Complaining about mosquito bites while a crocodile bites our leg

July 6, 2011 • Climate Change & Mitigation, Daily Email Recap

Thanks to Jack Alpert for this article by Nate Hagens.  It is posted on the Post Carbon Institute website at

Complaining about mosquito bites while a crocodile bites our leg

May 1, 2011

Nate Hagens

Last week, in a repeat of 2008, reports of fat earnings from the oil majors were met with blame and outrage from American consumers, who are stressed from $4+ gas prices and strapped finances. Exxon Mobil, the 18th-largest oil company in the world, with about 3% of world production (~4million barrels of oil equivalent per day), reported quarterly earnings of $10.7 billion dollars. Americans are upset because they envision such hefty profits as direct transfers from their thin pocketbooks to Exxon, itself the recipient of government oil and gas subsidies to boot.

I am not an oil industry apologist, but recognize that I live in an oil-centric world, own a car, enjoy air travel and partake in the daily smorgasbord of food, services, and novelty made possible in the cheap energy age. To me, given the problems our country and government face, blaming Exxon for high gasoline prices and excessive tax subsidies is akin to complaining about a mosquito bite on your arm when a crocodile has your leg in its mouth.

First, it is a stretch to say that Exxon is under-taxed; last year Exxon’s worldwide total taxes amounted to $86 billion, or 23% of its revenue (by comparison, at this country’s second-largest corporation – Apple, Inc. – taxes were 6.9% of revenue. Yet Exxon understandably is a lightning rod, because the ~3 cents per gallon it makes as the world’s largest refiner add up to very large numbers. And yes they make large sums on their oil production when commodity prices rise more than costs. But these are two sides of the wrong argument, and are not the real story.

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