IT draws the breath from your lungs. A few days ago, what was in effect a general strike took to the streets, demanding public sector pay rises to cope with the cost of living crisis. In the same news window, Shell announced the biggest yearly profit in its history for 2022, £32.2 billion. In the last quarter of that year, they made nearly a thousand pounds a second.

That’s more than enough, incidentally, to cover all those pay rises the strikers are demanding. But it’s only a chunk of the whole fossil-fuel cash bonanza. The “Big Five” – Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and TotalEnergies – are predicted to have made £154bn in total over last year.

Yes, of course, this benefit stems from a general European disengagement with Russian fuel sources, post-Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. And there’s more to come – this very weekend sees the EU impose limits on seaborne shipments of Russian fuels, which will increase profits for European refineries.

Now, isn’t that what a windfall tax is for? And regardless of your ideological persuasion, hasn’t the Tory government imposed one?

But it’s been so wrongly and cruelly designed. Perversely, fossil-fuel corporations get reductions on the windfall tax if they invest in oil and gas drilling. For every $1.16 spent on this infrastructure, they get $1.05 back.

A few months ago, Shell’s chief financial officer Sinead Gorman didn’t expect to be paying any energy profits taxes for 2022 at all. “We simply are investing more heavily than we have”, said Gorman, “and therefore we don’t have profits which we can be taxed against”. (In light of these new figures, the financial press are anticipating a payment of somewhere between £100m and £500m, still a minuscule amount).

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Counteracting Putin as an energy supplier is the general excuse for drill-baby-drill. But anyone with half an eye on our climate crisis would be panicking at this frenzy of carbonisation.

So wait: why can’t some of these vast profits be redirected towards speeding the transition to renewables? Wouldn’t that be an obviously virtuous act for corporates to do?

But eco-virtue only goes so far. And it clearly does not trump (as the company lawyers like to put it) “the fiduciary responsibility to maximise return to shareholders”, whirring away like a drill bit.

Some of these companies’ behaviour, at a time of biospheric and social crisis, is damnable in the extreme. In the third quarter of 2022, BP paid £47 to shareholders for every pound it invested in renewable energy. Exxon, delightfully, spent more than double in 2020 on “executive pay”, as it did on low-carbon capital expenditure in 2021.

Chevron bought back $75bn of stocks with their profits (buy-backs reduce the overall supply of stock options, and thus increase returns to remaining stockholders).

The FT reports that “it is awkward that Shell handed more back to its shareholders last year than it invested in any type of future energy, clean or dirty – its overall capital expenditure was about $24.8bn, of which just $3.5bn was spent in its renewables and energy solutions business”. Like its peers, Shell also plans to buy back £4bn in shares this year, and raise dividends to shareholders by 15%.

All this, as households face an energy price hike of 40% in April.

And as we await the extreme weather events that our seemingly unstoppable rise of carbon emissions will produce. These companies cheat society of its needed dividend while continuing to trash the very planet we all depend on.

What a hideous bunch of greedy malefactors. It’s the job of politics – pressure from communities in the streets, driving parliamentary responses – to step in at this point.

It’s apparently doing so – the current wave of labour militancy is generally accepted by the public, with the incumbent UK Tory government’s polling in the toilet and round the bend.

But as many of the critics I’ve read for this piece have said, new political regimes slapping ever-more punitive windfall taxes on the same old corporate behaviours really isn’t good enough. Prying open the fossil-fuel company lid to observe the fetid contents, as I’ve done above, makes you realise just how dangerous it is to leave them to their own devices.

So what national government on these islands is going to grasp the nettle (or thistle) for a greater level of planning, a more democratic control of this economic surplus, steering a different direction of investment?

In StarmLab, Ed Miliband is talking a good game on deepening and enforcing the windfall tax, as well as a weak attempt to create a public National Energy Company (the Welsh government is following suit).

However, we should be embarrassed in Scotland that, nearly a decade after it was first suggested by my colleagues in Common Weal, Scotland didn’t have such a state company ready for the first ScotWind auction of renewable energy licenses last year.

Common Weal’s director of policy, Craig Dalzell, noted at the time that we stand to lose between £3.5bn and £5.5bn every year, for lack of a state-owned company selling energy to the UK national grid, supporting a network of Scottish engineering suppliers.

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At the time, it felt wrong to see entities like BP, Shell and Total secure successful bids for renewable projects. Given these companies’ rapacious and irresponsible behaviour as detailed above, ScotGov’s di Lampedusa strategy – change everything, so nothing changes – seems even worse in retrospect. We must rectify this loss for the next round of auctions, starting to build that public-interest energy company now.

As for what an independent Scotland would do with its jurisdiction over territorial oil and gas fields? Well, there seem to be some real shifts of mindset going on. The Scottish Government is consulting on whether to adopt a “presumption against new exploration for oil and gas”.

This would put us on a collision course with the UK Government, which is currently offering new licenses for North Sea exploitation This may be an example of the Scottish Greens’ influence in government.

They may have enriched a narrative about Scotland’s teeming basket of energy resources which aims at “owning our future”, as the London-based think tank CommonWealth (no relation) puts it.

If we are to make every plebiscite that comes our way a de facto indy referendum, then surely the Scottish public directly benefitting from more planning – and social ownership – of our energy resources is a vote winner.

As opposed to a depressing spectacle of powerlessness, where daily life gets tougher as the already rich get even richer.

We’re lucky in Scotland that we have available the correct political answer – democratic control over our territorial resources – to our era’s ecological question: How can we live lightly and regeneratively on this planet? What consensus about new lifestyles and behaviours can we build, across a coherent and self-aware polity? And can we pass laws, and build institutions, to implement that consensus?

Remember our sovereign power, as they purr in the financial press about fossil-fuel companies “with boatloads of cash and few easy ways to spend it”. Scotland has no shortage of ideas – if we can get our hands on them.