New Internationalist

Ending the oil age

November 2014

Big Oil’s days are numbered – but the industry could still take us all down with it. From divestment to disruption, Jess Worth explores how the transition to an oil-free future is being hastened.

Indigenous protesters [Related Image]
Leave the oil in the soil! Indigenous representatives from communities resisting oil extraction all over the world marched together at the front of the recent 400,000-strong New York climate march. © Jenna Pope / Bold Nebraska

In September 2014, the $860 million Rockefeller Foundation made an historic announcement. Timed to coincide with massive marches for climate action all over the world, the fund revealed it was going to divest from fossil fuels. Following in the footsteps of the World Council of Churches, the British Medical Association and Stanford University, the latest major institution to make such an announcement is also the most symbolic. Because the Rockefeller fortune owes its very existence to oil.

The Rockefeller story is also the story of the rise and fall of the first ‘oil major’. Standard Oil, founded by John D Rockefeller in 1870, soon came to control the burgeoning US oil industry, from extraction to refining to transportation to retail.

It built an unprecedented monopoly that ultimately became so publicly despised that the US government stepped in and broke it up – birthing Exxon, Mobil and Chevron, among others. But by then, Standard had already set the Western world on a path to oil dependence that we are still shackled to, chain-gang-style, today.

The forced break-up created the Rockefeller millions. A century later, those millions are being used to make a dramatic point: we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the oil age.

Oil rules

The age of oil has been an age of inequality, of staggering wealth and abject poverty. The discovery of hydrocarbons has often brought fortune to the few and misery to the masses. The phenomenon of the ‘oil curse’ is well-documented: many oil-rich countries suffer distorted economic development, financial instability, repressive authoritarian rule, stifled human rights, soaring poverty and pervasive corruption.

In the oil-addicted West, its toxic political influence echoes through domestic and foreign policy. Today’s oil majors deploy their power deftly, and devastatingly, their probing tentacles lubricated by de facto impunity and state collusion. The CEO of Exxon clicks his fingers: national armies are mobilized. Shell’s chair has a quiet word: democratically agreed policies are shelved.

The costs to society of enforcing Big Oil’s geopolitical interests have been immense. US and UK taxpayers spent, respectively, $806 billion and $15 billion to fight the 2003-11 Iraq war and access its massive oil reserves for Exxon-Mobil, BP and Shell.1 Now that access is threatened by Islamic State, the West is embroiled all over again.

Collision course

Yet change is coming. The dominance of the Big Oil companies is being assailed from all sides. Oil’s future is looking increasingly – exhilaratingly – shaky.

Decades of accelerating carbon emissions have set Big Oil on a collision course with the interests of humanity. Oil extraction has always externalized its environmental costs, shifting them onto nearby (usually economically disadvantaged or Indigenous) communities: polluted drinking water, cancer and respiratory disease, poisoned fish stocks, deforestation. Now the damage it is doing to the climate on a global level has started to bite.

Oil companies’ current extraction plans for the next two decades set us on course for a six-degree global temperature rise and an unliveable planet. To have a chance of keeping the rise to a disruptive but not catastrophic two degrees, we need to leave 80 per cent of known fossil-fuel reserves in the ground.2 Financial markets and economies have got used to treating oil as infinite. But all the easy-to-extract crude has already been found, and largely consumed.

Oil is becoming less profitable. The strain is starting to show

Now, most available oil is either in politically dysfunctional regions such as the Middle East and Nigeria, or in locations and forms that are much more expensive and risky to extract – tar sands, oil shale, ultra-deepwater, the Arctic. The oil majors are pinning their future drilling hopes on these ‘unconventional’ or ‘marginal’ sources of oil.

The technical risks of new oil projects have risen ‘to never before seen levels’, investors are warned by financial overlords Goldman Sachs.3 So capital expenditure – the amount companies have to invest to get new sources of oil flowing – has gone through the roof, while their all-important ‘Reserve-Replacement Ratio’ (by which markets judge their value) has plateaued. In a nutshell, oil is becoming less profitable.

The strain is starting to show. Companies are shelving major tar sands projects, denting their project portfolios considerably. This year has seen Statoil’s multi-billion dollar ‘Corner’ development put on ice, Total and Suncor’s $11-billion Joslyn project suspended, and Shell’s massive Pierre River mine plans mothballed.4

The extent to which oil company staff are being stretched beyond their limits on frontier projects has been laid bare in the court proceedings around BP’s culpability for the world’s worst oil spill, after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The workers on the mobile offshore rig that had, a few months earlier, drilled the deepest underwater well ever were operating – in their own words – in ‘chaos, paranoia and insanity’ just before fatal explosion.5 The consequences almost bankrupted BP and lost its shareholders a fortune.

Shell has spent $5 billion so far trying – and failing – to drill in the inhospitable Arctic. Total has said it won’t even try, such are the challenges. Even the US boom in ‘tight oil’ from shale fracking, which has sent US oil production surging to its highest level in 25 years and is hailed as the key to US ‘energy independence’, rests on extremely shaky foundations. Shale oil wells deplete in a matter of months, and the costs of constantly drilling new ones keep profit margins low. Predictions for how much recoverable shale oil is in the ground have been downgraded dramatically.6

All this new oil is only really viable if the price is above $100 a barrel. At the time of writing, it isn’t – and there’s no guarantee prices will rise and stay high enough over the next decades as the renewables boom starts to give oil a serious run for its money.

Hastening oil’s demise

Nevertheless, we cannot just sit back and assume the oil age is ending anytime soon. Big Oil may be on its way out, but left to its own devices it will take us all with it. There is still more than enough recoverable oil in the world to fry us.

Global oil demand, if there are no interventions for climate or other reasons, is projected to continue to rise until at least 20207 and, despite supply constraints, oil companies are planning to more than meet that demand. Investment decisions that are being made now, on pipelines, tar-sands mines and offshore fields, will spawn infrastructure that will lock us into a high-carbon world for decades to come. These plans are fundamentally incompatible with keeping global temperatures below two degrees. The industry’s projected tar sands extraction alone would push us over the edge.8 Big Oil has a business plan for the end of the world, and capital markets are financing it blindly.

Industry plans will lock us into climate disaster (source: nin.tl/supplyboom)

We need to hasten oil’s demise – for the sake of our warming climate and collapsing ecosystems, and in the service of democracy, poverty alleviation and justice.

It will be technically possible to meet the world’s energy needs, and give the Majority World’s growing populations equitable access to the energy the rich world currently hogs, using a combination of existing renewable technology and energy efficiency. Renewable generation is now breaking records almost daily, and reaching price parity with fossil fuels in many parts of the world.9

With recent breakthroughs in battery technology, the dream of wholly electrified transport systems is now within reach. China has committed to five million electric cars on the road by 2020 and Norway has undergone such an e-car boom that they are now clogging its bus lanes.10 Wind- and solar-powered shipping, large-scale organic farming, airships allowing us to still travel the world, albeit at a less breakneck pace – all would allow us to constrain our oil use to a much more sensible level.

Hydrocarbons don’t just provide fuel; they are an incredibly versatile source of essential plastics and chemicals. If we stop mindlessly burning them and halve our wasteful use of plastics, we can reduce global oil use by 90 per cent, according to research by Danny Chivers,11 who will be exploring how we can power the world without fossil fuels in depth in the April 2015 issue of New Internationalist.

What is missing is the political will to kick oil to the kerb.

Carbon bubble

The hope that Big Oil can be stopped comes in many forms, but perhaps the most surprising is the investment community. Carbon Tracker, a think-tank of shareholder activists and financial specialists, has been sending shockwaves through the investment world since 2012 when it first revealed the scale of the ‘carbon bubble’ that is building.

Bjanka Kadic / robertharding.com
The solar roll-out: these photovoltaic panels in Barcelona don’t just provide power. They have become an integral part of the urban landscape. Bjanka Kadic / robertharding.com

Investors, they argue, are sinking funds into future unconventional oil projects, and other fossil fuels, that are ‘unburnable carbon’ if the world is to stay under two degrees Celsius warming. Looking at the oil industry trends of skyrocketing capital expenditure, shrinking profit margins, intensifying risk and dwindling reserves, its concludes that $1.1 trillion of oil investment over the next decade needs to be challenged by investors as potential ‘stranded assets’ – projects that will never come to fruition in the face of more decisive government climate action and competition from renewables.

When I met Carbon Tracker’s founder and CEO Mark Campanale, he was buzzing with the possibilities their work unlocks: ‘The International Energy Agency says that, to 2035, $21 trillion will be spent on developing the oil and gas sector, which is extraordinary at a time when we know we’ve already financed the development of enough fossil fuels to take us beyond two degrees. It’s complete madness.’ Then his eyes light up: ‘This is where the money is going to come from for the low-carbon transition.’

Carbon Tracker is certainly being listened to by the financial sector – as their Chair Jeremy Leggett outlines in more depth in ‘Big Oil’s looming bubble’. But financial arguments will not be enough on their own. Mark argues that what oil companies should be doing is giving capital back to their shareholders – rather than investing it in ever more risky and expensive extraction projects. This is starting to happen in a small way. Conoco has contracted in size, preferring to focus on ‘high-value’ projects. BP and Shell, both struggling in different ways, have been selling off projects to provide their shareholders with healthy dividends this year.

Mark wants to see this trend accelerate until the oil companies are mere shadows of their current bulks. But the question of whether that money is reinvested in the building blocks of a low-carbon economy – and not, say, Monsanto or BAe Systems – remains up to the whims of largely unaccountable investors.

Organizations, such as London-based ShareAction, are working with pension funds and their members to encourage them to reinvest in the service of a climate-friendly future.12 But the investor approach has limitations. We can’t expect a notoriously out-of-control financial sector driven by profit to reallocate capital in a way that takes into account justice or allows power and influence to become more decentralized and diluted. Indeed, our current system of turbo-charged capitalism developed arm in arm with Big Oil. They will not break ties easily, or smoothly.

As Naomi Klein argues in her new book This Changes Everything, ‘we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis.’13 The push for non-market-based solutions that curtail the oil industry, redistribute power and wealth, and have justice at their core must come from outside the financial system.

Leave the oil in the soil

People have been resisting oil companies since the dawn of the oil age. Stalin cut his political teeth fighting the oil magnates of Azerbaijan. The Ogoni people kicked Shell out of Ogoniland in Nigeria permanently in 1995, though Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight others paid the ultimate price, and the struggle for justice continues today (see ‘The spirit of Saro-Wiwa rises’). But in recent years we have seen a new wave of anti-oil activism, with multiple groups strategically identifying where Big Oil is vulnerable, and targeting those chinks in its armour.

One of these is the divestment movement, which has taken the world by storm in the last 18 months. Deftly combining the carbon bubble financial argument with the moral imperative to act urgently on climate change, groups of students, churchgoers and local residents have approached public institutions such as universities, churches, city councils and states with the argument that the time has come to sever their financial ties with the fossil fuel industry.

It’s working. Just this year, 181 institutions around the world have pledged to divest more than $50 billion. The campaign continues to gather momentum, with big-hitting champions such as Desmond Tutu, UN climate chief Christina Figueres and, of course, the Rockefellers.

350.org is a driving force behind the ‘Fossil Free’ movement, and one of its campaigners, Louise Hazan, explained to me the thinking behind it: ‘The primary aim is to stigmatize the fossil fuel industry to a point where it weakens its grasp over the political system, and the ways it influences the process and blocks progress on climate change.’

‘We will see the end of the oil companies in the rear-view mirror. The last thing to disappear – like the smile on the Cheshire cat – will be the logos’

The divestment campaign is one of several that are directly challenging Big Oil’s ‘social licence to operate’ – the public support, or at least acquiescence, that allows oil companies to continue. This social licence is carefully cultivated and maintained through partnerships with a range of cultural, scientific and educational institutions – and these are increasingly being targeted by groups seeking to make association with oil companies a social no-no.

In Britain, the Art Not Oil Coalition regularly protests BP and Shell’s heavy sponsorship of national art and culture through unsanctioned performance-based interventions in sponsored spaces. The recent opening of the David A Koch Plaza (named after the notorious oil billionaire) outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art was met with creative protests and arrests. Greenpeace’s campaign telling Lego to end its partnership with Shell successfully shamed the toy-makers into dumping their oily benefactor.

The climate cost of 'unconventional' oil (source: nin.tl/hansengraph)

Meanwhile, movements on the ground are seeking to physically block the expansion of Big Oil’s most destructive projects – and are starting to win big. The most visible has been the campaign to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Northern Alberta in Canada all the way down to Texas to be exported to new markets. Approval for the pipeline has so far been delayed for six years, thanks to a powerful coalition of Indigenous communities, landowners, grassroots activists and environmental NGOs that spans the entire route. The KXL campaign has reignited the US climate movement, provoking waves of direct action, huge demonstrations, mass arrests and celebrity support, and even turning it into an election issue.

A similarly epic battle is being fought against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, slated to take tar sands across British Columbia. After years of opposition-induced delays it’s now been approved in theory, but a massive coalition of First Nations and residents have sworn it will never be built. The lack of available export routes is a major reason cited by Statoil, Total and Shell for their shelving of tar sands projects, and it is also causing jitters amongst investors. The ‘blockadia’ movement is genuinely stopping the industry in its tracks and shattering Big Oil’s pipe dreams.

Meanwhile, the actions of communities of just a few hundred people living in the heart of Alberta’s tar sands sacrifice zone could also stymie the world’s largest industrial project. Both the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Beaver Lake Cree have initiated legal challenges that, if they win, could call into question the approval of all tar-sands projects.14

This push to ‘leave the oil in the soil’ didn’t start in North America. Its origins can be traced to Latin America, where for years Indigenous communities have been locked in conflict with governments over oil extraction in the Amazon. This spawned the bold grassroots proposal to leave oil under Ecuador’s Yasuní national park unexploited, with international financial support.

The Yasuní proposal was turned into a carbon trading scheme when the government decided to take it forward, and then unceremoniously abandoned last year by oil-hungry President Correa. But the grassroots movement of ‘Yasunidos’ lives on, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of Ecuadorians to demand the oil remains untapped, and working with other frontline communities all over the Amazon to halt the assault on the world’s largest intact rainforest. The struggle over Yasuní isn’t over. There are examples of other local success stories in ‘A year of oil resistance’.

At the top of the world another frontier battle rages – to stop oil drilling in the Arctic. Greenpeace has been the most visible player, with its daring direct actions to block rigs drilling in icy seas, the imprisonment in Russia of 30 of its activists, and the mobilizing of hundreds of thousands of online activists. But years of dogged legal challenges to every phase of the approval process by Alaskan Native groups and NGOs have also been crucial in preventing Arctic pioneers Shell from yet squeezing their first drops of oil out of the fragile frozen seabed.

Transform or die

There is no doubt that we will witness the end of oil’s dominance over the coming decades. What speed and form that takes will depend on a host of actors. As the industry overshoots its limits in every direction and turmoil in the Middle East snowballs, the arguments for an immediate co-ordinated move away from oil dependence are overwhelming.

We need a managed and fair transition, not a massive oil shock which could plunge the already fuel-poor into further hardship and breed economic and social pandemonium. If today’s anti-oil social movements continue to strengthen, this could happen: through pressure from shareholders, the erosion of oil companies’ social licence, the physical disruption of operations by local resistance, the boom in renewable energy, and public pressure on governments to take more decisive climate action.

The oil majors will be forced to retreat, to shrink. Some will disappear completely. Perhaps there will be enough political will for states to step in and physically break them up, like Standard Oil. More likely in the short-term they will suffer painful economic shocks as their favourable terms of trade evaporate, dwindle rapidly as investors remove their capital to invest elsewhere, be asset-stripped by corporate raiders, and find themselves forced to transform or die, like so many obsolete industries before them.

However it happens, the oil majors will ultimately become oil minors, relinquishing their vice-like grip on the political process and making a much more diverse, decentralized and democratic energy future possible.

‘We will see the end of the oil companies in the rear-view mirror,’ predicts Big Oil’s long-term adversary James Marriott, who co-founded Platform over 30 years ago to monitor, expose, communicate and inspire creative resistance to the industry. ‘The last thing to disappear – like the smile on the Cheshire cat – will be the logos.’

James, who follows trends in the world of oil more than most, is feeling ‘immensely optimistic’ these days. ‘It’s obvious the oil industry is coming to an end. So what is the society we want to build in its wake?’

These seismic shifts bearing down on our civilization could spawn chaos. But if progressive social movements can seize the moment, then the end of the oil age could also be the end of a multitude of wrongs.

Action to end the oil age

Fossil free divestment

The Fossil Free campaign – to persuade institutions to end their investments in fossil fuel companies – is taking the world by storm. Wherever you are, whatever your community, you can get involved. Already hundreds of universities, churches, pension funds, states and city councils have responded to campaigns – and many have made the commitment to go fossil free. The driving force behind the international divestment movement is 350.org

Get involved:
The Fossil Free website allows you to find out if there’s a campaign already happening near you and to join it. If there isn’t, it gives you everything you need to start one, including the ability to create an online petition. It also links to the global divestment community and shares latest news and successes from around the world. There will be a Global Day of Divestment Action in February 2015 – keep an eye on the Fossil Free website for details. gofossilfree.org

People & Planet
The student network is running Fossil Free campaigns at 46 British universities. Collectively the campaign has gained over 15,000 signatures of support. Fossil Free motions have so far been passed at 15 different Student Unions, and the National Union of Students is backing the campaign. Several universities, including Edinburgh and Oxford, are now considering proposals to divest and University of London SOAS has frozen all new fossil fuel investments while it makes a final decision on divestment. peopleandplanet.org/fossil-free

Bright Now
Churches across Britain are being encouraged to go Fossil Free by the Bright Now campaign, run by ecumenical Christian charity Operation Noah. The British Quakers and several individual churches have already committed to divest. They are joined internationally by the World Council of Churches, the Church of Sweden and the Uniting Church of Australia. brightnow.org.uk

End oil sponsorship

In order to maintain their ‘social licence to operate’, oil companies sponsor major cultural institutions and sporting and educational events the world over. Removing that social licence will damage Big Oil’s easy access to power and render ineffective their greenwash. In Britain, BP and Shell-sponsored institutions are being targeted by members of the Art Not Oil Coalition, whose headline-grabbing artistic, theatrical and musical direct actions bring anti-oil messages into sponsored spaces and pressure the institutions to drop their oily benefactors. artnotoil.org.uk

Shut down the tar sands

Across North America, First Nations, Native Americans, landowners, grassroots activists and NGOs are joining forces to prevent new tar sands pipelines being built and new extraction projects being approved. Using a whole range of tactics from blockades and occupations to legal challenges and mass protests, this movement is stopping the tar sands industry in its tracks.

Tar Sands Blockade: tarsandsblockade.org
Beaver Lake Cree First Nation: beaverlakecreenation.ca
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and the Tar Sands: acfnchallenge.wordpress.com
Tar Sands Solutions Network: tarsandssolutions.org

Protect the Arctic

Greenpeace is campaigning to stop offshore oil drilling in the Arctic. As well as high-profile stunts like blocking exploration ships and occupying drilling rigs, it is co-ordinating massive public pressure campaigns aimed at the major companies and countries involved in Arctic drilling. So far, little oil is being extracted offshore in the Arctic so there is everything to play for. savethearctic.org

Action Saro-Wiwa

2015 will be the 20th anniversary of the killing of Nigerian writer and anti-Shell campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and the other Ogoni 8. The British-based organization Platform is planning to mark this with a year of groundbreaking art and activism. Working with allies from the Niger Delta and internationally they plan to use this moment to force Shell finally to clean up the mess it has made in Nigeria. Everyone is invited to get involved. platformlondon.org/oil-the-arts/asw/

  1. Gavin Bridge and Philippe Le Billon, Oil, 2012, p. 169.

  2. Carbon Tracker, ‘Unburnable Carbon’, 2012, carbontracker.org/report/carbon-bubble/.

  3. Goldman Sachs, ‘380 Projects to Change the World’, April 2013, p. 123.

  4. Reuters, ‘Keystone XL foes claim victory as Statoil delays oil sands plan’, 26 September 2014 nin.tl/statoildelay.

  5. Natasha Lennard, ‘“Chaos, paranoia and insanity” at Deepwater Horizon’, Salon, 26 February 2013, nin.tl/chaosparanoia.

  6. Reuters, ‘U.S. EIA cuts recoverable Monterey shale oil estimate by 96 pct’, 21 May 2014, nin.tl/Montereyestimate.

  7. IEA, World Energy Outlook, 2013.

  8. ‘Tar sands planned growth is 3X climate limit’, Oil Change International, 1 November 2012, nin.tl/tarsandsgrowth.

  9. Paul Brown, ‘Political will is only barrier to 100% renewables’, Climate News Network, 19 September 2014, nin.tl/100renewables.

  10. Matt McGrath, ‘Speedy charging driving a global boom in electric cars’, BBC, 3 September 2014, nin.tl/ecarboom.

  11. Danny Chivers, ‘Two Energy Futures’, July 2013, twoenergyfutures.org.

  12. shareaction.org/greenlightcampaign.

  13. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything, 2014.

  14. acfnchallenge.wordpress.com, beaverlakecreenation.ca.

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 477 This special report appeared in the ending the oil age issue of New Internationalist. You can buy this magazine or, to get stories like this one through your door every month, subscribe.

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  1. #1 bill wilson 24 Oct 14

    Great explanation and revealing. My thoughts overlap and perhaps could help investors feeling stuck with their carbon investments to divest. Corporations can not survive long if they push growth for the sake of growth.

    Yet governments can help distort the balance sheets by letting carbon companies socialize the real costs as noted. Wall Street can be manipulated, as it is now to greatly favor large cap growth companies that in general are overleveraged and in mindless pursuit of growth in a shrinking world. Meanwhile small cap value like ones in China doing great things for the environment are easy targets of shorting, hit pieces, naked shorting, and being taken dark to steal shareholders money.

    One example is CPQQ. If this and other companies were valued anywhere near large cap growth companies they would be trading for a hundred or more times. So we have government collusion to hide real costs, Wall Street rewarding wasteful growth, and the companies able to stimulate demand like the tarsands pipes to tantalize their investors including the government just as for smoking decades of safe dividends as even W Buffet has done with his direct investment in tarsands.

    So one key part will be to reward small cap companies that are doing great things for the environment and punish the large cap ones already massively leveraged on non sustainable growth. Individual investors, like myself have so far been killed as trading firms like TD seem to be part of the punishment of small cap value investing as they bankroll tarsands and have access to individuals money they can take at will it seems. Wether it is Citizens United, ALEC, TPP or redundant trade and other schemes by government/industry it is a battle for democracy both in terms of real representation for each dollar and each vote but it opens up a quality of life and the right kind of compounding that the enthusiams that pushes us forward will be mag-nif-iscent. Bee More Use Less and Divest

  2. #2 sage 24 Oct 14

    Wow, an entire article on how to end the age of oil that does not mention a carbon tax or fee-and-dividend or a price on carbon one time. How is that possible? The carbon tax in British Columbia lowered their emissions by 16% while the rest of Canada is up 3%. It works. How much has divestment lowered actual emissions to date? I think not at all. How much will it reduce emissions? Probably not at all, as far as i can tell. It doesn't make sense economically. Capital flows right in when shares are sold off by ethical investors, and many fossil fuel extraction companies are privately capitalized. It has no real economic effect, whereas a carbon tax would cut directly into the profit margin of ALL extraction operations, an reduce the total amount extracted greatly. So what gives? Seriously, what gives here? How can the major and primary policy tool that can really hit the fossil fuel industry, completely omitted. If i were more of a conspiracy theorist, i would suggest that maybe the funding has subtle causal effects that make 350 focus on the divestment movement as a decoy to draw human capital away from the effort to pass a carbon tax and really actually hit the oil companies. Please reply to my concerns, and please have intellectual honesty.

  3. #3 Mary Wildfire 25 Oct 14

    True, the carbon tax should have been mentioned. But my concern is more over the elephant in the room barely mentioned by this piece, or any similar pieces I see: demand. It really doesn't matter how eloquently we argue the risks of climate change and the other harms from the extraction and burning of oil (and gas and coal) as long as half of us are heating poorly insulated houses with gas, driving long distances daily in gasoline-engine cars, and using embarrassing amounts of electricity produced mostly by burning coal. We can protest, we can disinvest, we can write letters, and little will change. To actually reduce GHG emissions, we need to drastically reduce these things, not only by adding a lot of solar and wind (which will require diverting some of the last of the fossil fuels from other uses, as these things are energy-intensive in their manufacturing but eventually pay back that drain and much more) but also by efficiency--insulating and tightening buildings and planting trees around them as well as producing and buying more efficient appliances...AND we need some rational belt-tightening. Beyond efficiency, we need to get over the idea that we're entitled to lights burning all over our houses and cities, to living space that's 68 degrees F in the summer and 72 in the winter, to vacations that require air travel, to a way of life that requires driving from our homes to our places of work. I believe we can have a better life after making such changes--but we will have to do it ourselves, government will never mandate it, or assist, and will likely impede the transition on orders from its owners.

  4. #4 Chris Miller 26 Oct 14

    Excellent article; informative, erudite, lucid. I'm responding with a poem I wrote a couple of weeks ago when yet another war for oil began...

    O Love, that dare not speak its name

    Of all the words the our leaders spew
    One word you'll rarely hear; it's true
    Meaning cloaked, hidden, garbed,
    'Humanitarian', Aid', 'Help'; barbed
    And wrapped in prickly wire,
    Blood-soaked lies with which they aspire
    To warp all dialogue to the goal
    Of endless profit, endless control.

    You know the word, it's our addiction,
    For others it's a rape conviction,
    Rape of the earth, each crazed pollution
    Presented as a new solution.
    No matter how the bodies stack
    Of spineless voices there's no lack,
    Back-pocket pundits bought and sold
    To serve the masters of black gold.

    These masters know no limitation,
    No border halts their inclination
    To bomb and blast all real dissent,
    History itself is torn and rent
    Then twisted to false imitation
    Of progress.

    Progressive aims lie crushed beneath
    Their weaponry, armed to the teeth,
    Arming friend and foe nearly alike,
    Inventing enemies, they strike
    Destroying enemy and 'friend', no matter
    Tame scribes turn corpses into chatter;
    Who counts when they are merely rags
    Just stuff them into body bags.

    With startling pace their doublespeak
    Cynically compounds the havoc wreaked,
    Faint allies might turn medieval,
    Those guns we sold are killing people!
    Inquires, Ceasefires, Peace Talks Soon,
    Their Peace Envoy a blood-soaked goon,
    The 'media' shakes it's empty head
    Repeats the lies that we're all fed.

    Corporate elites with obscured faces
    Rule our lives with slick embraces,
    100 million, a Texas block,
    The CEO gets that in stock
    Each year, to savour, away from spills,
    Our fragile world must pay the bills.
    Gas promenades it's domination,
    In every field contamination.

    The word just oozes from a cracked shell,
    Stamped with a chevron made in hell,
    Our occidental lives protected
    From the stench of this total racket,
    They're mobilised, we're barely moving,
    Those others die, we just keep cruising,
    We burn it all, this globe must boil,
    The prize we keep on grabbing, oil.

  5. #5 Rakesh 26 Oct 14

    Chris Miller that is a beautiful poem may I share it, with people?

  6. #6 dannychivers 28 Oct 14

    On the carbon tax issue: there are a variety of policies that might be successful in phasing out fossil fuel use, with carbon taxes being one option. However, we aren't going to get ANY effective climate policies - taxes, bans, quotas, phase-outs, clean renewable subsidies, whatever - while the fossil fuel industry has so much power. At the moment, whenever any kind of climate-friendly legislation is proposed, the oil, coal and gas companies swing into action and use their power and influence to try to get it squashed - and they usually succeed.

    So if we want to get effective climate laws of any kind, then we need to reduce the power and influence of these companies. That's where the trends and strategies described in this article come into play. It's true that divestment and anti-oil-sponsorship campaigns don't have an immediate impact on emissions, but they do erode the social license of these companies and push them closer to pariah status. If this happens on a large enough scale, it will make it MUCH easier for us to break the links between the fossil fuel industry and government.

    So if you want a carbon tax (or any other form of climate legislation), you should be cheering on the divestment campaigners because their work is helping to bring effective climate laws closer to reality!

  7. #7 shirley Henderson 02 Nov 14

    I have only skimmed the article, above, but I was very impressed by the program ...Brave new world with Stephen Hawking Monday 08/09 on the Eden channel...where using a very special laser and water, energy could be created, with no by-product, toxic waste...surely the company's who have exploited there power in producing oil and caused such devastation and hardship in the process would be devastated by this new technology ...and finally....when will these responsible be brought to book...maybe when they have lost there iron grip on the energy market.

  8. #9 Scotch NRocks 13 Jan 15

    We as a society need to condense our ways of life if there is any chance of losing our dependence on oil. a 100 mile diet, living close to our places of employment, vacationing without the nedd to use an aircraft, and moving away from some of the standard conventions we have come to expect. Such as greening up your lawn in the spring with the addition of fertilizer's, limiting the use of recreational 'toys' (boasts off-road buggy's etc. This is what I have on my agenda to help the earth reclaim herself. My children's children ARE depending on me. If not, just my children. The industrial revolution has been such a ’fantasy’ ride much to the peril of our earth. It is time to give her a break and leave some of the ’natural’ resources in the ground, so we may have them millennia from today. Otherwise we find our selves ’forced’ to change. The decision will be predetermined if we don't exhibit change today.

  9. #10 Brad Rouse 16 Feb 15

    Best approach to hasten the transition is to implement carbon pricing with teeth that gradually increases over time. This will solve the demand problem by dramatically improving the benefits to consumers of reducing demand or consuming more efficiently. Electric utilities will be greatly incentivized to adopt low carbon energy sources and to promote end use efficiency. And the best way we can all get involved to promote carbon pricing is to learn about and participate with Citizens Climate Lobby. www.citizensclimatelobby.org

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