The Oceans Are Dying, and Only 88 Companies Are Responsible: Report


Dec 12, 2019


An overhead shot of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is one of 88 companies a new report says is responsible for the current scale of oceanic damage. (Image Credit: Daniel Beltra)

Our oceans are dying. And a new study shows a mere 88 companies are mostly to blame for it — acidifying the Earth’s oceans to the point they are toxic and unable to sustain plant and animal life.

All of the culprits are industrial producers of carbon, who mine coal, oil, and gas and contribute heavily to global warming. In India, a majority state-owned coal mining and refinery corporation, Coal India, has been listed as one of the main perpetrators against the world’s oceans. Others include Saudi Aramco from Saudi Arabia, which at US$ 1.9 trillion just became the most valuable listed company in history, Chevron and ExxonMobil from the U.S., Gazprom from Russia, BP from the U.K., and Royal Dutch Shell from the Netherlands. 

Researchers from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the U.S. evaluated the impact of carbon emissions on ocean acidification during two time periods — 1880 to 2015, when carbon emissions slowly rose across the globe, and between 1965 and 2015, when carbon-producing companies willingly carried on their businesses despite widespread knowledge of the environmental damage it causes. Acidification occurs when carbon in the atmosphere is absorbed by oceans, which leads to chemical reactions that lower the pH of the oceanic environment, resulting in the slow death of oceanic flora and fauna. They found these 88 companies are responsible for almost half of the pH reduction in oceans across one-and-a-half centuries.

“The organisms at risk from acidification form the foundation of the marine ecosystem food chain — including some types of plankton, algae, shellfish, and coral that may struggle to grow and survive in a future warmer, more acidic ocean,” study co-author and professor of environmental change at the University of Virginia, U.S., Scott Doney said in a statement

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If these companies had paid heed to environmental research released in the 1960s, which predicted the environmental tragedy in which we find ourselves today, would it have made a difference? If they had supported further research and come up with environmental-friendly ways to carry on their operations, instead of burying data in order to keep churning profits, would it have changed the trajectory of our oceans?

In an attempt to answer the question, researchers removed these 88 companies’ emission contributions from their calculations. The world’s oceans, they said, would have looked dramatically different today, if these fossil fuel companies had taken responsibility for their actions and set forth on a path of self-correction. But they didn’t, and we’re closer than ever to the point of no return. 

Little more than half of the 88 companies listed in the study, published in Environmental Research Letters, are investor-owned companies; the rest are majority state-owned. The countries where the government is directly funding the exploitation of natural resources leading to the death of our oceans include Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Iran, Russia, India, China, the U.K., Venezuela, Kuwait, Brazil, the U.A.E, and Iraq. 

“As impacts worsen and become more costly, frontline communities and affected industries are now calling on fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for their outsized contribution to the problem,” said Peter Frumhoff, co-author and director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Companies could have acted responsibly to inform the public about risks and taken actions to reduce emissions. They chose instead to disinform and delay. By putting a number on fossil fuel company contributions to disruptive ocean acidification, our study can inform decisions about their responsibilities for damages that could have — and should have — been avoided.”


Written By Rajvi Desai

Rajvi Desai is The Swaddle’s Culture Editor. After graduating from NYU as a Journalism and Politics major, she covered breaking news and politics in New York City, and dabbled in design and entertainment journalism. Back in the homeland, she’s interested in tackling beauty, sports, politics and human rights in her gender-focused writing, while also co-managing The Swaddle Team’s podcast, Respectfully Disagree.


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