Naomi Klein argued in her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate that “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war”
As the scientific community warns the world must dramatically and rapidly slash carbon emissions to avert global climate disaster, the United States is expanding fossil fuel extraction far more quickly than any other nation and is on pace to account for 60 percent of the global growth in oil and gas production between now and 2030.
“We need a complete overhaul of our economy with a Green New Deal, and that overhaul must include standing up to the fossil fuel industry in order to take us off this path of devastation for our climate and communities.”
—Kelly Trout, Oil Change International
These are just two alarming findings from a report (pdf) published Wednesday by Oil Change International (OCI), which warns that—unless radical action on the scale of a Green New Deal is taken—U.S. fossil fuel production could single-handedly imperil the world’s ability to adequately confront the climate crisis before it’s too late.
“Our findings present an urgent and existential emergency for lawmakers in the United States at all levels of government. The oil and gas industry is expanding further and faster in the United States than in any other country at precisely the time when we must begin rapidly decarbonizing to prevent runaway climate disaster,” said Kelly Trout, senior research analyst at OCI and co-author of the report, which was produced in collaboration with 350.org, Friends of the Earth, and over a dozen other progressive organizations.
“This report should be a wake-up call for elected officials who consider themselves to be climate leaders,” Trout added. “We need a complete overhaul of our economy with a Green New Deal, and that overhaul must include standing up to the fossil fuel industry in order to take us off this path of devastation for our climate and communities. Anything less than a full, swift, and just managed decline of fossil fuel production is too little, too late.”
Titled “Drilling Towards Disaster,” OCI’s report estimates that the continued expansion of massive fossil fuel extraction and pipeline projects throughout the U.S. under President Donald Trump has put the nation on track to account for 60 percent of global growth in fossil fuel production between 2019 and 2030—the year by which United Nations experts say the world must cut carbon emissions in half to avert planetary catastrophe.
According to OCI’s research, the U.S. is expanding oil and gas extraction “at least four times more than any other country.”
Additionally, the new analysis finds that the United States is on pace to release 120 billion tons of new carbon pollution—”equivalent to the lifetime CO2 emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants”—into the atmosphere between 2018 and 2050.
“If not curtailed, U.S. oil and gas expansion will impede the rest of the world’s ability to manage a climate-safe, equitable decline of oil and gas production,” the report warns.
OCI’s report comes just days after new figures from the independent research firm Rhodium Group showed that carbon emissions surged by 3.4 percent in 2018, thanks in part to the Trump Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing efforts to roll back regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
To begin reversing this planet-threatening increase in fossil fuel production—which the Trump administration has gleefully touted as the president denies the human caused-climate crisis—OCI’s report offers a series of recommendations that would begin aligning U.S. policy with the urgent demands of the scientific evidence.
These recommendations include:
- Banning all “new leases, licenses, or permits that enable new fossil fuel exploration or production, or new long-lived infrastructure such as pipelines, export terminals, or refineries”;
- Developing a plan to phase out existing fossil fuel production that priorities the poor and vulnerable communities that are most severely impacted by the climate crisis;
- Halting all “subsidies and other public finance for the fossil fuel industry”;
- Backing a Green New Deal that “ensures a rapid and just transition to 100 percent renewable energy”;
- Rooting out the influence of fossil fuel money on the American political system.
As Common Dreams has reported, momentum for a Green New Deal has grown throughout the U.S. thanks to persistent organizing and action by the youth-led Sunrise Movement and bold progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who helped push the ambitious proposal into mainstream political discussion.
“Right now, we’re on a sinking boat, and instead of just scooping water out, we must take immediate action to patch the hole where it’s gushing in.”
—Patrick McCully, Rainforest Action Network
According to a survey published in December, 81 percent of Americans support a Green New Deal.
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in a statement that OCI’s research “adds even more urgency to the need for a just transition off of fossil fuels to a renewable energy economy.”
“To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we must keep oil, coal, and gas in the ground,” Boeve said. “It’s time for public officials at every level to follow the lead of communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and support bold climate policy.”
Patrick McCully of the Rainforest Action Network agreed, noting that incremental measures are not nearly enough to sufficiently address the global climate crisis and prevent the worst-case scientific predictions from becoming reality.
“Right now, we’re on a sinking boat, and instead of just scooping water out, we must take immediate action to patch the hole where it’s gushing in,” McCully concluded. “This means we must put a full-stop to fossil fuel expansion, or we all sink into climate chaos. U.S. policymakers—as well as the private sector, like the Wall Street banks that are funding this extraction—must facilitate phasing out extraction while phasing in an equitable transition to renewable energy that supports communities and workers.”
New U.S. Oil And Gas Drilling To Unleash 1,000 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Pollution By 2050
Amid mounting calls to phase out fossil fuels in the face of rapidly worsening climate change, the United States is ramping up oil and gas drilling faster than any other country, threatening to add 1,000 coal plants’ worth of planet-warming gases by the middle of the century, according to a report released Wednesday.
By 2030, the U.S. is on track to produce 60 percent of the world’s new oil and gas supply, an expansion at least four times larger than in any other country. By 2050, the country’s newly tapped reserves are projected to spew 120 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
That would make it nearly impossible to keep global warming within the 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial averages, beyond which United Nations scientists forecast climate change to be catastrophic, with upward of $54 trillion in damages.
The findings ― from a report authored by the nonprofit Oil Change International and endorsed by researchers at more than a dozen environmental groups ― are based on industry projections collected by the data service Rystad Energy and compared with climate models used by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading climate research body.
By 2050, the country’s newly tapped reserves are projected to spew 120 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
The report casts a new light on the impact of the U.S. fracking boom and calls into question the Trump administration’s stance that China, which surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide in 2007, remains the biggest impediment to halting warming.
“The United States is moving further and faster to expand oil and gas extraction than any other country,” said Kelly Trout, the report’s lead author and a senior research analyst at Oil Change International. “We need to be transitioning off oil and gas, and the United States dumping huge amounts of dirty oil on the world market is incompatible with effectively and equitably addressing climate change.”
Nearly 90 percent of new U.S. oil and gas drilling through 2050 is expected to depend on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial technique that blasts bedrock with chemical- and sand-laced water, creating cracks that release previously inaccessible fuels. Upward of 60 percent of the emissions enabled by new U.S. drilling would come from two major fracking hot spots ― the Permian Basin, a massive field stretching from Texas to New Mexico; and the Appalachian Basin, encompassing most of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
Continued extraction in the Permian Basin alone would use up 10 percent of the emissions that remain in the entire world’s carbon budget to keep warming within 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of the projected 120 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, 80 billion tons would come from oil production. The other 40 billion are pegged to the production of natural gas, the country’s top source of electricity, which the industry has long touted as a “bridge fuel” from dirtier coal to a low-carbon power system.
But methane ― the main component in natural gas, which traps more heat than CO2 but dissipates in the atmosphere much faster ― leaks during the drilling and shipping process.
By comparing IPCC data to figures from a July 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, the Oil Change International report projects that methane will add 10 to 24 percent of the cumulative emissions from U.S. oil and gas production between 2018 and 2050.
The authors cited a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis that replacing all coal use with gas and renewables by 2035 “would not be sufficient” to get power sector emissions onto a trajectory that would keep warming within 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit ― the temperature cap the world agreed to under the 2015 Paris agreement.
The report calls on federal and state lawmakers to cut off the $20 billion in subsidies fossil fuels receive each year and urges regulators to ban new leases, licenses and permits.
That seems unlikely to happen under President Donald Trump. Promising a new era of “energy dominance,” the White House last year laid out an ambitious plan to expand oil and gas production in federally controlled waters and lands as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department moved to cut regulations on the industry.
The Trump administration has even continued to approve new oil drilling permits during the chaotic four-week partial government shutdown.
But state-level initiatives could prove more promising. Colorado voters rejected a proposition in November that would have set stringent requirements that new oil and gas drilling be located at a minimum of 2,500 feet from occupied buildings or other vulnerable areas. But the ballot measure, called Proposition 112, would have made about 85 percent of nonfederal land in the Centennial State off limits to the fossil fuel industry and could provide a framework that state officials could replicate in regulations.
“The United States is the world’s largest economy and historically has been responsible for polluting the most globally,” Trout said. “The United States has a greater responsibility and a greater capacity than just about any country to lead in phasing out its fossil fuel use and production.”
The report also proposes a plan to phase out fossil fuel use under a Green New Deal that would guarantee good-paying jobs to workers in dirty industries and zero out emissions on an aggressive timeline.
That could offer some hope. A new cadre of left-wing Democrats who took office this month is championing a Green New Deal, and half the likely candidates running for the Democratic nomination in 2020 say they support it in one form or another. On Saturday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) became the first declared candidate for president to take the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, committing herself to rejecting fossil fuel industry money.
“Addressing the climate crisis by only considering fossil fuel demand is fighting with one hand tied behind our back,” Nicole Ghio, a senior program manager at the environmental nonprofit Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “To avert climate disaster, we need a Green New Deal that protects workers, empowers communities, and phases out all fossil fuels.”
Ahead of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world’s wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that’s been called both the “money Oscars” and a “threat to democracy”—the group published a report declaring, “Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe.”
The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here.”
—Naomi Klein, author and activist
While WEF has made a habit of recognizing the threat posed by the human-made climate crisis in its Global Risks reports—for which it has garnered some praise—author and activist Naomi Klein was quick to challenge the narrative presented in the latest edition (pdf), pointing out that many of the polices pushed by the very people invited to the exclusive event have driven the global crisis.
“Sleepwalking? Nah. The policies of global deregulation, privatization, unending consumption, and growth-worship that you advanced so aggressively in order to construct the Davos Class marched us here,” she tweeted. “Pretty sure your eyes were wide open.”
While Klein—who argued in her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate that “our economic system and our planetary system are now at war”—brought a critical eye to the report’s warnings about the dangers of failing to limit global warming, others welcomed the attention given to the crucial issue.
WEF’s Global Risks Perception Survey solicits input from nearly 1,000 “decision-makers” across government, big business, academia, and civil society, and aims to identify both short- and long-term threats to the international community.
“Extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, but our survey respondents are increasingly worried about environmental policy failure.”
Environmental threats—including extreme weather, failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, natural disasters, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse, and man-made environmental disasters—dominate the top 10 lists for both likelihood and impact.
“Extreme weather was the risk of greatest concern, but our survey respondents are increasingly worried about environmental policy failure,” the report notes, acknowledging that “biodiversity loss is affecting health and socioeconomic development, with implications for well-being, productivity, and even regional security.”
Responding in a statement, Marco Lambertini, director general of World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International, said: “Recognition of the dangers posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is not enough. The science is clear: we need to see urgent and unprecedented action now.”
“The consequences of not changing course are enormous not just for nature, but for humans. We depend on nature much more than nature depends on us,” Lambertini added. “Global political and business leaders know that they have a major role to play in safeguarding the future of economies, businesses, and the natural resources we depend on.”
“Recognition of the dangers posed by climate change and biodiversity loss is not enough. The science is clear: we need to see urgent and unprecedented action now.”
—Marco Lambertini, WWF International
Concerns about governmental failure to adequately address the climate crisis declined among “the Davos Class” after world leaders came together to sign the Paris agreement, according to Reuters. But that changed after President Donald Trump took office and announced plans to ditch the accord, which aims to limit warming within this century to 1.5°C—a goal that experts say would require immediately phasing out fossil fuels.
Additionally, as Aengus Collins, the WEF report’s author, told Reuters, “People… are beginning to understand increasingly the gravity of the situation and that the Paris agreement, even if fully implemented, cannot be seen as a panacea.”
In October, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out a report detailing what the world could look like with that level of warming, and demanding “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented” systemic reforms. That report has been followed by various studies outlining how the United States is “drilling toward disaster” with fossil fuel expansion while the oceans are warming and ice is melting at alarming rates.
Along with rising sea levels, the crisis has also featured devastating hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires. One analysis of last year’s costliest climate-driven extreme weather events estimated that the top 10 storms, droughts, fires, and floods of 2018 caused at least $84.8 billion in damage, almost certainly an underestimate. Experts warn that as the planet warms, such events will become more common and powerful.
Despite warnings from the global scientific community and mounting public demands for a Green New Deal, Trump and his backers continue to downplay the threat and attack climate and environmental regulations. Although the president no longer plans to attend the Davos meeting due to the government shutdown he has forced over border wall funding, five members of his administration are supposedly still set to attend.
Regardless of whether the government reopens by next week, CNBC reports that “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will lead the five-strong delegation which also includes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross; U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; and Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Coordination, Chris Liddell.”