The early months of 2020 were a heady time for fossil fuel-hating climate worriers. Never mind that a new disease, that would go on to kill millions, was sweeping the planet. Never mind that huge swathes of humanity were effectively suffering house arrest. The roads were quiet. Emissions were falling. And oil was dead.

On 1st April 2020 the Guardian was ecstatic, crowing: “Analysts say the coronavirus and a savage price war means the oil and gas sector will never be the same again”. That was the sub-heading to an articlei that, in fairness, did contemplate the possibility that the oil industry might bounce back after the end of the pandemic, but it very much looked forward to it not doing so.

Whatever happens, the industry will never be the same again after the double whammy of the pandemic and price war. “The companies that emerge from the crisis will not be the ones that went into it,” said Carbon Tracker’s Bond. “We will see write-downs, restructuring and radical change.”

Less than three weeks later and the excitement was almost palpable. This time the headline to an articleii in the Guardian (on 20th April 2020) was “Oil prices dip below zero as producers forced to pay to dispose of excess”. Wow. Oil had become a liability! Better still:

Historically weak oil markets are likely to bring lower prices for drivers at service station forecourts, but the price collapse will also hurt pension savings which are often invested in major oil companies through funds which track equity markets. The oil price crisis has already wiped billions from the market value of the largest oil companies, many of which will not be able to pay dividends if the market rout drags on.

Fast Forward Seventeen Months

As I write this, in the evening of the last day in September 2021, Brent Crude is priced at $78.39 a barrel. Demand for oil has bounced bank with a vengeance, we have a shortage and queues at petrol stations, and the online headline in the Guardian this evening is rather different, the latest articleiii being headlined “Nearly half of UK’s independent petrol stations still lack fuel – Petrol Retailers Association say fuel is being bought faster than it is getting restocked”.

The story continues to be one of people being desperate to get their hands on fuel:

The Petrol Retailers Association said drivers were continuing to buy fuel faster than it could be restocked, despite the insistence from chief secretary to the Treasury, Simon Clarke, that the situation was “back under control”.

Things are also getting fraught:

The PRA chief executive, Gordon Balmer, said motorists were subjecting staff at forecourts to unacceptable levels of abuse and violence.

Imagine how motorists will react when they’ve all been forced to switch to electric cars, the wind isn’t blowing, the sun isn’t shining, and the French are playing hard ball about supplies via the interconnector. Politicians (of all parties), you have been warned.

Reality Hits Home

It should be fairly obvious by now that people, especially having spent months locked down, don’t want to be subject to ongoing restrictions any more. They want to be able to fly to sunny climes for their holidays. They want to fill up the fuel tanks in their cars and drive where they like. They don’t want empty shelves in shops. If they didn’t mind doing without we wouldn’t see examples of panic buying time and time again. And one Guardian journalist has come clean and accepted that the only way he and his fellow climate worriers can achieve their aims is by reducing economic activity.

On 29th September 2021 George Monbiot’s articleiv appeared in the Guardian under the heading “Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe”.

Having written “Saving the Planet by Trashing it”valmost six months ago, in which I pointed out that for many eco-worriors “…[a]ny environmental degradation is acceptable, even welcome, it seems, if it’s “renewable”. The end justifies the means…” I find it rather refreshing to read these words in the Guardian:

When we box up this predicament, our efforts to solve one aspect of the crisis exacerbate another. For example, if we were to build sufficient direct air capture machines to make a major difference to atmospheric carbon concentrations, this would demand a massive new wave of mining and processing for the steel and concrete. The impact of such construction pulses travels around the world. To take just one component, the mining of sand to make concrete is trashing hundreds of precious habitats. It’s especially devastating to rivers, whose sand is highly sought in construction. Rivers are already being hit by drought, the disappearance of mountain ice and snow, our extraction of water, and pollution from farming, sewage and industry. Sand dredging, on top of these assaults, could be a final, fatal blow.

Or look at the materials required for the electronics revolution that will, apparently, save us from climate breakdown. Already, mining and processing the minerals required for magnets and batteries is laying waste to habitats and causing new pollution crises. Now, as Jonathan Watts’s terrifying article in the Guardian this week shows, companies are using the climate crisis as justification for extracting minerals from the deep ocean floor, long before we have any idea of what the impacts might be.

…Everywhere, governments seek to ramp up the economic load, talking of “unleashing our potential” and “supercharging our economy”. Boris Johnson insists that “a global recovery from the pandemic must be rooted in green growth”. But there is no such thing as green growth. Growth is wiping the green from the Earth.

We have no hope of emerging from this full-spectrum crisis unless we dramatically reduce economic activity. Wealth must be distributed – a constrained world cannot afford the rich – but it must also be reduced. Sustaining our life-support systems means doing less of almost everything. But this notion – that should be central to a new, environmental ethics – is secular blasphemy.

Now, George and I have had our differencesvi, but on this occasion I feel he has identified a very real truth. There is no such thing as green growth. Green jobs are pie in the sky too. Pretty much every attempt to replace fossil fuels with “renewables” or to create some sci-fi “carbon capture” scheme, are both expensive and environmentally damaging.

The choice facing humanity is not the choice that will be offered us at COP26, between “climate chaos” or a “green revolution”. No, it’s a choice between continued use of fossil fuels and a dramatic reduction in our standard of living. Given the choice between CO2 emissions, and the environmental devastation caused by attempts to reduce CO2 emissions, I go with the environmentally-friendly life-enhancing choice every time, and I suspect so would most people when the choice is put to them in those terms. Does anyone really think those abusive panic-buying petrol forecourt gas-guzzling drivers want us to do less of almost everything? Does anyone really think people will be happy to pay more for the fuel for their motor vehicles, for the fuel for their homes, to be told they must travel less, possess less, and accept empty supermarket shelves and less choice?

No, although George’s essential premise is right, if it’s put to the people as he puts it, the “green revolution” will be stopped dead in its tracks. Oil isn’t dead after all. Long live oil.

Footnotes

i https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/01/the-fossil-fuel-industry-is-broken-will-a-cleaner-climate-be-the-result

iihttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/oil-prices-sink-to-20-year-low-as-un-sounds-alarm-on-to-covid-19-relief-fund

iii https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/sep/30/half-uk-independent-petrol-stations-out-of-fuel

ivhttps://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/sep/29/green-growth-economic-activity-environment

v https://cliscep.com/2021/04/11/saving-the-planet-by-trashing-it/

vi https://cliscep.com/2021/07/08/losing-the-plot/

19 Comments

  1. Andres Stuttaford wrote at National Review:

    “Instead of looking at these alternative approaches, the EU, the U.K., and, soon enough, the U.S., seem set on what is looking more and more like a headlong rush into disaster. To understand why this might be, it is important to understand that for many climate warriors a “bloody hard” transition is a feature, not a bug.

    Concentrating on resilience and adaptation do not follow the millenarian narrative that is an unmistakable subtext of the message now being sent out by many climate warriors, whether inside government, linked to government, or outside it.

    Underpinned by the expectation of apocalypse, this narrative, which has repeatedly demonstrated its dangerously persuasive power over the centuries, is based on the thought that a wicked humanity faces punishment and must, with the assistance of a morally superior, enlightened vanguard, be made to change its dreadful (often self-indulgent) behavior.

    Adaptation and resilience, by contrast, offer the prospect that our species will muddle on through, living pretty much as it has been doing, except even better, and without donning the hairshirt integral to so many climate warriors’ faith. Theirs has the characteristics of a religion, and there is little that is original about it.

    Pointless asceticism comes with the territory.”

    Stuttaford’s essay:
    https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/09/the-gathering-storm-but-with-not-enough-wind-europes-energy-mess-gets-worse-a-lesson-the-u-s-looks-set-to-ignore/
    My synopsis:

    Updated Sept. 28 Europe Energy Stress Test Under Way

    Liked by 2 people

  2. It was said of George Orwell that he couldn’t blow his nose without thinking of the condition of the workers in the handkerchief factory. Monbiot can’t wipe his bottom without worrying about the loss of biodiversity in the Scandinavian forest. He once agonised publicly about how he was obliged to buy a car because of the impossibility of getting from Oxford to Cambridge by public transport. (Oh, the sufferings of the journalist with two visiting professorships at once.)

    I agree with him though that we all of us consume far too much stuff. All of us except people trying to save for a mortgage on the minimum wage, or bring up children in a damp council flat, or run a business when half your clients can’t get on a bus without a passport and are at home clicking on Amazon… So not really all of us then. Just the chavs with their two cars and gadget-addicted kids. Not all of us; more all of them.

    I came to the same conclusion as George about consumer society at the age of eight, from spending Saturday afternoons being dragged round the shops to buy a new school blazer or look at curtains. Did George’s dad bundle the family into the Ford Prefect and head off to the shops every Saturday afternoon? As Chairman of the Conservative Party, possibly not.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was pleasantly surprised by an opinion piece in last weekend’s FT titled: “Gas crisis shows why we must stop demonising fossil fuels” with a sub-heading: “Whether we like it or not the green transition involves long term reliance on carbon-heavy energy”. The writer is the editor-in-chief of Money Week.
    It included the fact, familiar to sceptics, that fossil fuels supply approx the same share of the world’s primary energy as they did 10 years ago and went on to the obvious inference that renewables aren’t even keeping up with the growth in demand.
    A bit of solid common sense commentary in a paper which usually follows the green script.
    Straws in the wind, perhaps?

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “Europe risks €87 billion in stranded fossil gas assets, report reveals”

    Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, said that “with the EU Green Deal and the 55% target, natural gas demand in Europe needs to start declining today, otherwise we risk wasting billions of private and public funding on stranded assets. The fossil fuel era has passed – we must invest crucial public resources into reliable and cheap renewable energy that is ready today”.

    https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/news/europe-risks-e87-billion-in-stranded-fossil-gas-assets-report-reveals/

    This was probably a non-controversial thing to say on the 8th of April 2021. Now? Not so much. I wonder what “reliable and cheap renewable energy” Tubiana had in mind?

    Meanwhile the obsession with insulation (including during the present motorway clown fiesta) is nothing less than an admission that the electricity of the future will be too expensive to waste.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Thanks, as always, for the interesting comments and links.

    I think this winter might be crunch time. Realisation of what the net zero obsession is causing might just be dawning on people.

    George Monbiot’s revelation is gratifying in it’s way. My views of his writing vary between irritation at what seems to me to be an utterly one-sided and loaded way of writing, which to my way of thinking stretches the truth to its limits; and astounding honesty and clear-sightedness, telling the truths that many of his fellow-travellers wouldn’t touch with a bargepole.

    In that article he’s lifted the curtain on the real agenda. Will the Tory government (a TORY government, for pity’s sake) now wake up and smell the coffee?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Meanwhile:

    “China orders energy firms to secure winter fuel supplies at all costs
    World’s second biggest economy is grappling with power cuts that have affected industrial output”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/01/china-orders-energy-firms-to-secure-winter-fuel-supplies-at-all-costs

    “China’s central government officials have ordered the top state-owned energy companies to secure fuel supplies for winter at all costs as the country battles a power crisis that threatens to hit growth in the world’s second biggest economy.

    The vice-premier, Han Zheng, has told energy companies to make sure there is enough fuel to keep the country running and made it clear that Beijing would not tolerate blackouts, according to a report by Bloomberg.

    China has been hit by widespread power cuts that have closed or partly closed factories, hitting production and global supply chains.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The shortages of fossil fuels would be ameliorated immediately if all those opposed to their use stopped using and benefitting from the stuff. Today.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. “‘Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe”.

    I think George Monbiot is operating under a false premise. We need more of everything to solve poverty, pandemics, asteroid strikes, little ice ages, … We even need more billionaires. If we run out of something, they can go out into space and find more.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Mark, from the above post quote –

    “We have no hope of emerging from this full-spectrum crisis unless we dramatically reduce economic activity. Wealth must be distributed – a constrained world cannot afford the rich – but it must also be reduced. Sustaining our life-support systems means doing less of almost everything. But this notion – that should be central to a new, environmental ethics – is secular blasphemy.”

    anybody know what Monbiot is trying to say with this ?

    stopped reading the Guardian yrs ago as any anti comments went in the bad bin.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. dfhunter, I think his point is that rich people emit lots of CO2, so we can’t have rich people. Secondly, but more significantly for the rest of humanity, we need to do less of everything, because doing anything emits CO2, and also involves environmentally unfriendly activity – quarrying, mining, logging, etc. He seems to be firmly in the humanity is bad for the planet therefore we need to wear hair shirts group.

    Although he is a doomsday prophet to that extent, I found it encouraging that he has been brave enough to go against the politicians’ slippery mantra of talking about “green growth”, when what they are really talking about is destroying our way of life and the environment at the same time. Monbiot has come clean and simply pointed out that the concept of “green growth” is a fallacy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Monbiot IMHO has got it dead wrong when he concludes the world cannot afford the rich. It shows a real ignorance or denial of history. Until the late nineteenth century it was the rich that employed the skilled and the wise to provide them with fashioned objects or managed and protected their wealth. The wealthy endowed centres of learning in which the necessary skills and knowledge could be developed. Without the rich would we have anything of value? Certainly the objects and knowledge of the past that we value most today were produced for the rich and super-rich.

    The only possible exception to this is the church and it’s clergy that possess valuable objects and commonly a learned personnel. But it is arguable the these personnel are, or behave like, the rich.

    There is another aspect that Monbiot seemingly ignores – that huge swaths of us are actually richer than Croesus compared to those of the past. I am comfortable in my retirement yet cannot be considered rich compared with those of my contemporaries. Yet looking around my house I know that I have possessions that even the richest of the rich of the past would sacrifice most to possess : A functioning large, flat-screen television that dispenses information and entertainment not least amongst them.

    So it is my belief that the rich are essential to provide a demand for the skilled and knowledgeable. Without the rewards of becoming rich, where would the drive to control and organise our societies come from? What value would possession of skill or knowledge have?

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Alan, I largely agree with you, especially on the point that compared to pretty much everyone who has gone before we are mostly as rich as Croesus. However, I think it’s fair to say (though his words must speak for themselves) that Monbiot isn’t really interested in how humanity is doing, his overriding concern being the state of the environment. At least that’s how I read him. By those lights, the rich are harmful, because they have rich, CO2-spewing lifestyles.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Mark, Indeed the rich are harmful because they employ armies of other humans to cater for their needs/desires. Without the rich those people would starve or would never have been born. It is probably true that the environment would recover or thrive if human populations were decreased substantially, but who is going to advocate it, let alone put it into practice. The urban Chinese attempted to do it with the one child policy, but this eventually led to worker shortages and has been abandoned. What Monbiot is suggesting is impossible. We would require several Tamerlanes.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Alan:

    We would require several Tamerlanes.

    That got me reaching for Wikipedia:

    Timur invaded Baghdad in June 1401. After the capture of the city, 20,000 of its citizens were massacred. Timur ordered that every soldier should return with at least two severed human heads to show him. When they ran out of men to kill, many warriors killed prisoners captured earlier in the campaign, and when they ran out of prisoners to kill, many resorted to beheading their own wives.

    There’s more, in a similar vein. Best avoided, methinks.

    Like

  15. “UK industry could face shutdowns as wholesale gas price hits record high
    Steel, chemicals and fertiliser industries warn of difficult winter unless government takes emergency action”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/06/uk-industry-could-face-shutdowns-as-wholesale-gas-price-hits-record-high

    “…Paul Pearcy, federation co-ordinator at trade body British Glass, said companies that make windows could be forced to revert to powering their furnaces with polluting fuels that had been abandoned.

    “Some of our members still have heavy fuel oil on site, having moved over to gas,” he said. “Some of them are seriously considering moving back to that because of the price of gas….”.

    So much for oil being dead. Meanwhile, in Cloud Cuckoo Land:

    “…The business department said: “We are determined to secure a competitive future for our energy-intensive industries and in recent years have provided them with extensive support, including more than £2bn to help with the costs of energy and to protect jobs.

    “Our exposure to volatile global gas prices underscores the importance of our plan to build a strong, home-grown renewable energy sector to further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.””

    Like

  16. “Energy crisis reignites demand for oil, threatening climate targets, says IEA
    International Energy Agency warns shortage of gas and coal could trigger oil market rebound”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/oct/14/energy-crisis-reignites-demand-for-oil-and-poses-threat-to-climate-targets-says-iea

    “The worldwide energy crisis has reignited demand for oil, posing a threat to the world’s climate ambitions and the global economic recovery from Covid-19, according to the International Energy Agency.

    The global energy watchdog said the shortage of gas and coal across the biggest economies, which has caused energy markets to rocket, could trigger a faster-than-expected rebound in the oil market and drive demand to above pre-pandemic levels as soon as next year.

    The Paris-based agency said this would greatly increase costs for energy-hungry industries which, along with power outages, could lead to lower industrial activity and a slowdown in the world’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

    “Record coal and gas prices as well as rolling blackouts are prompting the power sector and energy-intensive industries to turn to oil to keep the lights on and operations humming,” the IEA said.”

    What a difference 18 months makes.

    Like

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