As the ravages of climate breakdown barrel at exponential speeds across the planet, the fossil fuel conglomerates are facing unprecedented pushback. The anger is mostly coming from teenagers, who will bear the brunt of the devastation. But the protests are being supported by rising calls for fossil fuel executives to be tried for crimes against humanity, by strident shareholder activism and by revelations of the size of the subsidies that governments around the world are granting to the oil majors. In South Africa, Sasol is feeling intense heat.
I. The Crimes
"This ongoing inaction of people in power, and the companies responsible, will in the future no doubt be remembered as a crime against humanity."
For fossil fuel executives, these words were really nothing new. Streamed live by Time magazine on 28 May 2019, they reflected a sentiment that had been articulated as far back as 2008, when James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, told members of the US Congress that the chief executives of firms such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy should be accorded the same treatment as war criminals. Hansen's point was that these men were "actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same...