The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
Trick or Treat Energy Policies
A few months ago, an article from Grist was titled, Obama ignores Obama on climate. It is just one of many reports and commentaries naming the contradiction between the President's clearly defined attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the administration's enthusiastic policies to increase the production of fossil fuels.
It is not just Obama or US policy that has this contradiction, though. A recent analysis by Guardian writer George Monbiot shows the same confusion at the heart of UN climate negotiations through the last 20 years.
It reflects what I'm calling a "Trick or Treat Energy Policy", and it is time to move beyond the Halloween mindset.
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Halloween is a very special holiday for children (and some college students). Costumes let us venture into fantasy identities. School parties break up the classroom routine. And, most importantly, there is the candy. Lots and lots of candy.
Trick or treat night has nothing to do with moderation, sufficiency, or enough. The whole point of going door to door is to get more treats than you need. Some kids -- showing good potential as marketing consultants -- do advance research to identify neighborhoods that hand out the best quality and the highest volume of goodies. Even little tykes carry shopping bags or pillow cases to contain all the loot. Friends compete to see who can get the most.
When the night winds down, the kids go home and empty their bags onto the bedroom floor. Treats are sorted by brand and preference: chocolate bars here, peanut butter cups there, hard candies next to the candy corn, the little boxes of raisins off on the side.
On some level, even the youngest kids know that that eating it all isn't a good idea. Usually, parents intervene at some point to cull the harvest, either explaining to the kids about how much can safely be eaten, or just hiding it away after bedtime.
Trick or treat separates production from consumption. There's great fun in collecting as much as you can, knowing that a lot of it will be thrown out. When we're dealing with holiday traditions, wasting a pound of candy seems to be worth it.
The disconnect between government policies on energy and climate is a much more significant problem, but the same issues are involved. There are strong incentives to produce vast quantities of fossil fuels, even as we know full well that consuming all of them will make our planet deathly ill.
Producing energy-packed fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands -- is wonderful for those involved. It creates lots of jobs, corporate profits, tax revenue, and cheap energy for our society. And, just like Halloween, it is now common knowledge that the results of so much energy binging are not good for us.
The Halloween analogy breaks down a little bit here. The crisis comes, not with the consumption of the stuff, but with the emissions that are the natural next step in the process. I won't dwell too much on the biology involved, but consumption and emissions are pretty much inseparable.
Emissions from our massive consumption of fossil fuels are the most substantial driver of climate distortions. Carbon dioxide and methane over-heat the planet, warp climate patterns, and acidify the oceans.
This is where my eyes were opened by George Monbiot's article, Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change. He considers two decades of UN climate negotiations, and declares them a waste.
This process is futile because they have addressed the problem only from one end, and it happens to be the wrong end. They have sought to prevent climate breakdown by limiting the amount of greenhouse gases that are released; in other words, by constraining the consumption of fossil fuels. But, throughout the 23 years since the world's governments decided to begin this process, the delegates have uttered not one coherent word about constraining production.
The absurd disconnect between the production of fossil fuels and greenhouse emissions "permits governments to pursue directly contradictory policies. While almost all governments claim to support the aim of preventing more than 2C of global warming, they also seek to 'maximise economic recovery' of their fossil fuel reserves."
Governments want to disconnect the two parts of an energy process. The only way to do so is with the inefficient and probably unworkable process of "carbon capture and sequestration" or CCS. The energy is burned, but the emissions are captured and stored, usually underground. There are a few test operations, lots of environmental questions, and there's no way that CCS can work on a global scale. Just like with Halloween candy, lots of consumption will lead to lots of emissions.
The disconnected government policies have to be re-connected. Energy and economic goal have to be tied to their inevitable effects on climate and the environment.
Looking ahead to the next round of UN climate negotiations in December, Monbiot offers a short paragraph that calls for reduced production "of the kind that the Paris agreement should contain." If governments cannot or will not take that kind of action, then divestment from fossil fuels is the most viable strategy to keep 80% of the fossil fuels in the ground.
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Halloween is a delightful opportunity for fantasy and imagination. On that one night, kids can have great fun trying to maximize their production of energy-rich fuels in the form of candy. And they know that all of that fuel can't be consumed safely.
Year after year, governments and corporations try to have a trick or treat approach to energy policies. They act as if maximized production is a wonderful thing, without admitting that our society will, indeed, consume it all, with devastating emissions.
We're not kids, this isn't Halloween, and we're not dealing with candy. It is time to connect energy and climate policies, slash the extraction and production of fossil fuels, and get our emissions under control.
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