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Friday, July 30, 2021

Big Oil pushback on climate change

Not unexpectedly, the Big Oil propagandists are out in force. Money is being spent defending the indefensible, instead of fixing things. 

A friend forwarded a short video from an outfit called Prager U (see here). I haven't bothered to dig through the website for the video, but the title was "Unobtainium", and a quick Google search brings up a range of web pages discussing it. From the website: “Prager University is the world's leading conservative nonprofit that is focused on changing minds through the creative use of digital media.” Their Annual Report is a thinly disguised advertising brochure but falls well short of SEC standards when it comes to itemising where their $28M in revenue came from in 2020; but given the content of the video, I can guess.

Specifically I had the following issues with this:

The speaker mentions the fact that batteries are nowhere as energy-dense as oil, which is, additionally, much cheaper and available in larger volumes. This is true but ignores the fact we've had 100+ years of research and investment into making oil more accessible and easier to use, and less than 20 years into vehicle batteries. 

Furthermore, while solar and wind may indeed be getting close to maximum theoretical efficiencies as the technologies mature, I believe better and cheaper batteries are on the way – the learning curve is still steep. In only a few years we have gone from 150 km range to 500+ without increasing battery size or weight; and recharging times are dropping fast. When the rate of improvement in battery performance starts to slow, we’ll know we are hitting some limits.

And he’s right about mining and waste as problems if we need to source lots of materials like lithium. 

But he ignores the cost of burning those fossil fuels, in terms of heat, dried up reservoirs that stop producing hydro-electricity, whole towns incinerated, molluscs literally cooking in their shells on the seabed, etc. Then there were the mind-boggling floods in Germany and China.

Either way we have to accept that we are going to have to pay a lot: we can keep burning fossil, which is cheap to produce, refine and distribute, but which generates huge global heating costs that aren’t factored into the price at the pumps; or we can pay up front to develop and roll out the necessary technologies to stop CO2 emissions, using a circular economy approach where product end-of-life is dealt with at the design stage. Neither approach is going to be "cheap". Governments (i.e. taxpayers) will need to get out their chequebooks, to clean up the mess, or to prevent the mess as best we can at this late stage.

And he doesn’t offer any alternative solutions to continued use of oil. Nuclear is one, as is using less energy in the first place. The best selling personal vehicle in the US is the Ford F150, followed in the #2 and #3 spots by the equally large Chevrolet Silverado and Ram 1500. The first car on the list, the Toyota Camry, clocks in at #6. No hybrids or electrics make the top 20. There is no way these folks with full-sized pickup trucks are all hauling trailers full of hay bales or manure with them. No, they are hauling groceries from Costco back to their McMansions, which are characterised by staggering square footage per person, and which cost a pile to heat or cool. I’m not saying everyone should be happy with 1000 square feet, as I am; but my floor space, small as it is, is still four times the world average floor space per capita. Energy efficiency has a long way to go. 

Basically our toolbox of reasonably well-developed technologies has a range of tools in it, and we need to use all of them. If we say no to nuclear, then we need more wind, solar and efficiency (as well as bio-energy, which arguably is on somewhat shaky ground as far as carbon neutrality is concerned); more nuclear means less need for other approaches. It’s a zero-sum game. But it must be clear that we can only emit at most an additional 500 gigatonnes of CO2. That’s it. No more after that, ever.

And as for his concern for the poor child workers that would be exploited in Third World lithium mines: Big Oil’s record in the Third World in this context is far from stellar. Witness the mess in Nigeria, just to start with. Oil sands tailing ponds are another. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!  

We can’t afford to let oil and gas propagandists and apologists drive the agenda anymore. We have been very lucky in Eastern Canada so far this summer, but we too are at risk of either extended, extreme heat leading to catastrophic drying up of Hydro-Québec reservoirs, or massive floods that wash away topsoil leaving farming and our food supply at risk. There is a very real probability that our grandchildren will be shivering (or baking) and starving in the dark. This is an existential crisis and we need to respond with a complete ban on CO2 emissions. End of story.

Yes, this touched a sore spot. End of rant.

I will remind my Faithful Readers that the IEA report (224 pages) is available by clicking here, and while it is a green approach, it is still a business as usual approach where efficiency doesn’t play a big role. My 18-page review of the IEA report can be found by clicking here. And my quick summary of my 18-page review can be found by scrolling back to my previous post on this blog.


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