US President Donald Trump seems to be locked into a crusade to deny that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the cause of climate change. While it is always possible that 97% of the scientific community have got it completely wrong, it would seem unlikely that they have. However, even if Donald and his climate change deniers are right, why make such a big issue about it? The environment is big business so why risk damaging US environmental businesses.
It is undeniable that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen and much of the CO2 in the air also dissolves in the world’s oceans. The consequence of that is that the oceans are becoming more acidic. This acidity tends to dissolve the calcium of all the higher species of life that live in the oceans. This in turn tends to weaken the bone structures of sea creatures, and puts at risk the entire ecology of the world’s oceans.
So, given that the oceans provide a large proportion of global food supply from fishing, it remains a very high priority to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, even if Donald trump is right, and CO2 is not a major cause of climate change.
To be a rebel makes no sense, unless Trump sees himself as acting on behalf of the big US oil companies to keep demand for oil high, so that they can make profits until the oil runs out.
If for a moment, we were to accept the idea that the rise in CO2 levels is not due to human influences, decarbonising the globe to reduce the contributory impact we are adding, still makes sense.
On the other hand, even adopting an anti-“climate change action” policy to support the US Oil Company Cartel makes no sense. That is because the clear majority of large oil companies have themselves already accepted that human influenced climate change is real. More to the point, whatever their views are, they have bowed to pressure from the big institutional investors (pension funds and the like) to diversify their businesses into renewable energy.
Those oil companies now working in the renewable energy market have found that they like their new diversified business models which include renewable energy. The reason for that is easy to understand.
The oil business requires working in many politically unstable parts of the world, with all the business and currency fluctuation risk that entails, and dealing in a commodity whose value is heavily influenced by short-term political and economic factors.
In contrast, renewable energy businesses are far less subject to the large price fluctuations seen in oil prices over the last 5 years. In addition, their business can usually be done in their home nation. Investment opportunities are plentiful in the wonderful new technologies now emerging for renewable energy. They should be able to spot the best money-making renewable energy innovations, get in early, and become leaders in those technologies, allowing them to make abundant profits.
The result has been that for the last 5 or more years, at renewable energy conferences around the world it has invariably been possible to discover a contingent of delegates and speakers from “old oil”, who are enthusiastic converts to renewable energy investment. In fact, if you engage these people in conversation they will tell you that they no longer see oil as a sustainable business model at the highest level. That is simply because the big investors such as pension funds, want to put their money elsewhere in businesses which they consider have much better long-term prospects. These are, looking ahead, only the truly sustainable businesses, like those that are actively seeking out renewable energy technologies.
What oil company businessmen do ask for is that all governments work out sensible renewable energy policies, and where they provide subsidies that they also provide the certainty of stability. This means not creating subsidies, only to remove them. Most importantly it means not breaking promises where renewable energy subsidies have been offered at certain rates for the life of a project, but later threaten removal.
President Trump should wake up to the huge distraction which his concentration on the role of carbon dioxide, is. Or, is his plan just that? Distract us from his real intentions?
He should take advice from what it must be presumed are his own friends within the US Oil Cartel, who will confirm that the environment is big business, wherein some of the biggest growth potential lies.
He should apply his energy to doing what is best for US businesses, and employment, through supporting global efforts to decarbonise. That is where a huge potential for good business can be generated. Good sustainable business, which leaves resources for future generations. Business with much higher levels of job creation, within the US, when compared with pumping yet more oil out of the ground.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1Dave Darby March 23rd, 2017
Interesting piece. From a low-impact perspective, I’m not so cheered by the ‘growth potential’ of renewables (in terms of its impact on overall economic growth, rather than the growth of the sector), as I see growth in the human economy as the root cause of global ecological damage. But I think we need renewable technologies to develop (and come down in price as the sector grows), because they’re ‘convivial’, as Ivan Illich would say. That means that individuals and communities can own them. The oil or nuclear industries can never be convivial, but communities and individuals can generate their own energy/heat from solar, wind, wood, micro-hydro and even anaerobic digestion (as you well know). Maybe this is Trump’s angle – he prefers technologies that can only be owned and controlled by the corporate sector, and doesn’t want the messy business of decentralised and democratised energy generation? But you’re right that this kind of energy sector would generate far more (and more interesting) jobs, as well as its obvious benefits in terms of sustainability.
2Steve Last March 23rd, 2017
1. Growth potential, even if it means growth in energy use and the economy overall, is surely not a concern, as long as it is “sustainable”. As a civil engineer, I was brought up on the concept followed by Brunel, Telford and other great engineers. The ideals of our Institution have now been tempered by the inclusion of sustainability requirements.
However, the definition of civil engineering was originally all about, “harnessing the forces of nature for the good of mankind”. That, on the face of it isn’t a bad thing. It does not imply any limit to what proportion of all the forces of nature man should harness. Sustainability should be the overruling requirement when considering, what size of economy society should to strive for.
Let’s not be concerned by growth itself, but always insist growth must be sustainable. Growth needs to be coupled with new ways of working, and the trick is to develop the circular economy to year on year to:
– reduce overall demand for raw products, and
– raise renewable energy as a proportion of total energy use.
Those are surely the ways to achieve sustainability. In other words use human skills to innovate our way out of trouble.
Let me suggest a simplified example. A new bridge is needed for a community, because people’s lives and the environment, are being damaged by sitting in traffic jams, which waste their time and pollute the air. It will shorten journey the distances for many essential journeys.
But building a new bridge will cause growth in a number of ways, for example it will attract the labour needed to build it into the area, and they will consume products and energy raising the amount consumed in the area. It will also tend make their economy more efficient which will improve the ability of their local businesses to compete against other towns to sell goods, again implying further growth locally.
The government/ and or the businesses in the existing economy have found ways to increase the rate of recycling and re-use of materials which would otherwise have been thrown into a landfill forever. It is a fact that the construction industry now recycles a large proportion of the aggregates it uses and I would guess over 80% of the steel from old buildings. The recycling consumes energy, so the recycling companies agree to use only renewable fuels.
If the bridge can be built based on the following:
a) using those recycled materials, avoiding raising the burden on building any new quarries to extract more natural resources, and
b) the bridge planners show that the new shortened journeys will more than repay the energy used in construction
c) the community raises its use of renewable fuels to offset the fuel used during building, and avoids the bridge construction work raising carbon dioxide emissions,
why should it not be built, despite raising growth?
2. I have been striving to find any reason why trump acts as he seems to be, so I take your point about maybe its about him preferring technologies that can only be owned and controlled by the corporate sector.
3Dave Darby March 24th, 2017
Hi Steve. I apologise for the length of this response, but it’s the most important point, I think, when discussing sustainability. If I achieve anything at all with Lowimpact.org, I hope it’s that I manage to persuade a few more people that ‘sustainable growth’ is an oxymoron. Everything in nature grows to maturity then stabilises. Anything that tries to grow perpetually will kill its host eventually. Perpetual growth is cancerous, and will kill us unless we learn this lesson. The best people to read on this are Herman Daly, Tim Jackson and Richard Douthwaite. See here for our take on it http://www.lowimpact.org/lowimpact-topic/steady-state-economics/.
Here’s a condensed version: perpetual material growth obviously isn’t possible, and nobody is seriously arguing that it is (i.e. we can’t have more bridges, fridges, thimbles or anything, forever); economic growth means an increase in spending power (otherwise it’s not economic growth, it’s devaluation of the currency); it’s impossible to ring-fence the increase in spending power so that it’s not spent on material things; therefore perpetual economic growth is not possible. It has to stop somewhere – and as the global human footprint is currently estimated at 1.6 planets, I’m suggesting that we’re already well past a sustainable size for the global economy. A 1.6-planet means that we have to destroy nature to attempt to stay at that level. We only have one planet, not 1.6.
In the example you quote, the bridge should be built precisely because it mitigates growth. Once it’s built, it’s built, but the fuel savings from shorter journeys will continue year-on-year. The workers who come into the area will be consuming locally, but that will be offset by the fact that they’re not consuming elsewhere. Same for local businesses. If they’re out-competing outside businesses because of the bridge, then outside businesses will be producing less. But I guess you’re not suggesting that the world can support more and more bridges (or thimbles) forever?
Neither the recycling nor renewable energy industries can grow forever (nor can any industry) because a) they require energy (and if renewable energy can’t grow forever, then non-renewable energy certainly can’t); b) you can’t recycle 100% of anything – material is always lost; c) you also need recycling and renewable energy plants, which require bricks and mortar, trucks, roads, desks, chairs, vehicles, paper etc.; but most importantly, d) it generates more income for people who work in the recycling / renewables sectors, and you can’t ring-fence this growth in income so that it’s only spent on non-material services (and even if you could, there are no service industries that don’t use material things) – so if the recycling and renewables sectors grow, the amount of money in the economy grows, and more stuff gets consumed. If you think that somehow people’s material wants can be satiated, I refer you to the consumption habits of professional footballers, and anyway, the advertising industry won’t allow satiety. Recycling and renewables can’t be divorced from resource use and waste, and therefore can’t grow forever. Attempting to grow the economy perpetually inevitably means attempting to grow, materially, forever, which is obviously impossible (or more precisely, possible until ecological collapse).
I hope this makes sense. This needs to be learnt by the majority, very quickly, as we don’t have much time. A recent WWF report showed that we’ve lost 58% of all vertebrates (that’s sheer numbers – everything from fish up) since 1970, and it’s not stopping. That’s pretty drastic. And when you add that to soil loss, climate change, acidification of oceans, toxification, extinctions and all the other horrors that our booming population and economy is visiting on nature, we have to stabilise quickly or face the consequences.
If that hasn’t persuaded you, please listen to this guy http://www.lowimpact.org/economists-listen-to-this-man-and-if-you-are-intellectually-honest-you-will-begin-to-question-the-basic-assumptions-of-your-discipline/. He absolutely nails it. Professor Bartlett does a pretty good job in the video in that article too.