As public hearings in the Trump impeachment inquiry headed into their second week, one of the nation’s top political cable news hosts was connecting the dots between the rise of authoritarianism, challenges to democracy, and the corrupting power of the oil and gas industry.
“I didn’t set out to write about the oil and gas industry,” Rachel Maddow told the audience at Mount Holyoke College on Sunday, November 17 in what was the final stop on a nationwide tour for her new book Blowout.
Indeed, the host of MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” said her initial inclination was to look into why Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That path inevitably led to the industry at the heart of Russia’s stunted economy.
According to Maddow, Russia’s desperation to maximize its petroleum-based influence in global politics was part of what drove Putin to risk interference in America’s last presidential election. The oil and gas industry is tied into the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the circumstances and Trump associates in the orbit of the impeachment inquiry — a development that Maddow did not foresee when writing Blowout.
“The week [the book] comes out, the president starts getting impeached,” she said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Money, Power, and Pollution
Blowout, as the subtitle spells out, is as much about corrupted democracy and “rogue state Russia” as it is the “richest, most destructive industry on Earth.” Oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil, Maddow explained, are “the richest corporations in the history of corporations.” With all that money comes incredible political power and a tendency to evade responsibility.
“The oil and gas industry makes its own political weather,” Maddow said. “What they’re really good at is getting governments of all shapes and sizes to serve their interests.”
But when it comes to cleaning up their toxic messes, fossil fuel corporations have an abysmal track record. Maddow described the oil spill response used in the 1960s, which involved low-tech containment, a method that continues to be used to this day, and in some cases the clean up even resorts to using paper towels.
Beyond localized environmental destruction and conventional pollution, the fossil fuel industry is driving an unfolding global catastrophe. “The industry is nuking the planet,” Maddow remarked.
The fossil fuel industry, she said, is now facing a reckoning with the consequences of the climate crisis. And in the battle that is shaping up between climate activists and the most powerful industry on the planet, Maddow is confident that “the activists are going to win.”
“They’re going to win because they’re right,” she said. The oil and gas industry, she pointed out, wants us to believe that it is the real leader on solving the climate crisis. This claim, Maddow said, is nonsense. “The oil and gas industry is not going to convert to pro-algae, pro-solar companies no matter what their ads say,” she said.
Maddow warned that the inevitable demise of the fossil fuel industry, an industry that has propped up authoritarian regimes and literally fuels global economies, will likely result in disruption.
“When oil and gas loses its market share and loses its power, there’s going to be massive geopolitical impact around the world,” Maddow said. “Boundaries of countries will change.” The climate crisis will compound this disruption and result in widespread suffering and further geopolitical instability. The question, Maddow raised, is what our societal response will be — will liberal democracy and the rule of law survive, or will authoritarianism and lawlessness prevail?
In the meantime, Maddow said that governments must rein in the recklessness of the fossil fuel corporations.
“Regulate them,” she said. “Dealing with this is not rocket science. It’s about making sure the interests of this industry do not outstrip competing [public] interests that are at least as or more important.”
Main image: President Donald Trump and the cover of Blowout by Rachel Maddow. Credit: Original photo by Zach D. Roberts for DeSmog