Reducing GHG emissions is abstract, reducing comfort levels is not, and don’t even think about the latter

I once volunteered to help administer a prize of some sort for an organization I can’t remember the name of (there are good reasons for the hazy memory, some sort of repression I think). The prize on offer was for an organic yard weeding – to whip someone’s yard into shape without the use of herbicides. The contest winner lived on the edge of the city on an oversized lot, and we arrived one fine evening to see an ocean of dandelions in bloom, for (what seemed like) as far as the eye could see (but was actually more tennis court-sized). The homeowner came out, and we told him why we were there, and he gave us a dubious “Really?” look, sort of sorrowful and puzzled, like one might give to a beginner-class boxer that won a title-shot fight against Mike Tyson in his prime. He said we didn’t have to do it, which was sort of like telling a grocery store clerk not to worry, that he didn’t have to solve world hunger. The volunteer crew, two or three of us, worked for an hour or so and cleared a patch that a good-sized dog could have covered. The remaining 99.9 percent of the dandelions met their fate in the usual chemical way, I presume; I did not return because I had other things to do with forties.

I was recently reminded of that warm evening and its accompanying feeling of pointlessness when reading some comments from the head of the International Energy Agency. Fatih Birol, at a conference in Vancouver, pointed out the realities of where we are at in the effort to reduce emissions by moving away from fossil fuels. Thirty years ago, 81 percent of the world’s energy mix was from fossil fuels. Last year, after over $4 trillion in renewable energy investment, fossil fuels make up…drum roll please… 81 percent of the world’s energy mix.

Peter Tertzakian penned an excellent analysis of the report, noting that “The gap between what we perceive, what we aspire to, and what is reality is already wider than the Pacific Ocean. And it’s getting wider… In fact, industrializing regions of the world are so demanding for all sources of energy that even the ‘approvals of conventional oil and gas projects fall short of what would be needed to meet continued robust demand growth,’ says the IEA.”

Further buttressing this message was the annual BP Statistical Review of World Energy, a goldmine of energy information that the world needs desperately to comprehend but never will, because only nerds are unafraid to tread here. In the introduction, BP CEO Bob Dudley commented: “the data compiled in this year’s Review suggest that in 2018, global energy demand and carbon emissions from energy use grew at their fastest rate since 2010-11, moving even further away from the accelerated transition envisaged by the Paris climate goals… The strength in energy consumption was reflected across all the fuels, many of which grew more strongly than their recent historical averages… Despite the continuing rapid growth in renewable energy last year, it provided only a third of the required increase in power generation, with coal providing a broadly similar contribution.”

And that’s where we are now. A few decades of ever-spiraling climate warnings, trillions spent, massive renewable energy development, and we are moving further away from climate targets. It should be stunningly clear that the movement to isolate/strangle/destroy the fossil fuel industry is not working; all the war is doing is reshaping it – production is moving from regions where comfortable activists can attack it to regions of the world where people welcome it. Furthermore, the world’s energy demands simply expand when our income levels expand – we fly more, travel more, buy more, etc. Almost no one will sacrifice their standard of living in any meaningful way. Yes, we’re terrified of a climate apocalypse, and we’ll get right on that right after this trip to Europe.

The conclusion of these reports is inescapable, and hopefully one day soon policy chieftains will pay attention. The current agenda of the UN, as administered by the Canadian government, is acting completely irrespectively of the continued rise of fossil fuel usage. Forceful tactics aimed at limiting the size of Canada’s (or the US’, in the latest news) petroleum sectors is simply moving global petroleum production to other parts of the world that have lesser environmental standards. These tectonic shifts are resulting in a world that is getting fossil fuels from jurisdictions that have lower environmental standards than the ones in the countries that are being strangled.

It is also irrefutable that those who are using the fear of climate change as a means to reengineer the social order are not throwing in the towel; they are simply doubling down. The Extinction Rebellion movement will surely spread, if for no other reason than the band Radiohead decided to donate all proceeds from a new release of material to the group. Sales from a band of Radiohead’s stature will surely buy a lot glue for the XR warriors to attach themselves to immovable objects. But no matter what they adhere themselves to, the other 7-billion-odd people are in unison offering a collective and unmistakable “meh” when the latest firebrand pending-doom end-of-the-world scenario hits the web.

With this inevitable meltdown of climate-thwarting expectations should come the awareness that many, many strides are being made in all sorts of industries to lower emissions. It is impressive to pick up any technical journal for almost any industry and read about the efforts being made to reduce environmental footprints. We therefore should not be completely dismissive of environmental fears; genuine concern for the environment has sparked much thought and action to do what is realistic to reduce our footprints. We are on a decent trajectory, though not the one that some of the more exuberant activists want.

At the end of the day, that is all we have – emissions levels can be reduced, but 7 billion people are making it abundantly clear that it will happen gradually, and only if we remain comfortable. Efforts to upend the existing order, to “get off fossil fuels immediately”, are fools errands that will lead only to acrimony, divisiveness, and probably bloodshed. That might sound melodramatic, but it is probably literally true; ask the Extinction Rebellion woman who glued her breasts to the street – I’m betting there was blood shed as that fiasco was disassembled. Let’s hope that the coming injuries are limited to that sort of thing.

About the Author

Terry Etam is an independent senior consultant for small and midsize oil and gas companies. His website Public Energy Number One is dedicated to energy education and he is the author of The End of Fossil Fuel Insanity.