The global temperature has been steadily rising since the introduction of fossil fuels during the industrial revolution (see below). Nine of the ten warmest years on the planet occurred after the year 2000. With changes in our weather patterns, sea levels and agriculture, there’s no disputing that increasing global temperature is a serious threat to life as we know it. There is a strong correlation between carbon emissions and the increase in temperature; the burning of fossil fuels is the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions.
As graduating engineers, we are the best positioned people to solve the world’s greatest problems in the future. Given this responsibility, can we ethically support and work for companies in the Oil and Gas industry knowing that their aim of increasing the use of fossil fuels will have a serious effect on the planet?
Yes, we can:
As a graduate engineer, your aim will be to build the necessary experience and skills in order to become a leader of the future. As a leader in the Oil and Gas industry, you will have the reputation within the field to change company policy and even lobby governments on environmental policies. This was seen in February when BP chief Bob Dudley called on governments to adopt carbon pricing. This kind of influence on the industry could not possibly be possessed by somebody who is on the outside of the industry therefore the best possibility of real change is from within.
If all graduate engineers were to boycott the Oil and Gas industry then these companies would not be able to survive. In the UK alone this means 450,000 jobs and £27 billion in GDP would be lost. In a world where the reduction of waste is crucial to its environmental sustainability would it not be better to reuse these resources through structured progressive change?
For all the negatives that come from the Oil and Gas industry, it is easy to gloss over some of the beneficial impacts it can have on society. Many international companies turnover more than small-to-medium economies; they can provide jobs and infrastructure increasing standards of living and reducing poverty. The Moroccan National Electrification Office began a national rural electrification programme in 1994. In 2002, three unnamed leading Oil and Gas firms collaborated to provide funding and expertise. Without this investment, the project would have been scrapped. Projects such as this are continuously being implemented without making the news, painting the industry in a bad light.
Furthermore, in the case of a graduate source from Uganda, “I have to say it wouldn’t much affect my decision to either work for the company or not (because) I think the company would come with the typical characteristics of an industry such as the clearing away of some vegetation…(removal of) dangerous pollutant gases… that are all actively important in our climate change”. This viewpoint suggests the responsibility of climate change is with the company’s ethics whilst his initial concerns lie with their immediate dependents. Companies are in a better financial and moral position to benefit a society than economies with “poor governance and high corruption” that may take advantage of the situation.
If the problem is considered from a hedonistic standpoint then there is moral justification for entering the industry. The Oil and Gas industry is one of the most challenging and well remunerated career paths for a graduate engineer, leading to a pleasurable standard of living. If the lawmakers of the state do not consider the industry harmful enough to prevent it then why should a graduate pass up an opportunity that someone else will ultimately take?
No, we can’t:
By entering the Oil and Gas industry, you are contributing to the growth and sustained running of one of the most environmentally damaging lines of work in the world. There have been multiple examples in recent history of Oil and Gas companies experiencing incidents which had global consequences. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 spilled approximately 4.9 million barrels (780,000m3) and caused phenomenal damage to the marine and bird life. In September 2014, it was ruled by a U.S. judge that BP was primarily responsible for the spill due to gross negligence and reckless conduct.
As traditional sources “dry up”, the industry is also resorting to more dangerous methods of resource extraction – namely fracking. Fracking is a process in which high pressure water is pumped deep underground to break up rocks and release shale gas. The fracturing fluid used is toxic, non-biodegradable and 50-70% is left underground. Numerous reports link these facts to poisoned wells of drinking water in nearby areas.
The damaging nature of obtaining oil and gas coupled with the contribution to global climate change by the industry (shown above) fundamentally go against the freedom principle – individuals are free to pursue pleasure as long as they do not cause suffering to others by doing so. The Oil and Gas industry is responsible for the immediate suffering of victims of industrial accidents and the suffering of future generations through global climate change. As a graduate engineer, the decision to seek the financial and professional benefits of the Oil and Gas industry is morally wrong as you would be contributing to this suffering.
You could say that this suffering is a necessary sacrifice for the benefit of the many. From a utilitarian point of view, whichever course of action causes the greatest happiness is the morally correct choice. The immediate gains from oil and gas are: the financial benefit to stakeholders and employees and the availability of energy to all who use fossil fuels. The benefit is great but the suffering of the victims of industrial accidents and all those people who will be displaced, go hungry, and lose their lives due to global warming is arguably much greater as the effects will last for generations. This makes it morally incorrect to support as an employee.