Big Oil is funding future climate tech — but should they?

Oil companies’ investments in direct air capture raise questions about climate justice.

Leading direct air capture startups have secured equity financing from oil and gas companies. Photo: Carbon Engineering

Carbon removal done the oil industry way might prove to be a win for the climate, but not for society.

We can’t delay finding out, either. To reverse the warming trend the planet has been on for decades, carbon removal solutions aren’t just nice to have — they’re essential. Scientific consensus says we’ll likely need to capture and store roughly as much CO₂ from the atmosphere as the global oil industry extracts and burns today.

Direct air capture fans developed and operated by Climeworks. Of the leading DAC developers, Climeworks is the only not to take equity funding from major fossil fuel companies. Photo: Climeworks

If we reach a stable climate in a way that makes for a worse future, then we haven’t actually done good.

The operative mood here is “could.” It’s reasonable to be skeptical of oil companies, whose long histories of anti-climate lobbying and climate change obfuscation create a real risk their participation is not in good faith: they may slow progress to protect business-as-usual operations or delay decarbonizing on the premise that they will use direct air capture in the future to do so. Carbon removal done the oil industry way might prove to be a win for the climate, but not for society.

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