Everyone knows that trying to control the climate by reducing CO2 emissions is a joke -- or at least, everyone knows it who is not completely deluded by climate zealotry. But this is one of those jokes that you're not allowed to laugh at. Instead, you must listen to terribly earnest people telling you how desperately important this is to "save the planet," even as you know that the whole thing is completely preposterous and you are struggling to suppress uncontrolled snickering. Should you respond by making fun of them? If so -- and if you don't want to risk physical violence -- you had better do it in a way that they are too blinded to understand. Fortunately, this is much easier than you might think.
The strategy of making fun of the zealots seems to have been adopted recently by many of those on the receiving end of the zealotry. Prominent among these have been the major oil companies, who have found themselves the targets of shareholder activists, as well as of lawsuits from various city and county governments in California, New York and elsewhere. Other notable contributors to the humor include developing countries like China and India.
Consider first some of the back-and-forth between shareholder activists and the major oil companies. As we have gone through annual meeting season, all of the majors have found themselves attacked by shareholders demanding that they "do something" to reduce emissions and save the planet. Many of the activists come from places like state and city pension funds, which by the way are not small shareholders. Are these activists so dumb that they don't realize that the companies they have invested in are in the oil business, the whole purpose of which is to produce fossil fuels to get burned into CO2? It would certainly seem so.
Meanwhile, if you are an oil company, are you going to go right on producing your product -- and even more of it, if you can figure out how to do that? Of course you are. And of course everyone will keep buying the product. They need it! They need the product because fossil fuels are the best way to produce reliable energy at reasonable cost. And nobody -- least of all the environmental zealots themselves -- is willing to give up their electricity or their car or their airline trips. In other words, really, there is no point in taking this seriously. You might as well say something that only a total zealot will take literally, and everybody else will know is a joke. Consider a few examples.
In March, Chevron came out with its big Report on “Climate Change Resilience: A framework for decision making.” From the cover letter to the Report by Chairman Michael Wirth:
We are committed to addressing the risks of climate change while delivering the energy that benefits societies and economies. Throughout our long history, we have shown our resilience through our ability to adapt to changing conditions in the marketplace, and we will continue to adjust our business as needed to effectively and proactively manage climate change risks. Chevron recognizes that climate change is a growing area of interest for our investors and stakeholders.
What does that even mean? Nobody knows! One thing that it definitely does not mean is that they plan to produce less oil. Do you get it now?
Or consider the big full-page full-color ad from BP that appeared on page A21 of the print edition of the New York Times on April 17. Key text:
The world is growing and demanding more energy, but also demanding fewer emissions. At BP we’re fully committed to meeting this dual challenge and the transition to a low carbon future. This means reducing emissions in our operations, improving our products and creating low carbon businesses.
So, BP, what are you going to do about it?
We’ll achieve this by:
1. Delivering 3.5 million tonnes of sustainable emissions reductions
2. Targeting methane intensity of 0.2% for natural gas . . . .
Impressive! But wait a minute – I thought that methane is natural gas. Yes, but believe me, the New York Times readership does not know that. So what that last statement means is only that 98.8% of the methane/natural gas will get burned and go into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide instead of methane. It's meaningless! A joke! And how about that statement about the 3.5 million “tonnes” of “sustainable emissions reductions”? Does that sound like a lot to you? Then you've been fooled! It’s supposed to come from BP’s operations, meaning that it has nothing to do with the emissions that come from burning all of the fuels that they produce and sell in a year. The emissions from the burning of their products are on the order of 700 million tons per year (from 3.6 million bbl/day of oil produced), about 200 times as much as this promised savings from operations. In other words, this is only a promise to try to attain about a 0.5% reduction in their overall emissions, if you count both the emissions from their operations and from the use of their products. So, you ask, what about the production side? Are they planning any reductions in production, which is the source of 99+% of their emissions? Definitely not! From a year-end review of 2017 by BP’s “Chief Executive, Upstream,” Bernard Looney:
2017 was a strong year of delivery, demonstrated by the start-up of seven major projects.
Yes, actually the plan is to go right on increasing production, and as fast as they can. Of course it is. They’re an oil company. The 0.5% reduction in emissions from the operations portion is barely a rounding error. Are you starting to get the joke yet?
If you’re still not getting it, then perhaps consider the response of Shell to its own climate activist mob. Like Chevron, they put out a big end-of-2017 Report trumpeting their climate virtue, this one titled “Energy Transition and Climate Change.” What are your plans, guys?
We fully support the Paris Agreement’s goal to keep the rise in global average temperature this century to well below two degrees Celsius (2°C) above pre-industrial . . . . In pursuit of this goal, we also support the vision of a transition towards a net-zero emissions energy system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated . . . that limiting the rise in global average surface temperature to 2°C would require greenhouse gas emissions to reach net zero by around 2070.
OK, 2070 – that’s sufficiently far away that you can be one hundred percent confident that nobody will ever remember this pledge by the time the date rolls around. Meanwhile, what concrete steps are you going to take today? The Guardian reported back in November that Shell had announced plans to up capital spending in its “new energies” (renewables) division to $1-2 billion per year! You might be fooled by that until you realize that Shell’s 2017 earnings were $12.98 billion, and its planned investments in further oil and gas assets run in the range of $25-30 billion per year. If Shell is lucky, it can end up like the Official Manhattan Contrarian April Fool – Germany -- which has invested tens of billions of dollars annually in “renewable” (wind and solar) energy since the start of its Energiewende in 2010, only to have its consumer electricity bills rise to triple the U.S. average and its emissions not go down at all. Did I mention that wind and solar energy sources don’t actually work when you need them? That’s another part of the joke that you are not allowed to laugh at.
Perhaps by now you are comforting yourself with your knowledge that the world has signed on to the critical Paris Climate Agreement and therefore that overall world emissions are about to go into dramatic long-term decline. If you think you know that, then you are unfamiliar with actual terms of the Paris Agreement. In fact, all the important countries of the developing world, most notably China and India, declined to agree to any limits on their future increases in fossil fuel usage. It's just more people making fun of you!
For recent developments, let’s take a look at what’s happening in India. They have a few hundred million people who still don’t have access to electricity, and somehow think that they ought to get it. As of the beginning of this April, the official plans to provide electricity to these people included some 63,000 MW of new carbon-free nuclear capacity by 2030. But on April 5 the Financial Express of India reported that the Modi government had changed its mind and cut the 2030 nuclear goal from 63,000 MW to 22,480 MW. Commenter Dan Yurman of Energy Post had this to say on April 16:
The drastic reduction in planned construction of new reactors will diminish India’s plans to rely on nuclear energy from 25% of electrical generation to about 8-10%. The balance of new power requirements will likely be met by use of India’s enormous coal deposits.
An additional 40,000 MW of coal-fired electricity generation capacity? That's approximately equal to the entire electricity generation capacity of, for example, Australia. Yes, that's the very Australia that is desperately engaged in the effort to prove its climate virtue by closing down all of its own coal generation capacity and replace same with unreliable wind and solar. And that has been rewarded with doubled consumer electricity bills and regular blackouts. Now, in this one move, India is going to add more coal-based carbon emissions than would be saved if Australia shut down the entire country completely. All of this is completely in line with the Paris Agreement, of course.
Kind of funny, isn’t it?