The executives at the helms of the 30 biggest oil, gas and coal companies in the United States took home a collective $6 billion in compensation over the past five years, a new report from the Institute for Policy Studies found.
That's twice the money, just to drive the point home, that the U.S. pledged to help developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change, by which they are expected to be disproportionately affected.
The CEOs of these companies, the report further found, are some of the most handsomely compensated executives in the country, making 9 percent more than the S&P 500 average. Another pointed statistic: they've accumulated a collective $1.2 billion in retirement assets, ensuring that they, if not everyone else, are ensured comfortable futures.
Look, maybe I'm just jealous because these guys (it's all guys) are raking in the big bucks while I sit here writing all day about how they're destroying the planet for relative (and practically literal) pennies. That's what they call "punching up." But it stands to reason that if we're going to ask oil and gas giants to acknowledge the reality of climate change and to take an active role in moving us toward a low-carbon future -- and to be sure, plenty argue that we shouldn't even bother -- it's good to remember just how strong their leaders' incentives are in the other direction. Executives at the country's 13 biggest oil companies, IPS notes, receive bonuses that are directly tied to expanding carbon reserves -- despite warning that most our remaining fossil fuels need to remain in the ground. Bonuses for cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions or developing green energy, on the other hand, are unheard of.
"What we are essentially doing here is paying people massive amounts of money to continue to drill and burn and do things that are going to harm the planet and put a lot of costs on the rest of us," Sarah Anderson, the report's lead author, told InsideClimate News.
This broken incentive structure is particularly egregious for the coal industry which, for all sorts of reasons including basic market forces, is dying. And yet even as coal plants retire by the hundreds and entire companies go under, coal executives are doing better than ever. From 2010 to 2014, the country's 10 biggest coal companies saw their combined shares plummet 58 percent. Their executives' total compensation, in salary and bonuses, increased 8 percent. If someone with a business degree wants to explain to me why this chart makes sense, be my guest:
Under such a pay structure, IPS emphasizes, executives have "little incentive to innovate and shift to a new, more sustainable energy future." And really, can you blame them?