Flat White

Big Pharma: a petroleum-dependent industry under attack by climate warriors

23 July 2022

10:00 AM

23 July 2022

10:00 AM

There is a war brewing between the socialist-lite mask-wearing kids who demand free healthcare and the socialist-lite mask-wearing kids gluing themselves to city streets tearfully screaming for an end to the fossil fuel industry.

This goes much deeper than 1.6 billion discarded plastic-based face masks suffocating the world’s oceans every year as part of the 8 million tons of Covid-created plastic waste – 26,000 tons of which hits the water.

And yes, climate catastrophists, you can virtue signal all you want about ‘saving the world’ with four needle emojis in your social media bio, but your face masks, gloves, vaccines, and sanitiser bottlers began life as a fossil fuel.

Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on petroleum. In the same way cows expel methane, healthcare runs on fossil fuels. As clueless Climate Change activist organisations successfully bully weak politicians into shutting down mining production, the price of healthcare and its basic medical supplies are set to rise.

The pharmaceutical industry creates more greenhouse gas emissions than the world’s automotive industry. How many Australian schools are teaching children that little inconvenient truth, I wonder?

No, this isn’t coming from an alt-right, fringe conspiracy website. It was admitted by The Conversation in 2019 (a situation that can only be worse after Covid accelerated production).

‘We found it was 48.55 tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) per million dollars. That’s about 55 per cent greater than the automotive sector at 31.4 tonnes of CO2e/$M for that same year. We restricted our analysis to the direct emissions generated by the companies’ operations and to the indirect emissions generated by the electricity purchased by these companies from their respective utilities companies.’

The World Economic Forum reports that the chemical industry (of which Big Pharma is a dependent) is responsible for more than 30 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Healthcare is one of the sectors identified by America as being particularly vulnerable to any change in fossil fuel production. The following is from a 2011 study, at which point the authors would not have been able to predict either the average citizen’s increased dependence on pharmaceutical companies post-Covid, or our self-inflicted decimation of the fossil fuel industry for political ends.

‘Given that the United States consumes roughly one quarter of the world’s oil production and emits approximately 8 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, it is safe to conclude that health care in the United States consumes a large amount of petroleum and that health care’s exposure to petroleum supply shortages is likely significant.’

While the cost of transport is listed as a serious concern when it comes to rising fuel prices, the report goes on to investigate plastic:

‘Plastics and pharmaceuticals are primarily derived from petrochemicals, and there are relatively few substitutes for petroleum inputs into these products. Health care’s reliance on petroleum for plastics and pharmaceuticals is a longstanding concern, first discussed widely after the 1973 oil embargo […] Plastics are central to the antiseptic model of modern health care and are used in a wide range of medical devices, supplies, and packaging. Most plastics are derived from petroleum, although the proportion of all petroleum used for plastics is relatively small. In the 1970s approximately 5 per cent of petroleum was used for plastics manufacture, a proportion that has remained relatively stable. In the 1970s 4 per cent of all plastics were used in the health care sector, and an estimated 0.2 per cent of petroleum used in the United States was for medical plastics. We have found no estimates more recent than these.’

To put it simply, pharmaceutical companies cannot function without the fossil fuel industry.


No matter how many children glue themselves to Parliament House, mining and production will not be ceased – nor will the creation of plastics grind to a halt. It is, however, likely that fossil fuels will be ‘re-distributed’ from use in the public sector for citizen convenience to the private sector where the resource will be fought over by billion-dollar corporations, no doubt operating with special social licenses.

A 2009 report, Energy and Public Health: The Challenge of Peak Petroleum, cites the same problem – but its fears were not based on a self-destructive axis of evil comprised of politicians, international bureaucracies, and CEOs. Rather, they were discussing the predicted crisis of ‘peak petroleum’ that was expected to trigger a decline in resources.

‘The supply of plentiful, cheap petroleum is expected to peak within the next few decades, and to decline thereafter. Petroleum will not disappear, but production will fall even as demand rises. Petroleum scarcity will have wide-ranging impacts across society, including in the health sector, and will require a range of adaptations. This transition will be technically and socially challenging, costly, and possibly abrupt.’

Both this and the previous article lament the lack of peer-reviewed research into the obvious impact on healthcare. The research available today is heavily skewed toward greenwashing the process – promising changes while quietly admitting that Big Pharma isn’t going to be harmed by Net Zero sustainability goals.

If anything, these companies are roping-off the fossil fuel market for themselves.

While Labor’s Albanese is busy committing Australia to a 43 per cent Net Zero target – almost certainly to be carried by the agricultural industry – politicians have simultaneously boasted about new medical facilities and vaccine manufacturing companies opening in Australia. Will these virtuous enterprises be facing the same Net Zero guillotine as inter-generational family farms? Will production at the new Astra Zeneca lab be slaughtered as Labor plans to send our livestock to the grave?

‘We found that by 2025, the overall pharma sector would need to reduce its emissions intensity by about 59 per cent from 2015 levels,’ said The Guardian, keeping in mind this was pre-Covid. It is almost a certainty that they have vastly expanded their carbon footprint.

The defossilisation of Big Pharma is not as simple as plugging in a few wind turbines and batteries. Pharmaceutical products are largely derived from fossil fuels one way or another, then processed, stored, and distributed via other petroleum-based items. It’s wall-to-wall fossil fuels.

‘Our understanding is that presently it is probably not reasonable to drive the defossilisation of pharmaceuticals with regulatory means. Drugs already have to satisfy a large number of highly complex regulatory parameters: innovative medicinal products must be proven to be of increased benefit (as compared to existing products) for the patient to be procured by the public healthcare systems. The approval process is ruled by a complex requirement matrix.’

This is true of agriculture, but that hasn’t stopped politicians legislating carbon reductions without a care for their consequences. Sri Lanka and the Netherlands are only the start.

A large number of the World Economic Forum’s partners include petroleum-based pharmaceutical and chemical companies. We are left to wonder if they do a lot of lobbying behind the closed doors of Davos to make sure their business interests are protected while family businesses are left to the mercy of domestic politicians desperate to win international fame and virtue by repeating the latest climate-friendly hashtag.

The WEF released a video in February of 2022 admitting that Big Pharma were among the world’s worst polluters of our waterways – climate criminals, if we are to use the language of the young. As always, the real devil resides in the fine print – which is bolded so you don’t have to squint.

‘The world’s rivers are full of pharmaceutical drugs – antidepressants, antihistamines, beta blockers, and sleeping pills are in rivers on every inhabited continent. While even waterways in Antarctica contain paracetamol, nicotine, and caffeine. Scientists measured the levels of 61 pharmaceutical chemicals at more than 1,000 sites in 258 rivers across 104 countries. Only two places were not polluted; Iceland and an Indigenous village in Venezuela where people don’t use modern medicines. The drugs entered into rivers when people or animals excrete them into the sewer system. The highest levels were in low-to-middle-income countries where people can easily buy medicines but which lack advanced wastewater treatment systems. The chemicals are harming aquatic wildlife and increasing resistance to antibiotics. 1 in 5 sites had dangerously high levels of antibiotics which could lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs. The WHO says antimicrobial resistance is the single greatest threat to humanity. It killed almost 2 million people in 2020 – more than malaria and AIDS put together – and could kill 10 million people a year by 2050. Experts say we must improve wastewater treatment and use pharmaceuticals more carefully – especially antibiotics. How do you think we can reduce pharmaceutical drug waste?’

Which sounds awfully like another invented apocalypse to justify the restriction of medicine to the poorer classes.

The pharmaceutical industry knows very well it can’t decarbonise itself. Curiously, some reports say that it is exploring the use of ‘Captured Carbon’ (from all those ‘save the planet’ projects that we subsidise with our virtue and taxes), and mixing it with Hydrogen to create methanol directly.

Funny that. The Australian government has already approved $250 million in grants for ‘carbon capture and storage’ with another government release saying government investment in ‘carbon capture’ for 2021 was $412 million.

Do we get a refund when these companies turn around and sell their captured carbon to the chemical industry? Probably not.

It is painfully obvious that there is plenty of public money available for the world’s largest companies to ‘go green’ – but barely a cent set aside for the agricultural industry that is about to be brutalised by the Net Zero vanity project of politicians desperately seeking to polish their careers on the global stage.

As for the socialist-lite kids dependent on Big Pharma while in love with Net Zero – are they prepared to legislate a 43 per cent emissions cut to the pharmaceutical industry to save the planet?

Or are they going to keep hiding behind their masks…

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at donor-box.

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