COP27: Fossil fuel interests take us for fools

Consider how our world fuels its economies: we extract fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and burn them. Air pollution alone causes millions of deaths and heat-trapping emissions overheat the planet, leading to sea level rise, heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and other extreme weather events. The companies that produce these fuels profit from a pernicious business model that allows them to pollute for free, pass the costs of all damages on to the public, and use their financial and political power to perpetuate their lucrative business.

To be fair, there is no doubt that abundant and cheap fossil fuels fueled the Industrial Revolution and improved the livelihoods of people around the world. Initially, the environmental impact appeared insignificant. Then, scientists noticed that greenhouse gases from fossil fuels were not dissipating but building up in the atmosphere.

In recent decades, as more data has been collected, the impacts have become more worrisome. Although scientists working in fossil fuel companies were among the first to understand the dangers, the industry has done all it can to protect its business model by denying climate science, obscuring the problem and delaying the transition to clean energy alternatives. This industry and its political allies have deceived us. In response, corporations have unwittingly allowed these life-destroying fuels to jeopardize the future of humanity. They take us for fools.

It would be a different story if fossil fuels were our only energy options, but that is not the case. Clean and renewable energy sources are readily available to replace fossil fuels. Indeed, solar and wind power are already cheaper than fossil fuels in many places. Moreover, the United Nations’ International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that the technologies and policies needed to mitigate climate change already exist – and that the only real obstacles are politics and vested interests. related to fossil fuels.

Think about how fossil fuel lobbyists manage to influence and manipulate UN climate change conferences. Last year, at COP26 in Glasgow, their outsized influence was widely reported and had the effect of undermining and delaying important climate action. According to a report by climate groups, industry presence at this year’s UN climate summit COP27 in Egypt is even greater, far exceeding the number of representatives from a single national delegation, exception of the United Arab Emirates, a major fossil fuel producing country. More worryingly, a seemingly fossil-fuel-friendly PR firm has been hired to handle COP27 communications and appears to be using that role to distract from polluting industry, scientists and climate activists say.

The COP27 agenda includes discussions on who should pay for the losses and damages suffered by poor countries. Conveniently for fossil fuel interests, the framing of this conversation identifies rich countries and governments as the “polluters who should pay”, diverting attention from the real polluters – the coal, oil and gas companies.

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, Antigua Prime Minister Gaston Browne said, “The oil and gas industry continues to bring in $3 billion [USD] daily in profits.

“It is high time these companies were forced to pay a global carbon tax on their profits as a source of funding for loss and damage,” he added. “While they’re enjoying it, the planet is burning.”

Since reducing emissions is the goal of UN climate conferences, shouldn’t he be asking the real polluters to pay? If the nations of the world imposed an ever-increasing carbon pollution tax on fossil fuel companies, huge sums of money would be generated. A carbon tax, long advocated by economists, would be far more effective than government-funded or corporate-funded efforts to help poor countries. More importantly, it would spur the clean energy transition by lowering demand for fossil fuels, giving renewables a competitive advantage, and incentivizing all countries, including China, to adopt similar policies (when they are used as a carbon border tariff).

Fossil fuel interests are powerful, but citizens also have political power. In the United States and in every country around the world, citizens should support leaders who will expose the business model of the fossil fuel industry that is jeopardizing our lives and jeopardizing the future of our children and grandchildren. First steps for government action should include ending fossil fuel subsidies, enacting carbon pricing legislation to make polluters pay for the devastation they cause, and providing the financial incentives our societies need to stop using polluting fuels.

Robert Taylor is a freelance journalist whose research and published work focuses on environmental issues.

Craig B. Smith, Ph.D., is an engineer, former UCLA faculty member, former president and president of a major international architectural/engineering firm, author of several books on efficiency energy and global warming.

Taylor was a contributor and Smith was co-author (with WD Fletcher) of “Reaching Net Zero: What it takes to solve the global climate crisis”.

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