“We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their [sic] economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.”
– Wells Griffith, President Trump’s international energy and climate adviser, United Nations climate meeting, Poland Dec. 10, 2018
Here’s an idea for a New Year’s resolution: Burn more oil.
It’s the economy, Stupid. Everyone knows you cannot have a healthy economy without burning fossil fuels.
That, at least, is the line Wells Griffith (see above) was selling at a fossil fuel cheerleading session hosted by the United States in Poland. Meanwhile, other countries were struggling to find way to avoid fossil fuel-induced global catastrophe.
But no “environmental sustainability” for our guy Griffith. He was there to promote coal. And to make clear that the United States is doubling down on oil production.
His was a startlingly unabashed admission that the fossil fuel industry has decided to take a pass on keeping the planet habitable.
This morally bereft display of shortsighted selfishness by oil producers is a manifestation of American “individualism” at its muddle-headed worst. The only costs they care about, apparently, are their own.
The duplicitous claim that we cannot abandon fossil fuels without wrecking the economy will, for decades to come, delineate the battle to keep Earth human-friendly.
Griffith uses an old debater’s trick, the false dilemma. He asks us to believe that a sound economy and oil are synonymous. But economic prosperity doesn’t depend on oil.
Providing we smarten up.
Paying our way out of a century and a half of Earth-unfriendly behavior certainly won’t be cheap. Yet the ultimate size of our bill for staying the course depends largely on how long we stick with oil and coal.
And let’s be clear about “sacrifice.” We have now dilly-dallied long enough — sent enough long-lived carbon aloft to linger — that we cannot hope to maintain today’s “normal” workings of the planet’s machinery, nor stable societies, without massive remedial expenditures, especially in clean energy.
But “sacrificing our economic prosperity?” Please. Read here instead: “sacrificing oil industry prosperity.”
However, Griffith’s dark vision surely will materialize if we continue down the path he advocates. Unhappily, the forces arrayed to keep us on that path are formidable, as a New York Times investigation recently reminded.
Despite objections even from automakers, the oil industry has been conducting a “stealth campaign” to allow reduced fuel efficiency and more pollution by cars and trucks, the Times reported.
The usual suspects are pressuring Congress to pass Trump’s oil industry-spawned proposal: Libertarian billionaire industrialist Charles G. Koch; the American Legislative Exchange Council, which Koch and other corporations fund to write corporate-friendly laws for our state legislators to quietly pass; major oil companies; Marathon Petroleum, the nation’s biggest oil refiner.
Facebook helpfully did its own part by facilitating Big Oil’s misleading effort to beguile Facebookers into asking Congress to overturn President Obama’s fuel efficiency standards. They require the 2020 standards to be doubled by 2025.
Nothing about rolling back vehicle fuel-efficiency and emissions standards is about keeping your money in your pocket, people. It’s about putting your money into Big Oil’s pockets. It’s simply a wealth transfer, a generous subsidy from you to keep Big Oil afloat. Oddly un-Libertarian, though.
The Oil Patch’s pitch? The United States is awash in oil, so there’s no need to conserve it.
Marathon Petroleum chief executive Gary R. Heminger gloated that if this shameless scam succeeds, the industry will sell up to 400,000 more barrels of oil per day.
And how, exactly, does this reduce carbon emissions, guys? Hello?
If Congress caves, the United States will increase its tailpipe emissions by more than the amount emitted annually by many mid-sized countries, the Times reports. Meanwhile, scientists tell us carbon emissions for 2018 are up by nearly 3 percent.
Unsurprisingly, Charles Koch does not smile upon public transportation such as light rail, either. His Americans for Prosperity disinformation machine successfully has poured large sums into effective grass roots, door-to-door campaigns to beat back light rail projects in seven states and fought two dozen transit-related measures in state legislatures. Koch has even opposed placement of recharging stations for electric vehicles.
Obligingly, Trump also has taken up the industry’s fight against California and 13 other states, including ours, that adhere to California’s vehicle emission standards, which are more strict than federal law. Trump is challenging California’s federal dispensation to set its own emission standards.
Why? A quarter of the world’s oil output is burned by vehicles. In the United States, the transportation sector is the largest carbon polluter. So fuel standards really matter. Obviously, the more fuel-efficient vehicles become, the less oil is burned and the less profit for oil producers and oil-dependent industries such as Koch’s holdings.
Oil producers are not utter fools. In fuel-efficient vehicles, they rightly see the beginning of the end of oil dominance. Nonetheless, it’s disappointing that their long-term corporate strategy is suicide rather than seizing the opportunity to use their know-how to atone for the damage they’ve done and spearhead an energy revolution. Instead, they mean to fight a delaying game, pumping oil as long as a drop remains.
Meanwhile neither we, nor the sensitive ecosystem we depend on, are adapting as fast as the climate is changing.
Your hired helpers in Congress await your instructions. Get on it.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.