Home | About | Donate

5 Reasons We Must Act Now to End Oil and Gas Production

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/05/22/5-reasons-we-must-act-now-end-oil-and-gas-production

Fascinating analysis by Kelly Trout here. Some of the questions we might answer for ourselves, though I am sure that a lot gets left in play.

An essential one is this: “Will governments manage decline quickly enough, and in a fair and just way?”

No, of course not. Maybe Iceland or New Zealand might accomplish some distant but useful approximation. And the more central participants in the Western empire might be pushed to operate better or worse, and should be. But their power depends on markets and is expressed in markets. We tend to miss the blunt fact of that because of popular ideologies that divide market from regulation. But markets almost wholly consist of regulation–of currency, credit, ownership, and the enforcement of these customs by the powerful and well connected over the weak and diverse. They do not exist without it.

So, we might appraise the current decline not as unmanaged, but as mismanaged:

  • The (more centrally managerial) US ruling class sacrifices populations to pocket the money it calls “bail outs,” allowing it to re-hire whom it pleases in relative monopoly.
  • Similarly, managerial elements in the US lay off workers without aid or compensation to further centralize wealth and control
  • The above requires lobbying of government; further lobbying allows them to externalize cleanup and health standards. This is done with the money gleaned from the above
  • The above lobbying produces regulations for the poor but does not impede the above investors.

This is typical market-driven management as it exists everywhere that businesses fail. The better-placed people steal funds; the poorly placed people maybe get a few paperclips and boxes of the company stationery as scrap paper and find a way forward–or do not. This is not a lack of management: it is the near-universal managerial assumption that we are not all in a single boat together and that their personal and class self-interest involves kicking people off and away from anything that might be used as a lifeboat.

The inevitability and non-arbitrary nature of that 1.5C boundary cannot be established exactly, but I do not mean to quibble: neither will any other figure until well after the looming nest of crises has passed. We are already well into a 6th extinction event involving a panoply of other environmental damage whose ongoing and combined results cannot be measured with certainty. We will surely continue to experience greater losses from actions already taken, so we might assess rationally that business as usual already failed some time back, so that what we have to do is to act quickly and effectively to cut losses–not exactly as governments and large businesses are doing, but by joining with more trustworthy actors and denying service as much as possible to failed institutions.

Since a just transition will not be delivered by markets, and Western governments derive and express power from and in markets, it will not be delivered by Western governments. These will continue to control markets towards centralized power and reduced responsiveness and utility.

None of this means that Kelly Trout is not completely correct that we need to put the oil industry into a managed decline. Even the wealthy, even the major investors in the hydrocarbon industries would be significantly better off were they to do this. The problem is that we can already see that they will not, and why they will not: the government shares in the largesse of the hydrocarbon industries and will continue to toady to them. We need to adjust our strategies to the context that exists, not what might have existed when we (the population in the US) had some electoral handle over government policy.

The process by which government will continue to err is essentially similar to the reasons that Trout describes so well for maintaining an oil well that will ultimately lose money: the lost money has already been invested. To pick on Joe Biden, since he is at the moment topical despite himself, it would be advantageous for him to present himself as a progressive or moderate candidate except that his trying to do so is preposterous even beyond the work of all propaganda outlets. His career history and his developed persona betray him in this. So his route to power is to court the centralized power with which he has connections, legal and illegal, and denying and defeating popular votes and causes. This lays the groundwork for the corruption and commitment of a new generation of henchpersons, and so the process continues until like a projectile in deep space, until something hits it. This would be trivial except that very nearly the entire government, and certainly its most powerfully placed members, are in mostly the same circumstances. Neither the government nor the billionaires who run it will “save us” just because wisdom might dictate that they do so.

I quite agree with Trout that fossil fuel phase-out plans will be part of anything that might occur that we would be tempted to call a recovery, though I find it important to distinguish what we need from what is usually implied by the word recovery: we will not long get away with needing what has been killing us. It is useless to want it back, though what follows may be worse. I also applaud efforts to push industry and the government formally known as Ours into some sort of survivable state. But doing so requires a lot of action outside of these large and largely moribund systems.

Consider what the difficulties currently are in simply not driving a car. Few of us drive because we love the evolved slop of regulation and rule that we might alternately call “the market” or “the global economy,” because we love what it has done to our lives and our families, nor even because it is worth purchasing a car and insurance and gasoline and the risk of fatal accident to get to Starbucks. We do it because we have no developed and evolved alternative of anywhere near the extent and gravity that might support us collectively. That does not make the system right or good or just or even survivable, but it sure does make people reluctant to leave it.

That system, that slop, is failing and therefore changing. If we allow the central elements of its rule to determine what emerges, what results will be a further centralized, further coercive system, much along the lines of Karl Marx’s 1800s analyses of “late-stage capitalism,” with Amazon, Raytheon, GE, Microsoft, Exxon, their generic or not-so-generic Rothschilds and Rockefellers and the like thoroughly cross-invested, to vie for formalized and consolidated and eventually calcified monolopy and control, and populations relegated to a state functionally more closely resembling that of livestock–an alternative to the “chaos” of individual and local autonomies.

To avoid such a state, we need individual and local autonomous arrangements that can adequately support us in an ongoing way. You and I cannot need to drive to work to eat, drink and at some point reproduce because living creatures will not desist from doing these things.

So we need to find and to create trustworthy local entities to accomplish these things. Doing it partially is better than not doing it at all. Doing it all yourself is usually not how this can be made to work. We likely have a depression coming up; ask yourselves how Grandma, Great-Grandma, or Great-Great-Grandma got the kids and the chickens through that.

1 Like

This is a dumb article. It gives way too much weight to the climate destruction caused by fossil fuels when more is actually caused by the animal ag business. Addressing one without addressing the other is foolish and shortsighted.

I see phasing out fossil fuels as a very long term project, and it may be darn near impossible until we literally run out given how dependent we as a society are of them.

Yes, the animal ag industry is going to do us in. How can it possibly be stopped? Our COVID experience shows us how much of our fossil fuel use is completely unnecessary: yet, we will quickly ramp up, because unnecessary is us. Aimless driving around, futile consumption of the totally useless, aimless air travel, compulsive pro-game watching, etc.: we have to have it all, even while it kills us. We will have it, and it will kill us.

“We Must Act…” “Our” governments are in on the game, at the heart of it. They will do nothing to stop it, everything to promote it, until the bitter end. “We” are totally immaterial. What we can do is revolt, obstruct, rebel, and stymie the entire system. Not much appetite for it, that I can see. Maybe I’m wrong, and it is building. Otherwise, we comment, vote, await our doom.

A large question is “How well can that be made to work?”
Europe, particularly northern Europe under pressure from its Green parties, have adopted policies to stop using fossil fuels. Germany doubled down on it, ordering the shutdown of its nuclear reactors, when the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster happened.
– What has been the result so far: A fair amount of “not spoken of” backing up their energy system with dirty coal, and no progress towards their declared Paris Accord climate goals.
– Germany knew what was needed, and Germans invented a word for it: “Energy poverty”, but they haven’t found a way for everyone to equitably embrace it, and live by it, going forward forever.

After World War II Pres. Truman asked former President Hoover, a managerial whiz with past experience administering relief, a similar to ending fossil fuel use question about Germany. Hoover traveled to Germany to get the data, and reported back that it could be done, if the German population were reduced by several million more people.

Obviously our current government is almost small enough to drown in a bathtub, or at least it is acting small. It needs to act much larger. The Covid-19 response has grown it quite a bit so let’s not stop at that.

Some people are chaffing at being told to stay home but most are complying. Now is the time to wean Americans off the idea that they should be able to go anywhere, anytime the chose. The Green economy needs workers, millions of people who are no longer needed to serve coffee or show expensive dresses to skinny women are now free to do that work. They have already collected a government check, now Congress can make that check weekly.

Most governors have stepped up to protect their citizens and now they will have ready workers to build the renewable energy resources needed to power the new economy.

While it is a cliché this crisis can not be allowed to go to waste.