Lobbying to burn the world

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Lobbying to burn the world

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Fossil fuel companies have wasted years and billions ducking the transition to clean energy

There was only one story this week…extreme heat. Tuesday was the hottest day in the world on record, breaking the record of the day before.

The reality of our climate change crisis cannot be ignored, except by the willfully blind. Land temperatures were up to 60C (140F) in Spain, and atmospheric temperatures were 48C (118F) across Sicily, Sardinia and parts of Israel. The U.S. and Canada suffered heat wave temperatures of up to 130F (54C). Heat records are being broken around the world including France, Switzerland, Germany and Italy with weeks at or above 40C (104F).

Everything climate scientists have been telling us to expect, and more

At least 170 people died in India’s state of Utter Pradesh following a heatwave in June. Morocco’s meteorological service is issuing extreme heat red alerts for southern parts of the country. Regions of China, including Beijing, are experiencing soaring temperatures, with one Chinese power company hitting a single-day power generation high as the country tries to combat the heat. Parts of Japan hit temperatures of 39C (102F). It’s everything climate scientists have been telling us to expect, and more.

The insanity of fossil fuel companies

Meanwhile, in a largely unnoticed story this week, the organization F Minus launched a new database exposing the duplicity of 1,500 fossil fuel lobbyists who have been working for both climate focused NGOs, university groups, technology companies and local governments and the fossil fuel companies working to stop them.

“They [fossil fuel companies] have produced no solutions that are scalable or remotely feasible. And they’ve actively fought against the solutions that others are trying to bring.”

A story about the exposé by the Guardian’s Oliver Milman, “‘Double agents’: fossil-fuel lobbyists work for U.S. groups trying to fight climate crisis,” is an important look into the insanity of what we are up against – a fossil fuel sector that will, quite literally, see the world burn as long as it continues to profit.

As Milman reports, “Lobbyists for oil, gas and coal interests are also employed by a vast sweep of institutions – the city governments of Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia; tech giants such as Apple and Google; more than 150 universities; some of the country’s leading environmental groups – and even ski resorts seeing their snow melted by global heating.”

Utterly refusing to transition

Consider the unfathomable amount of money, time and effort that the fossil fuel industry has put into delaying tactics like this to block climate action. That money could have been put toward solving our existential climate challenge by investing in their transition to renewable energy, battery storage, efficiency and no carbon innovation.

“They [fossil fuel companies] have produced no solutions that are scalable or remotely feasible. And they’ve actively fought against the solutions that others are trying to bring,” former Vice President Al Gore told a TedX audience in Detroit last week.

This is not just a failure to adapt, but a willful decision by the likes of Shell, ExxonMobile, Saudi Arabian Oil Co., Rio Tinto, Glencore, TotalEnergies, Equior and Conterra Energy to utterly refuse to transition. And they do so as climate scientists, the UN, NASA, the International Energy Agency tell us to reduce emissions or create an unlivable planet.

Perfectly timed then is former UN climate negotiator and author Christiana Figueres’ op-ed in Al Jazeera, “I thought fossil fuel firms could change. I was wrong.” She writes that the sector’s “unprecedented profits over the past year” now show a complete unwillingness to adapt.” The fossil fuel industry,” she says “will have powered human development in the 20th century and then destroyed it in the 21st century.” Strong words.

“The fossil fuel industry will have powered human development in the 20th century and then destroyed it in the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, business-as-usual for fossil fuels

Figueres says that what coal, oil and gas companies should have been doing with recent unprecedented profits in the trillions is transforming. That’s not happening. In fact a skim of this week’s news shows a new gas pipeline approved for the Michigan Gas Utilities Corporation, $5.9 billion secured to expand an LNG export shipping terminal in Texas, approval for 12 new gas wells in Colorado, the state of Western Australia moving a step closer to extending the life of Woodside’s gas processing facility for 50 years and India’s Vedanta resource company announcing the investment of billions into the oil and gas sector.

Our story this week about Africa’s oil vs renewables dilemma by Barclay Palmer, with the help of Nigerian writer Olaniyan Joseph Ayomide shows the sheer scale of our climate challenge. In countries where economic security depends on selling more coal, oil and gas for survival, how do we tell them to turn off the emissions-emitting profits and pivot to clean energy, especially when the global west isn’t willing to go there?

Jaw-dropping progress on renewable energy 

What will it take to move the world in time as temperatures soar? Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a great start. Analyst and climate finance expert Tim Buckley, founder of Clean Energy Finance, told me this week that he is encouraged – excited even – about reports that the IRA has driven $500 billion in private sector investments on top of $400 billion in federal funding and $12 billion in loans into manufacturing and clean energy. Forbes called the IRA “the most important climate action in U.S. history.”

Meanwhile, China is delivering on its wind and solar targets five years ahead of schedule. Solar panel installations alone are growing at a pace that is likely to increase global capacity by 85% by 2025. This puts China’s renewable energy capacity far beyond that of the rest of the world combined.

As Dorothy Mei, a project manager at Global Energy Monitor, says, “[China’s] new data provides unrivaled granularity about [the country’s] jaw-dropping surge in solar and wind capacity.”

There is nothing like a 130F degree week to hammer the message home to all of us: It’s now or never for climate change action.

If you need more to cling to while you cope with the heat, this from a recent Rocky Mountain Institute report should help: “The energy transition is a shift from a concentrated, expensive, polluting, commodity-based system with no learning curve, to an efficient, manufactured, technology-driven system that offers continuously falling costs and is available everywhere. It is moving from heavy, fiery molecules to light, obedient electrons; from hunting fossil fuels to farming the sun.”

What’s not to love, unless you’re a dangerously obstinate fossil fuel company?

D-day for ending fossil fuels

The global renewable energy race is on and with words like “jaw-dropping” and “most important in history” applied to the transition underway, there may be some hope for us yet. But only if we really hear what leaders like Figueres are saying… It must be D-day for ending fossil fuels. That means no new coal, oil and gas project approvals, curtailing investment in polluters, and no more excuses at COP and leadership at all levels.

There is nothing like a 130F degree week to hammer the message home to all of us: It’s now or never for climate change action. But we will have to stop the fossil fuel industry to succeed.

Written by

Blair Palese

Blair Palese is co-founder and managing editor at Climate & Capital Media. She is also director of philanthropy at Australia's oldest ethical financial adviser. Previously she co-founded 350.org Australia and was CEO for ten years. She was head of PR for The Body Shop and communications director at Greenpeace internationally and in the US. Blair has worked for media outlets including Greenpages Magazine, the Washington Monthly and ABC in the U.S.