Most Americans probably haven’t heard of Curtis Morgan, or even Vistra Energy, the company that Morgan leads. But it’s responsible for more climate pollution than any other corporation in the country, according to a list compiled by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst that ranked the 100 companies with the largest carbon footprints.
A new project called Climate Culprits aims to make the leaders of those companies more visible, with baseball card-like profiles of each CEO and their environmental stats, based on the most recent data reported to the EPA. Vistra’s footprint in 2017: 139,477,048 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions.
“So much of the conversation in the climate crisis is portraying this as a problem that we are all equally responsible for–that it’s our fault for using the wrong lightbulbs or eating the wrong burgers,” says a member of the anonymous team that created the project. Of course, individual actions do matter at a mass scale (one study calculated that if everyone went vegan by 2050, the world’s food-related emissions would drop 70%). But the team wanted to point out that some people have a vastly different amount of power. “Some people make enormously consequential decisions—literally kind of life and death—and we should know who they are, and we should be able to interrogate them and their decisions.”
The list includes Donald Trump, since the U.S. government is also one of the top polluters nationally. It also includes Warren Buffet, the head of Berkshire Hathaway, which ranks fourth. But many of the figures aren’t household names. “These people mostly fly under the radar, and this came from a perspective that they shouldn’t be able to fly under the radar,” the strategist says. “They are making superconscious, consequential decisions that affect all of us.”
The creators wanted the public to be more aware of who bears responsibility for some of the climate change that has already occurred. But they’re also hoping that the project puts more pressure on these executives to change course now. Some companies are moving in the right direction: Xcel Energy, eighth on the list, has committed to eliminate its carbon footprint by 2050. “I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that they are some of the few people to hold the most power ever in history over the fate of the planet,” they say. “And that means they could go down as heroes if they make the right choices. The hope I have about this is it’s framed not just as ‘Let’s throw stuff at them,’ but ‘Let’s actually hold them accountable for making progress.’”
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