instead of focusing on climate, they’ve both turned their efforts to space tourism, an outrageous carbon emitter.

6 – The remaining Koch

A villain seemingly as old as time, Koch Industries co-owner and CEO Charles Koch is probably destined to make this list as long as he lives. Koch Industries spends more on oil and gas lobbying than any other corporation and is the 27th largest-emitting company in the U.S. Koch has spent his career funding climate change denial and right-wing politicians, and while he is only the 21st richest person in the world with a measly net worth of about $60 billion, he sure knows how to use it.

5 – Jair Bolsonaro

Since he was elected president of Brazil in 2018, Bolsonaro has overseen massive cuts to the country’s environmental agencies and an increase in the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, which is projected to reach a tipping point of collapse by 2064 based on current trends. For his personal views on climate change, he said “You talk about environmental pollution. It’s enough to poop every other day. That will be better for the whole world.”

4 – The entire GOP

While not holding power in Congress or the presidency, the Republicans can’t be directly blamed for the lack of climate action over the past year. But they remain firmly entrenched as the official party of climate denial while Trump hints towards another run for president. House Republicans did release a “climate plan” this past fall, which prevents the president from banning fracking, promotes oil and natural gas extraction, and greenlights the Keystone XL pipeline.

3 – Joe Biden

While Biden’s speeches and long-term pledges promote strong climate action, the actual track record of his administration has been dismal. Over the course of 2021, the Biden administration approved 34% more oil and gas permits compared to the first year of the Trump administration, backed the approval of the Line 3 pipeline, and failed to pass any meaningful portion of his climate platform after decoupling it from the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

At COP26, the administration continued to obstruct talks about climate finance for adaptation and recovery in vulnerable countries. Soon after these talks, the administration held the largest offshore oil and gas lease auction in the country’s history.

2 – Joe Manchin

Sen. Manchin receives enormous campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, and rakes in about $500,000 per year in stock dividends from the coal company that he founded. He has consistently been the major Democratic holdout on ambitious climate legislation in the Senate. He fought to keep a proposed clean energy payment program and a methane fee out of the Build Back Better Bill, which he ultimately refused to vote for. Not a particularly complicated figure, Manchin is a perfect example of legalized political corruption at its finest.

1 – “Net zero by 2050”

The latest fad in greenwashing – national and corporate net zero pledges exploded in 2021. And as world leaders and CEOs unveil their shiny new promises, the new slogan helps to delay climate action and perpetuate the use of fossil fuels. As noted by NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus in a Guardian article, “two fatal flaws hide in plain sight within those 16 characters. One is ‘net zero.’ The other is ‘by 2050.’”

JPMorgan Chase, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP have all committed to “net zero” by 2050, though none of these companies have any plans to stop fossil fuel production. Through carbon accounting tricks, reliance on non-existent carbon capture technologies, and a lack of enforcement mechanisms, the net zero fad does well to sum up our position. The rich and powerful are finally willing to admit that there’s a problem and will try their very hardest to pretend to care about it.

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