We at Earth Tribe call it “The Great Debate” and it will be one that will grow more heated in the coming weeks, months and years ahead.
It matters to you and it has serious implications for the environment on this planet.
Ignore it at your peril.
The Great Debate revolves around the U.S. oil and gas industry’s new claim that we are entering a “new golden age of fossil fuels” and those who counter that this will come at an increasing cost to the environment and the health of the people on this planet.
Those in the debate have yet to fully articulate their positions partly because the “golden age” scenario is so new and partly due to a lack of adequate information and studies to ascertain the pros and cons of this new rush for fossil fuel energy.
That does not mean The Great Debate cannot begin.
Important discussions are already beginning to take place but without all the parties concerned. Take the New America Foundation that recently held an interesting conference entitled: “Running Out, or Runneth Over?” (See full video below)
The introduction to that talk was presented as follows:
Less than a year ago, industry experts were warning of a world of oil scarcity and the prospect of resource war among nations fighting for their share of a short global supply. Now, new projections have energy analysts heralding a future of cheap, abundant oil, with the possibility of energy independence for North America.
If the new narrative turns out to be true, it could have a profound effect on the feasibility of alternative energy and how we view climate change; it could also fundamentally reshape the geopolitical landscape. Are the projections valid, or the product of aspiration? If we have entered a new golden age of fossil fuels, how will it influence politics at home and abroad?
Green lobby needs to “up their game”
New America Foundation fellow, journalist and author Steve LeVine, who co-organized and co-chaired the event, put the issue in a nutshell for Earth Tribe: “My own intuition is that the new age is happening, and not just in the U.S. Look at the West Africa-East South America geological play, and East Africa. There is aspiration involved, but the history of oil is that whatever the obstacles, it ends up being developed and shipped. This has stark implications for the green economy – the companies, the presumptions about trends, and global warming.”
LeVine warns that environmentalists and the “green lobby” may not be prepared for this change, noting that “…my impression is that folks in those spheres are mostly stomping and shouting and not thinking deeply and carefully about this profound shift that could bulldoze them. They need to up their game.”
LeVine runs a useful blog on the oil and gas industry for Foreign Policy magazine, entitled, Oil and Glory, and knows what he is talking about when it comes to the positive and negative facets of the oil and gas industry. He is the author of “The Oil and the Glory” on the oil industry.
From “Peak Oil” to “Abundant Oil”?
The Great Debate revolves around the world obsession with finding and using fossil fuels, with its implications for economic growth and security on the one hand, and the effects mining and the release of carbon dioxide in the burning of these fuels is having on the environment on the other.
In simple terms, the warnings of “Peak Oil” have been replaced by promises of abundance if petrochemical companies get digging and using new and more expensive techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground.
All of a sudden, H.K. Hubbert’s prediction and threat of Peak Oil – for America and the world – has been dumped as miners turn to tar sands and fracking to satiate our growing appetite for fossil fuels, not just in North America but in many places around the world.
The Peak Oil scenario had environmentalists believing that man would be forced to turn away from fossil fuels to develop cleaner and more sustainable energy options. Now, the new golden age of fossil fuels scenario means the mining and burning of fossil fuels will increase and this in turn will further damage the environment and lead to worsening climate change.
The golden age predictions are heady for the big companies involved. Adam Sieminski, administrator of the Energy Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy said in the foundation’s panel discussion that the United States could become self sufficient in oil within the next few decades.
Robin West, chairman and CEO of PFC Energy said such are the advances in oil and gas extraction in the United States and elsewhere that this is “the energy equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down.”
Higher fuel prices and developments in technology over the last few years have led to this new golden age of fossil fuels. Oil and gas companies are now innovating and going places that they thought were not feasible before. Though relatively costly compared with the traditional extraction of crude oil from the ground, the new methods do work as seen in the extraction of oil from shale and the releasing of gas trapped underground, as well as deeper offshore drilling (bar the accidents, such as the BP Gulf Oil Spill, that inevitably happen).
The question is – what are the effects of not only the drilling but also the continued focus on fossil fuels? As environmentalists point out, the pollution and effects on the world’s atmosphere and people’s health is never factored in to the cost equation.
As LeVine noted in a story in Foreign Policy magazine in June, there are fears about what these new methods mean. “The projected turnaround of oil’s sagging fortunes may indeed herald economic salvation for the U.S. and global economies,” he said. “But the environmental consequences could also trip up its full realization.”
While efforts have been made by the oil and gas industry to try to minimize the negative effects on the environment and people’s health, it is hard to get away from the fact that this industry is dirty and its products pollute. While the tightening of environmental controls may well be brought in as public complaints grow, the playing up of the new golden age is likely to drown out serious drives for alternative fuels or more sustainable approaches to energy.
The buzz will be cheap gas, economic growth, more jobs and cheaper iPads.
It will be easy to continue business as usual and avoid putting money into innovation. The current U.S. government administration has demonstrated its lukewarm enthusiasm for solar, wind and other alternative forms of energy.
Relatively cheap, dirty energy in this new golden age of fossil fuels will mean caution may be thrown to the wind.
No denial but “adaption”
Judging by the recent comments of the CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, one gets a sense of that profit and economic growth are all that matter. While he accepts that pumping large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere can lead to climate change, he says adapt.
Tillerson claimed climate change is not as serious as lazy journalists and an illiterate public believe, in reply to a question from the audience during a recent meeting of the Council of Foreign Relations in New York.
“We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this,” he said. “Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around – we’ll adapt to that. It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”
Tillerson said his company had set out to educate the “illiterate” public as to the facts and move them away from those who purvey “manufactured fear.”
It’s money, dummy
Money would appear to be the underlying factor behind the profit-at-any-cost approach that oil and gas companies typically adhere to. No surprise there. Profits and short-term thinking so often dictate government policy and an over-reliance on the market means countries are effectively in the hands of companies with little real interest in protecting the environment.
While the U.S. government ought to use the money given in subsidies to the oil and gas industry to explore alternative and more sustainable fuels, the big companies have tied themselves to the policy makers through their financial strings.
In addition, money buys adverts and influence to project the positive benefits of the golden era and helps drown out the naysayers in the environmental movement peddling doom and gloom.
After all, it is an easy sell. What sounds better? Jobs, flat-screen TVs, and the latest model saloon car or the fear propagated by the environmentalists that we are about to drive that car over a cliff?
Need for The Great Debate
The issue of fossil fuels versus a more sustainable future is an issue too big for company bosses and pliant politicians to decide.
There is a need for The Great Debate, an ongoing discussion about an issue that has the potential to bring so much change and affect us all. It should be one in which all parties are adequately informed about the issue. It should be one in which all factors are taken into account, not just profit, prices and economic growth. It should be one in which all sectors of the public have a chance to have their say. It should be one in which people from around the world get a chance to speak.
Who should join the debate? Not just the usual suspects. All stakeholders should have a place at the table. Scientists, experts, innovators, environmentalists, community leaders, anybody who feels they have something useful to contribute.
And what is the crux of the debate?
Are we looking at a “new golden era of fossil fuels”? Or should we be rushing to transition to cleaner energy?
Impossible? Nothing is impossible? Hard? You are damn right. But that is no reason not to start.
An issue this important needs serious debate. An issue this important should not be left to a handful of people with the wrong motives at heart.
Right now, those pursuing the new golden age for fossil fuels are running with the ball. It is the appropriate moment to shout – “Time out.” We need to rethink the rules.
And we need to begin brainstorming for The Great Debate.
Watch the hour-long discussion “Running Out, or Runneth Over?” a panel discussion held at the New America Foundation.
Article re-posted from Earth Tribe.
— Staff of Earth Tribe, Transition Voice