How The Low-carbon Transition Is Disrupting Fossil Fuel Politics

How The Low-carbon Transition Is Disrupting Fossil Fuel Politics Commuters idle in rush-hour traffic outside Philadelphia. AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma

As the Trump administration works to weaken regulations on fossil fuel production and use, a larger struggle is playing out across multiple industries. Until recently, oil companies and their defenders generally reacted to calls for regulating carbon emissions by spreading doubt and promoting climate denialism. However, I believe this approach is becoming less effective as climate change effects worsen and public demands for action intensify worldwide.

As a scholar who focuses on the politics of energy and the environment, I see growing anxiety among corporate elites. Some fossil fuel defenders are embracing a new strategy that I call climate defiance. With a transition to a low-carbon economy looming, they are accelerating investments in fossil fuel extraction while pressuring governments to delay climate action.

Climate defiance is leading to some surprising clashes between the Trump Administration, bent on extreme deregulation and extraction, and many other companies who recognize that the fossil fuel economy is unsustainable, even if they have not embarked upon a green transition. Climate change is sparking this self-reflection, which is writing a new chapter in global warming politics.

How The Low-carbon Transition Is Disrupting Fossil Fuel Politics Workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation outside Rifle, in western Colorado, March 29, 2013. AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

Car wars

One high-profile example is the Trump administration’s effort to weaken corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, standards negotiated by the Obama administration, which were projected to reduce U.S. oil consumption by an estimated two million barrels per day. Early in the Trump presidency, both an auto industry consortium and fossil fuel producers lobbied hard for the Trump administration to weaken the emissions standards.

But when it became clear that the Trump administration planned to go further than simply weakening the standards, and to freeze them altogether in 2020, some automakers balked. California and more than a dozen other states insisted on the right to keep higher standards, and four major automakers – Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW – joined them.

Those companies, who represent about 30% of the U.S. market, have now agreed to adhere to stricter emissions standards similar to the Obama plan, citing the need for more regulatory certainty. In retaliation, the Justice Department recently opened an antitrust investigation into the pact.

Meanwhile, Toyota, General Motors and Fiat Chrysler are siding with the Trump administration. Their decision surprised many industry watchers, particularly given Toyota’s leadership in designing low-emissions vehicles.

How The Low-carbon Transition Is Disrupting Fossil Fuel Politics California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, center, with Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The state is suing the Trump administration for revoking California’s authority to set its own vehicle emissions standards. Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Methane capture

Another divisive issue is the Trump administration’s plan to ease regulations curbing methane emissions from natural gas production. Energy companies tout natural gas as a cleaner fossil fuel because it generates fewer carbon dioxide emissions than coal or oil.

However, methane – the main component of natural gas – is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to global warming. According to some studies, methane leaks from natural gas extraction and production, known as fugitive emissions, may make natural gas extracted from shale rock worse than coal in terms of its greenhouse gas footprint.

Several major oil companies, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, oppose Trump’s plan to further deregulate methane. Why? They have invested heavily in natural gas as a way to extend their fossil fuel business, and methane leaks pose a serious threat to the notion that natural gas should play a prominent role in a green transition, especially as renewable energy costs continue to decline.

In contrast, the American Petroleum Institute and smaller oil and gas companies support the rollback, claiming that methane control is too expensive.

 

Thermal cameras show methane leaking from oil and gas operations.

Shades of green

Beyond these specific controversies, many companies in the energy sector and beyond have voiced support for moving to a lower-carbon economy.

For example, in August 2019 the Business Roundtable, a corporate advocacy group comprised of almost 200 CEOs from major American corporations, declared that corporate responsibility meant more than just serving shareholders. Instead they adopted a broader definition that includes serving customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders, and pledged to “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”

Such declarations are easy to dismiss as corporate greenwashing. Corporate responses to climate change have largely touted market-based reforms, like pricing carbon emissions, which would not jeopardize ongoing fossil fuel extraction and profits.

Indeed, global fossil fuel and overall energy consumption are still rising. And while banks may highlight their support for renewable energy projects, they also have provided at least US$1.9 trillion in fossil fuel financing since the 2016 Paris Agreement entered into force.

Meanwhile, recent climate change assessments warn that avoiding warming on a catastrophic scale will require “rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.” Many experts assert that change on this scale will ultimately require countries to stop burning fossil fuels altogether.

Others assert that investments in renewable energy alone will not stave off drastic warming. Historically, they argue, new renewable energy additions have mostly increased overall energy consumption, rather than displacing fossil fuels. From this perspective, phasing out fossil fuels will require political action.

Such a shift poses an existential threat to major oil companies. Big Oil touts its green projects, but renewable energy accounts for only 1% to 4% of its new investments. In the view of energy scholars Daniel Sperling and Lewis Fulton, Big Oil has “no clear road map” for a green transition.

An existential choice

In my view, struggles between the Trump administration and major corporations over environmental deregulation signal an awareness that the fossil fuel economy’s days are numbered. Although climate deniers occupy prominent positions in the White House, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency today, recent polls show that two-thirds of Americans are worried about climate change and believe it will harm them.

As I argue in my recent book, our fossil fuel system was set up to put the world to work for the benefit of European and American powers. Its profits come from undervaluing the labor and resources that feed it, which I believe has led not only to climate change but to extreme global wealth inequality.

A green transition is therefore not only a technical project. As global interest in Green New Deals suggests, climate change calls fossil fuel capitalism itself into question.

I see corporations beginning to sense this challenge. Some companies, especially those built upon fossil fuels, will continue to resist moving toward a lower-carbon future. Others will promote market reforms rather than broader systemic changes. I believe, however, that the most forward-looking must begin to imagine how they will fit into a just and decarbonized economy.

About The Author

The ConversationCara Daggett, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Virginia Tech

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Fossil Fuel Production Plans Could Push Earth off a Climate Cliff
by The Real News Network
The United Nations is beginning its climate summit in Madrid.
Big Rail Spends More on Denying Climate Change than Big Oil
by The Real News Network
A new study concludes that rail is the industry that's injected the most money into climate change denial propaganda…
Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
by MSNBC
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…

LATEST ARTICLES

How The Suburbs Can Help Cities In The Fight Against Climate Change
How The Suburbs Can Help Cities In The Fight Against Climate Change
by Paul J. Maginn and Roger Keil
The edges of cities around the world are being devastated by fires and floods. It’s drawing attention to suburban…
7 Climate Change Novels That Allow Us To Imagine Possible Futures
7 Climate Change Novels That Allow Us To Imagine Possible Futures
by Adeline Johns-Putra
Climate fiction, climate change fiction, “cli-fi” – whatever you want to call it – has emerged as a literary trend…
The Earth Needs Multiple Methods For Removing CO2 From The Air To Avert Worst Of Climate Change
The Earth Needs Multiple Methods For Removing CO2 From The Air To Avert Worst Of Climate Change
by David Goldberg
Many climate researchers like myself believe government needs to advance technology that will actually suck carbon…
The Emissions Due To Electricity Loss On The Power Grid Is A Lot
The Emissions Due To Electricity Loss On The Power Grid Is A Lot
by Sarah Marie Jordaan and Kavita Surana
When it comes to strategies for slowing the effects of climate change, the idea of reducing wasted energy rarely gets a…
Ultra-fast Computers Could Avert Global Disaster
Ultra-fast Computers Could Avert Global Disaster
by Tim Radford
The world can be saved. It needs global co-operation, careful research and the building of ultra-fast computers.
Politicians Not Markets Slow New Energy Dawn
Politicians Not Markets Slow New Energy Dawn
by Paul Brown
It is politicians, not economists, who stand in the way of wider adoption of cheap renewable energies across the world.
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
Racing Ice Loss Strips Greenland Of Mass
by Tim Radford
Greenland is shrinking, losing ice seven times faster than a generation ago. Scientists have taken a new and ominous…
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
Lessons From The Hockey Rink Could Help Ontario Tackle Climate Change
by Jennifer Lynes and Dan Murray
The Auditor General of Ontario’s recent report found the province’s current climate change plan is not based on “sound…