The Third Carbon Age

Michael T. Klare, Hampshire College professor and author of The Race for What's Left, shatters the illusion that we're transitioning to an Era of Renewable Energy.

... humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables.  Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental research organization based in Paris, cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower, and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion. In these years, investment in oil alone, at an estimated $10.32 trillion, is expected to exceed spending on wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydro, nuclear, and every other form of renewable energy combined.

... one thing is guaranteed: global carbon emissions will soar far beyond our current worst-case assumptions ...

...giant energy firms and their financial backers ... are prepared to spend astronomical sums ...

“Without a concerted policymaking effort” to favor the development of renewables, Carnegie’s Gordon warns, future investments in the energy field “will likely continue to flow disproportionately toward unconventional oil.”

In other words, there will be an increasingly entrenched institutional bias among energy firms, banks, lending agencies, and governments toward next-generation fossil-fuel production, only increasing the difficulty of establishing national and international curbs on carbon emissions.  This is evident, for example, in the Obama administration’s undiminished support for deep-offshore drilling and shale gas development, despite its purported commitment to reduce carbon emissions.  It is likewise evident in the growing international interest in the development of shale and heavy-oil reserves, even as fresh investment in green energy is being cut back.

Barring unforeseen shifts in global policies and behavior, the world will become increasingly dependent on the exploitation of unconventional energy.  This, in turn, means an increase in the buildup of greenhouse gases with little possibility of averting the onset of catastrophic climate effects.

What can be done to cut short the third carbon era and avert the worst of these outcomes?  Calling for greater investment in green energy is essential but insufficient at a moment when the powers that be are emphasizing the development of unconventional fuels.  Campaigning for curbs on carbon emissions is necessary, but will undoubtedly prove problematic, given an increasingly deeply embedded institutional bias toward unconventional energy.

For all President Obama’s talk of a green technology revolution, we remain deeply entrenched in a world dominated by fossil fuels, with the only true revolution now underway involving the shift from one class of such fuels to another.  Without a doubt, this is a formula for global catastrophe. [emphasis mine]

Such entrenched institutional bias is enraging. My teacher's state pension invests heavily in ExxonMobil, and I have no control over that. They just ignore letters from me. Meanwhile, the car I drive isn't even a hybrid, and I have  the choice of filling up at either BP or ExxonMobil. I'm shoving my hard earned retirement money into loathsome institutional coffers, driving humanity's extinction ever closer. I know that some of what I pumped into my gas tank this morning comes from corn, which ought to be feeding people. More and more will come from dirty unconventional sources. They entrap me into species-extermination. I'm worse than a Nazi collaborator! I'm collaborating in the worst crime imaginable.

Lawrence Torcello is right, it should be illegal to organize lying to the public about Climate Change. But I'd go further. We need laws against financing unconventional fossil fuel and against investing in unconventional fossil fuel. This will be seen as criminal within a few decades, when it's obvious climate chaos has spun out of human hands. After it's too late, common sense will, in hindsight, see these obviously mad acts as criminal, like throwing your grandchildren into a furnace because it was profitable and legal at the time.image source

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Replies to This Discussion

Lawrence Torcello proposes a good first step, indeed:

We must make the critical distinction between the protected voicing of one’s unpopular beliefs, and the funding of a strategically organised campaign to undermine the public’s ability to develop and voice informed opinions. Protecting the latter as a form of free speech stretches the definition of free speech to a degree that undermines the very concept.

What are we to make of those ... who purposefully strive to make sure “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information” is given to the public? ... criminally negligent in their willful disregard for human life. It is time for modern societies to interpret and update their legal systems accordingly.

(ellipses and emphases mine)

For this he's been targeted with a venomous hate campaign, spawned by deliberate misrepresentation in conservative media, claiming he's advocating jail for anyone who doesn't believe in climate change.

The key to this discouraging prediction is “without a concerted policymaking effort” to favor renewable energy -- though that’ll be the mother of all uphill battles, given unelected corporate governance!




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