In the turbulence of modern daily life, a number of factors have emerged as constants. There are of course a great many, but a few in particular have become a staple of the weirdness that is modern life. One of them we can’t help but notice, and the other one we can’t help but ignore. Perhaps there is vast potential in marrying these current cultural oddities.
The first factor is, of course, climate change. This past week saw the tension ratcheted up to a near breaking point. The climate change movement has chosen to try to limit global emissions by going for the jugular of modern society, attacking the most wildly predominant fuel sources as dangerous (by, say, comparing the natural gas that heats your home with tobacco), and by, to a much lesser extent, attempting to change human behaviour (such as trying to convince the general population that the battery-powered EV is the same sociological/economic/empowering breakthrough that the automobile was to the horse (it is not going well)). The climate change debate has, I believe, been covered elsewhere on the web, so we’ll park that for a minute.
The second factor, the one that we choose to ignore but really shouldn’t, is the way we blithely sign away our lives electronically, giving up permissions and security and privacy by blindly signing Terms and Conditions statements every time we, for example, upgrade the operating system on our cell phones. Apple requires you to agree to a 12-page legal document as a condition of using their product. We mutter “blah blah blah” and search for the “I Agree” button with no clue as to what we’re agreeing to. By clicking that icon, we give Apple or whoever free rein to run amok as they please. Weird as that habit is, it is the only way in this litigious society that we can get what we want out of these ubiquitous devices.
With respect to energy, we expect and demand the same functionality and freedom of usage, yet many influential people choose to push the responsibility onto someone else, the equivalent of holding Apple responsible because you’ve gotten fat playing Candy Crush. Perhaps the energy world needs to take a page from the tech world.
A wise, big bald man that frequents the Etam Energy Sanctuary & Emporium had a great idea by which we can perhaps use the latter factor, in a far more simple way, to achieve the world’s emissions-reduction goals that are creating all the furor in the climate wars. So, for the second time this fall, here is another fool-proof way to meet the world’s emissions targets (the first, a proposal to ban all commercial air traffic, garnered absolutely no support from anywhere despite the simplicity and brutal efficiency by which it would have easily met climate goals. You can lead a horse to water…).
At the risk of alienating a lot of people that are worried about climate change, we need to acknowledge a fundamental fact: the current strategy of strangling fossil fuel capital and otherwise obstructing the industry is not working. As with the eternal drug war, attacking suppliers never, ever gets rid of demand. Don’t take my word for it; the head of the International Energy Agency pointed out recently that world energy demand growth continues unabated – coal, oil and natural gas all set new global consumption records in 2018. As the IEA pointed out the year before, fossil fuels provided 81 percent of total energy demand, a figure that has been stable for 3 decades despite trillions in renewable investment. The energy demand pie just keeps growing, and renewables are helping to fill the need, but making no headway in reducing fossil fuel reliance.
How does this tie in to the climate change issue and General Terms & Conditions (GT&Cs)? We need to start using these legal war-clubs, as Apple does for example, so that consumers can start making the consumptive link that they are not making otherwise and, like Apple, not accepting responsibility for secondary consequences of usage of their devices.
Here then is a new strategy: before direct purchase or use of fossil fuels, consumers must acknowledge and sign that their purchase is contributing to the global emissions issue, and that they waive any right to sue or otherwise hold anyone else accountable for the emissions that will be created by consumption of whatever it is they are buying.
Each time a consumer pulls up to the gas pump, there needs to be a signed acknowledgment that the fuel they are purchasing is part of the global emissions world, and that they are choosing to create just a little bit more. Not the supplier, not the producer; the user.
Each time a consumer elects to receive natural gas to their house or business, they must acknowledge same.
Each time a vacationer boards a cruise ship, or climbs on a plane, they must acknowledge same.
For consumers that plug an electrical device into something that is purely powered by wind or solar, an argument can be made that they are not using fossil fuels. But that hinges on how far we should hold individuals responsible for their purchase actions, because a great deal of fossil fuels went into the construction of every item in that EV chain. We might get to the point of absurdity by requiring acknowledgement of that, and lord knows we don’t want any absurdity in this discussion.
At the same time, as the IEA also pointed out, 1/3 of the world’s energy-related emissions come from coal, predominantly from Asia. It seems safe to say at this point that the vast majority of those people do not have a choice at present; coal is a part of the landscape that will be hard to remove. The largest Asian nations, the few that consist of over 3 billion people, are expanding every energy source – renewable and non-renewable. They need it all.
We in the west however have vastly more luxuries and infinitely more choices. We choose daily what we consume. If we don’t like consuming natural gas in winter, we can find other solutions, or move, if it bothers us that much. If we don’t like the emissions of planes or cruise ships or whatever, we can choose not to partake. We don’t need to go on holidays no matter how much we claim to need one, and we don’t need to fly anywhere, ever. We choose to.
The part about moving if we choose not to consume heating fuel may sound flippant/facetious, but it’s not, if one is truly alarmed that civilization is in peril from the continuing consumption of fossil fuels. There is no shortage of literature pointing to specific dates by which we will be irreversibly doomed. The degree to which one assigns credibility to those forecasts should, by sheer logic, be the degree to which one is willing to cut any emissions expenditure that is not absolutely necessary. So move somewhere that doesn’t require fossil fuel heat.
Would this process allow petroleum producers to get off scot-free? Not by a long shot. Petroleum (and coal) producers remain in highly targeted industries. Think about it – organized campaigns around the world are working feverishly to convince investors to shun fossil fuel investments. Activist organizations are attacking insurers, urging them not to underwrite fossil fuel infrastructure. To say that producers are not under pressure is to defy reality and common sense. No other industry is facing such an unrelenting, global attack.
Who is not under pressure? The very consumers that must, at some point, choose between lifestyle and lowering emissions. Citizens that refuse to make a link between their consumption, of whatever stripe, and the emissions involved in creating what they consume. When we, or our politicians, or activists, say “We need to do better” they need to start with the person in the mirror. End users consume what they like, where they like, and are the ultimate creators of demand. Some care a great deal about their environmental footprint, some care none at all, and most are focused on other more immediately consequential issues in their daily lives.
I know what you’re saying; that people ignore the tech legalities and they’d ignore the emissions ones. That might very well be true. But at the same time, we might finally, finally, start connecting the greater consciousness with the fact that emissions are a cost of our lifestyle, and that the desire to lower emissions is far far greater than is implied by those that choose simply to attack industries they don’t like. And if this plan does absolutely nothing to lower emissions, then we will be starting down the right path to finding a meaningful solution.
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