What are the leaders of the fossil fuel industry thinking?
I really want to know. How is that amid the numerous disasters and signs that the climate emergency is here, they keep making plans to expand oil and gas production? As UN Secretary General Guterres said in a press conference in July 2023, “the era of global boiling has arrived” and we need to come together as a global community to act urgently and ambitiously.
The climate leader Christiana Figueres asked the same question as me in an article in Al Jazeera in July 2023. She used to believe the oil and gas sector would change their business model voluntarily. However, she is now done with them. Instead of making plans to transition quickly to renewable energy the industry is doubling down on drilling and fracking. Yes, some of the companies are investing in renewable energy projects, but their investments in oil and gas extraction continues to increase. For instance, a We Don’t Have Time July 2023 newsletter highlighted how Shell decided to stop reducing oil production and committed to keep production steady for the rest of this decade. The fossil fuel industry is also lobbying the US Government to ‘certify’ fracked gas as clean because the industry is starting to stop decades-long methane leaks.
To make matters worse, many of the world’s largest emitting countries continue to support continued extraction. Countries, like the U.S., U.K., Germany, Norway, China, and Iraq, continue to dig new oil wells and build more pipelines. In a private communication with the Funder Collaborative on Oil and Gas (FCOG), an initiative of the Rockefeller Family Fund, they shared information on the magnitude of the issue in the U.S. “Today, the fossil fuel industry is planning around 450 new or expanded oil and gas infrastructure projects and approximately 130 pipelines…This new infrastructure will bring oil and gas to new markets, perpetuating the US contribution to climate change rather than putting us on a trajectory to reduce our production. This buildout also makes it hard to transition away from oil and gas, as once an investment is made and a project is built, it rarely closes early — a concept known as ‘carbon lock-in.’”
Furthermore, the Biden Administration is supporting this activity by turning the U.S. into the largest exporter of gas. The team at FCOG said that based on U.S. Government modeling, they anticipate a “10% increase in gas production by 2050, [which] is at odds with the 70% reduction” UN Secretary General Guterres recently asked countries to commit to as part of a global phasedown of fossil fuel production at the Climate Ambition Summit in mid-September in New York City.
This is why climate leaders like Figueres and Former Vice President Al Gore, and the editors at the LA Times, are calling out the fossil fuel industry for obstructing the transition to clean energy. In a recent Ted Talk, Gore talked about what the industry doesn’t want us to know, namely how they have been plotting and successfully lobbying for policies that slow down the transition to clean energy. The LA Times editorial team think that “Remaining frenemies with fossil fuel companies in the naive hope they will see the light on climate change is a losing proposition for humanity.”
And Figures, in the Al Jazeera article, says “What [the leaders of the fossil fuel industry] seem to have forgotten is that we are way beyond strategy games. Let’s get real. We have reached the point where decarbonisation will happen with the fossil fuel industry or without them… Do they want to …speed the winds of change or do they want to be the last men standing? If they choose the latter, the transition to clean energies will occur despite them, but it will likely be too late for humanity…Their moment to decide is now.”
Based on current activities, they seem to have chosen the latter. What are they thinking?
I have tried to consider their humanity, seeing them as parents and grandparents who want the best for their descendants, including a habitable planet. However, amid their pushing to keep the fossil fuel sector thriving, I wonder if they really do think about keeping their children alive. It seems like they don’t get that their work threatens the lives of current and future generations. I hope at some level they are discomfited with their role in creating global boiling.
I have also wondered about their guiding values. Currently they are prioritizing money and power for the few over life on this small blue planet. What would it take for them to step outside the capitalistic dynamics of short-term thinking profit-motivation and choose a different path?
I don’t know. I’ve given up hoping their humanity will kick in, and I don’t think we have time to transform the entire capitalist system to change the drivers of their behavior. So, given that the fossil fuel industry doesn’t look like it will change on its own, how do we get them to phase down production? What will it really take to get the sector to make the urgent and necessary transition to decarbonized energy?
I think the only path we have left, in addition to reducing demand, is to take the fight to the fossil fuel industry. We must do whatever we can to stop the industry through legal, political, and social action means. Recent actions by climate leaders and groups, like FCOG, 350.org, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, The Global Fight to End Fossil Fuels, and Stop the Money Pipeline to name a few, point to various multi-pronged local, national, and global strategies we can use, as FCOG said in their private communication, “to stop, delay, or improve the outcome of projects, all while weakening the oil and gas industry. If we can delay new projects by 5–10 years, they become less likely to ever be built, as clean energy sources will have more market share and become even more cost competitive.”
I list the key strategies below, along with ways each of us can be involved.
Strategies for Stopping the Fossil Fuel Industry
1. Challenge projects being built.
· Hold Shell accountable for their greenhouse gas emissions by sending a letter, created by Action for the Climate Emergency, to the company. Shell is boosting production and claiming that by selling some oil assets to another oil company, they are meeting emissions targets.
· Ask President Biden to revoke Freeport LNG’s permits and deny further expansion.
· Tell the CEO of ConocoPhillips to halt the Willow Project in Alaska.
· Email your congress people asking them to support the BAN Fossil Fuel Exports Act. Read this article to learn more, then go to this site to learn how to contact your representatives and Senators.
· Sign a petition asking President Biden to halt all new offshore oil and gas leases.
· Stand with the people of Argentina in asking the government and the YFP oil company to drop the Vaca Huerta Sur pipeline.
2. Halt finance and insurance for fossil fuel projects.
· Demand Insurers drop Freeport LNG & all Methane Gas! These terminals need insurance to operate, and in September 2023, Freeport’s insurance certificate is set to renew. Email Liberty Mutual — and other insurers connected to LNG — using the form on the linked Rainforest Action Network’s page, demanding they meet with impacted communities and refuse to insure any toxic methane gas facilities. Reform permitting regulations for oil, gas, and coal.
· Go to Stop the Money Pipeline’s action page to take one or more of their actions.
· Sign this petition calling on the world’s largest development banks to shift money out of fossil fuels.
3. Hold oil and gas regulatory agencies accountable and reform policies.
· Ask the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to fix outdated oil and gas leasing rules. Sign this Sierra Club petition telling the BLM to strengthen and finalize the newly proposed “update to leasing rules that would hold oil and gas companies accountable for the damage they cause, end subsidies for oil and gas producers, and add competition to the leasing process.” Climate protection should be a “required part of all future leasing and permitting decisions.”
· Tell your Senators to halt the current permitting reform bill, which is written to eliminate many environmental regulations and limit legal avenues for challenging fossil fuel project permits and commit to a clean energy future.
· Sign this petition asking the Biden Administration to say no to methane certification schemes put forth by the fossil fuel industry saying gas is certified clean energy.
· Ask the BLM to stop the Willow Project.
4. Support campaigns and lawsuits against fossil fuel infrastructure and certification.
· Donate to one of the 150 organizations that signed this Certified Disasters’ open letter to the U.S. Department of Energy. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see all signatories.
· Support groups like the Southern Environmental Law Center, the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, and Earth Justice, which organize and file lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry. In March 2023, Earth Justice sued the Biden Administration for permitting the Willow Project.
5. Produce strategic communication and media to influence public opinion.
· Check out Fossil Free Media to find messaging, talking points, and videos on ending the fossil fuel era.
6. Organize locally.
· Put pressure on your nation’s leaders by asking them to commit to more ambitious, credible, and implementable energy transition plans. In September Guterres will ask world leaders to halt expansion of fossil fuel production and begin to phase them out. If you live near NYC join the March to End Fossil Fuels on September 17th, 2023. It is taking place right before the UN Secretary General’s Climate Ambition Summit. If you live elsewhere, check out events around the world happening September 15 & 17.
· Read this article and this article about lawsuits filed by states against large oil companies, holding them accountable for climate change impacts. Check the included map in the first article to see if there is one in your state and follow it more closely.
· Join the Oil & Gas Action Network, or other groups organizing locally in your area.
· Contact one of the following groups to see how you can support the effort to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia: Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights, Mountain Valley Watch, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Wild Virginia, Center for Biological Diversity, The Wilderness Society, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Natural Resources Defense Council, and 7 Directions of Service.
· Become a member of the NGO’s working to keep fossil fuels in the ground, like 350.org, Climate Action Network, Green America, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund, to name a few. 350.org just launched a 350 US Volunteers and Local Groups Slack community for ordinary people rising up for bold climate action. You can volunteer from home and get engaged in local campaigns.
We are living in scary times, and every action we take now possibly leads to a more habitable world in the future. I encourage you to be a role model for yourself and your close circle by doing what you can to help end the era of fossil fuels.
I wish you all the best in your climate action.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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