The Gravitational Pull Of Planet Carbon
Listening to President Obama’s State of the Union address, it could have been simple to conclude that we had been slowly but absolutely gaining in the war on local weather change. “Our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet,” the president stated. “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than every other nation on Earth.” Certainly, it’s true that in recent times, largely thanks to the dampening effects of the nice Recession, U.S. carbon emissions were in decline (although they grew by 2 percent in 2013). Nonetheless, regardless of the president could declare, we’re not heading toward a “cleaner, safer planet.” If anything, we’re heading towards a dirtier, more dangerous world.
A series of latest developments spotlight the way we are dropping floor in the epic wrestle to slow global warming. This has not been for lack of effort. All over the world, devoted organizations, communities, and residents have been working daily to cut back greenhouse gasoline emissions and promote the usage of renewable sources of energy. The wrestle to prevent development of the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline is a living proof. As noted in a current New York Occasions article, the campaign against that pipeline has galvanized the environmental movement around the country and attracted hundreds of activists to Washington, D.C. for protests and civil disobedience at the White House. However efforts like these, heroic as they may be, are being overtaken by a more highly effective power: the gravitational pull of low cost, accessible carbon-primarily based fuels, notably oil, coal, and natural fuel.
Prior to now few years, the ever extra widespread use of new extractive technologies — notably hydraulic fracturing (to take advantage of shale deposits) and steam-assisted gravity drainage (for tar sands) — has led to a major improve in fossil gas production, particularly in North America. This has left within the dust the probability of an imminent “peak” in global oil and fuel output and launched an alternative narrative — a lot promoted by the energy trade and its boosters — of unlimited vitality supplies that can final into the distant future. Barry Smitherman of the Texas Railroad Fee (which regulates that state’s oil industry) was typical in hailing a “relatively boundless supply” of oil and gasoline worldwide at a current assembly of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists.
As oil and fuel have confirmed unexpectedly ample and reasonably priced, major vitality customers are planning to rely on them extra — and on renewable sources of power less — to satisfy their future requirements. Because of this, the guarantees we as soon as heard of a substantial decline in fossil fuel use (together with a corresponding boom in renewables) are fading. According to the most recent projections from the U.S. Department of Power, global fossil fuel consumption is predicted to develop by an astonishing forty percent by 2035, leaping from 440 to 615 quadrillion British thermal items.
Whereas the mixed share of whole world vitality that comes from fossil fuels will decline barely — from 84 % to seventy nine p.c — they are going to still dominate the global energy market for many years to return. Renewables, in accordance to these projections, will continue to symbolize solely a small fraction of the whole. If this proves to be accurate, there may be only one plausible end result: vastly elevated carbon emissions resulting in rising temperatures and the type of catastrophic local weather change eventualities that now appear virtually unimaginable to imagine.
Think of it this fashion: in our world, the gravitational pull of carbon exerts itself each minute of every single day, shaping the vitality selections of people, companies, establishments, and governments. This pull is resulting in defeat in the worldwide struggle to slow the advance of extreme local weather change and is reflected in three recent developments within the energy news: a declaration of surrender by BP, a significant setback in the European Union, and a strategic end-run by Canadian tar sands firms.
BP Broadcasts the Defeat of Renewables
Every year, energy large BP (once British Petroleum) releases its “Energy Outlook” for the years ahead, an analysis of future tendencies in international manufacturing and consumption. The 2014 report — extending BP’s vitality forecast to the 12 months 2035 — was made public on January 15th. Usually, its release is accompanied by a press convention during which high BP executives offer commentary on the state of world power, often aimed at the enterprise media. This 12 months, the company’s CEO, Bob Dudley, spoke with unbridled optimism about the longer term market for his company’s power products, assuring his audience that the global provide of fossil fuels would remain substantial for years to come back. (Dudley took over the helm at BP after his predecessor, Tony Hayward, was dumped within the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe within the Gulf of Mexico.)
“The image in terms of assets in the ground is a good one,” he famous. “It’s very completely different to previous issues about provide peaking. The idea of peak oil seems to have — nicely — peaked.”
This, little doubt, produced the requisite smiles from Dudley’s oil-pleasant audience. Then his feedback took a darker flip. Can we satisfy the world’s vitality requirements with fuels which are sustainable, he requested. “Not at the moment,” he admitted. Due to a rising tide of fossil fuel consumption, he added, “carbon emissions are presently projected to rise — by 29 p.c by 2035, we estimate within the Outlook.” He acknowledged that, no matter excellent news could be found in that document, on this space “steps are wanted to vary the forecast.”
Next, Dudley tried to place a hopeful spin on the long-term climate prospect. By replacing coal-fired energy plants with less-carbon-polluting natural gas, he indicated, overall greenhouse gas emissions might be diminished. Rising the efficiency of power-consuming devices, he added, will also assist. All of this, however, adds as much as little when it comes to the big image of carbon emissions. In the long run, he could point to few indicators of progress in the battle to sluggish the advance of climate change. “In 2035, we project that gas and coal will account for 54 percent of worldwide vitality demand [and oil one other 27 p.c]. While renewables will develop rapidly, their share will attain simply 7 %.”
Most of the media protection of Dudley’s appearance focused on his expectations of long-term energy abundance, not what it would do to us or our planet. A number of commentators have been, nonetheless, fast to notice how unusual it was for an oil company CEO to address the issue of carbon emissions at all, no much less specific one thing verging on despair over the prospect of constructing any progress in curbing them.
“[Dudley] concludes… [that] the world is still a great distance from delivering the peak in greenhouse gasoline emissions many scientists advise must be achieved within the following decade to reduce the chance of harmful climate change,” observed power analyst James Murray at businessGreen.com.
The member states of the European Union (EU) have long exercised international leadership in the wrestle to cut back greenhouse gas emissions and gradual the pace of local weather change. Below their justly celebrated 20-20-20 plan, adopted in December 2008, they are committed to decreasing their emissions by 20 p.c over 1990 levels by 2020, rising their total power efficiency by 20 p.c, and achieving 20 percent reliance on renewables in complete power consumption. No different area has embraced goals as formidable as these, and none has invested better sources of their implementation. Any wavering from this path would sign a big retrenchment in the global local weather struggle.
It now appears that Europe is making ready to rein within the tempo of its drive to sluggish world warming. At challenge just isn’t the implementation of the 20-20-20 plan, which is well on its solution to being achieved, however on the objectives that ought to follow it. Local weather activists and green energy entrepreneurs have been calling for an even more ambitious set of targets for 2030 and past; many manufacturers and other major power customers have been pushing for a slower pace of change, claiming that elevated reliance on renewables is driving up energy prices and so diminishing their economic competitiveness. Already, it seems that the industrialists are gaining floor on the expense of climate motion.
At stake is the EU’s climate blueprint for 2030, the next main threshold in its drive to coal gasification market sluggish the tempo of warming. On January 22nd, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission (EC), launched its pointers for the brand new plan, which should nonetheless be approved by the EU Parliament and its member states. Whereas touted by some as an indication of continued European commitment to decisive local weather motion, the EC’s plan is considered as a distinct setback by many environmental leaders.
At first look, the plan appears to be like promising. It requires a forty% reduction in emissions by 2030 — an enormous drop from the 2020 requirement. That is, nevertheless, less dramatic than it may appear, analysts say, because energy initiatives already underneath manner in Europe below the 20-20-20 plan, coupled with a region-large economic slowdown, will make a 40% reduction fairly feasible without staggering effort. Meanwhile, other elements of the plan are downright worrisome. There isn’t any mandate for a further increase in energy effectivity and, far more necessary, the mandate for elevated reliance on renewables — at 27%, a significant gain — shouldn’t be binding on individual states but on the EU as a whole. This makes each implementation and enforcement questionable issues. Jens Tartler, a spokesperson for the German Renewable Power Federation (which represents that country’s wind and photo voltaic industries), referred to as the lack of binding nationwide targets for renewables “totally disappointing,” claiming it could “contribute to a marked reduction in the tempo of enlargement of renewables.”
To clarify this evident slackening in Europe’s climate dedication, analysts point to the immense pressures being introduced by manufacturers and others who decry the region’s rising power costs caused, in part, by elevated subsidies for renewables. “Behind the heated debate in Brussels about climate and renewable power targets, what is de facto happening is that concern over excessive energy prices has taken priority over climate issues in Europe,” says Sonja van Renssen, the Brussels correspondent for Vitality Submit, a web-based journal. “Many [EU] member states and trade concern that a powerful climate and power policy will be unhealthy for their economies.”
In arguing their case, proponents of diluted local weather objectives observe that EU insurance policies have raised the cost of producing a metric ton of aluminum in Europe by 11% and that European steel corporations pay twice as a lot for electricity and four instances as a lot for pure gas as their U.S. counterparts. These, and related phenomena, are “dragging the EU financial system down,” wrote Mark C. Lewis, former head of vitality analysis at Deutsche Bank.
Not surprisingly, many European manufacturers seek coal gasification market to reduce subsidies for renewables and urge larger reliance on much less-expensive fossil fuels. In particular, some officials, together with British Prime Minister David Cameron, are desperate to comply with the U.S. lead and produce superior applied sciences like hydro-fracking to bear on the extraction of more oil and pure gasoline from Europe’s home reserves. “Europe’s hydrocarbons manufacturing is in decline,” noted Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Company, however “there may be some alternatives… to slow down and perhaps reverse some of these trends” — notably by imitating the “revolution in hydrocarbon production” now under approach in the United States.
Read this one other approach and a brand new and actually unsettling which means emerges: the “shale gas revolution” being promoted with such fervor by President Obama as a “bridge” to a more local weather-friendly vitality system within the United States is having the alternative impact in Europe. It’s weakening the EU’s commitment to renewable vitality and threatens to increase Europe’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Canada’s Finish-Run Around Keystone XL Pipeline Opposition
A lot to the shock of everybody, climate activists within the United States led by environmental author and activist Invoice McKibben and the motion group he helped to discovered, 350.org, have succeeded in delaying U.S. authorities approval of the Keystone XL pipeline for greater than two years. As soon as thought of a certain thing, the pipeline, if accomplished, will carry 830,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen (“syncrude”) some 1,700 miles from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It has, however, been held up by detailed environmental influence studies and different procedural steps ordered by the U.S. State Department. (Because the pipeline will cross a world boundary, it requires approval from the Secretary of State and, in the end, the president, however not Congress.)
Opponents of the pipeline claim that by facilitating the exploitation of particularly carbon-dense Canadian tar sands, it is going to considerably increase greenhouse gasoline emissions into the atmosphere. The usage of this bitumen-primarily based gas releases more carbon per unit of power than standard petroleum and its vitality-intensive extraction generates further carbon emissions. Ought to all of the bitumen in Canada — the equal of 1 trillion barrels of oil — be consumed, it’s “game over for the climate,” as former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has famously written.
How the Obama administration will come down on Keystone XL continues to be unknown. In a speech on local weather policy final June, the president indicated that he would give highest priority to local weather considerations when deciding on the pipeline. “Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be constructed requires a discovering that doing so could be in our nation’s interest,” he stated. “And our national curiosity will be served only if this mission doesn’t significantly exacerbate the issue of carbon pollution.” On the time, his comments raised the hopes of climate activists that Obama would finally determine in opposition to the pipeline. Extra recently, however, an environmental evaluation conducted on the behest of the State Division and released on January thirty first forged doubt on this final result. The report’s reasoning: even though the exploitation of Canada’s tar sands will increase the tempo of carbon emissions, their extraction and supply to refineries is assured by alternative means — mainly rail — if the pipeline isn’t constructed and so its building will not “significantly exacerbate” the issue of greenhouse gas emissions.
While this is definitely a uniquely sophistic (and shaky) argument, it is crucial to note that the Canadian producers and their U.S. companions are certainly making an attempt to stage an finish-run round opposition to the pipeline by growing their reliance on rail automobiles to deliver tar sands.
“The indecision on Keystone XL actually spawned innovation and mobilized options, and rail is a transparent a part of the choices obtainable to our industry,” observed Paul Reimer, senior vice president answerable for transport at Cenovus Vitality, a Canadian oil company planning to increase rail shipments from 7,000 barrels a day to as many as 30,000 barrels a day by the tip of 2014. Other Canadian firms have similar expansion plans. All instructed, the Canadians claim that, over the approaching years, they will be in a position to increase rail-carrying capability from the current 180,000 barrels per day to as much as 900,000 barrels, or more than could be carried by the pipeline.
If this have been to happen, depend on one thing: rail transport will turn out to have its own issues — and its personal opposition. Not surprisingly, then, Canada’s oil business still craves approval for Keystone XL, as it will allow even larger tar sands exports and legitimize the use of this carbon-heavy gasoline. But the rising reliance on rail transportation does as soon as again display the powerful gravitational pull of Planet Carbon. “At the tip of the day, there’s a consensus amongst most vitality specialists that the oil will get shipped to market no matter what,” says Robert McNally, a former power adviser to President George W. Bush.
Reducing Carbon’s Pull
These three recent encounters within the historic battle to avert probably the most destructive effects of local weather change tell us an awesome deal about the character and terrain of the battlefield. Local weather change will not be the product of unfortunate meteorological phenomena; it’s the result of burning large portions of carbon-based mostly fuels and spewing the resulting gaseous wastes into the atmosphere. As long as governments, corporations, and consumers desire carbon as an energy supply, the war on climate change will likely be lost and the end result of that will, in flip, be calamitous.
There is just one method to avert the worst results of local weather change: make the consumption of carbon unattractive. This can be completed, in part, by shaming — portraying the producers of carbon-wealthy fuels because the enemies of human well being and survival. It’s an strategy that has already achieved some modest successes, as in the prevention, until now, of Keystone’s development. Withdrawing funds from fossil gas corporations, or disinvestment, is another useful approach. Many scholar and religious groups are attempting to hinder oil drilling activities by pushing their faculties and congregations to move their funding funds elsewhere.
But shaming and disinvestment campaigns are insufficient; a lot harder sanctions are required. To cease the incineration of our planet, carbon should be made costly — so costly, the truth is, that renewables grow to be the widespread fuel of alternative.
There are at the very least two ways to maneuver towards carrying out this: impose a tax on carbon emissions, elevating the price of fossil fuels above those of renewables; or undertake a universal cap-and-commerce system, forcing main carbon emitters to purchase permits (at ever-rising coal gasification market value) to be able to release greenhouse gases into the ambiance. Each measures have been advocated by environmentalists and some attempts have been made to institute each of them. (Each California and the European Union, for instance, are implementing cap-and-trade programs.) There could also be other approaches to the issue that could prove even more effective, but probably the most important factor is to recognize that genuine progress on local weather change won’t be possible till carbon fuels lose their financial allure. For this to happen, as BP’s Dudley begrudgingly acknowledged on January fifteenth, “you need carbon pricing. Universally accepted carbon pricing.”
The gravitational pull of carbon is immensely highly effective. It cannot be overcome by symbolic gestures or half measures. The pressures to keep burning fossil fuels are too great to be overcome in piecemeal fashion. Somewhat, these forces should be met head-on, with the institutionalization of equally powerful counter-forces that make fossil fuels economically unattractive. We humans have a selection: we will succumb to carbon’s gravitational pull and so suffer from increasingly harsh planetary situations, or resist and avoid the most deadly penalties of climate change.
Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is a professor of peace and world safety studies at Hampshire School and the author, most recently, of The Race for What’s Left. A documentary movie version of his e-book Blood and Oil is offered from the Media Education Basis.
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