Is the soft power of the fossil fuel industry slowing our move away?

The first papers linking carbon emissions and fossil fuel burning were released a long time ago. How long ago? Try John Henry of the Smithsonian Institution at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in 1856. Entitled, “Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays,” the paper was the first research linking increased carbon dioxide with warmer air.

That is 166 years ago!

We recognize that fossil fuels are the problem, yet their paid lobbyists continue to get access to politicians across the globe.

It is true that fossil fuel companies usually have little real power. Instead, they rely on the power they get through donating money to people of influence. How can we break this “soft power”?

What have they done?

  • Spent literally billions on controling the conversation about global warming, and changing the topic of the conversation. For instance what is your carbon footprint? Is something that they have pushed hard – by making everyone think about their own carbon footprint, they move who needs to act, from them to their customers. They also include creating so-called climate solutions, taking tiny percentages of their profits -in an effort to look like they are working for humanity.
  • They have also invested huge amounts into so-called education of the next generation (obviously in their way of thinking).
  • Funding of sports and other things that might influence young people, and in a similar way, arts and culture. Even allowing an oil companies logo to be put on a wall of a museum without explanation is likely to give them a subconscious boost, quite unfair – and something that the museum should never wish to do.

How bad is it? Well increasingly, it is being made more and more clear how long these companies have known about global warming. They are finding themselves on the end of fines that are enormous. However, what is clear, is that they must be seen as what they are – companies who have worked hard to keep society requiring their products, even as they ignored the damage that they were doing to the world. A simple example is the destruction of the early electric car industry – had the electric car won over back in 1920, how many billions of tonnes of carbon would have been saved.

So what can we do? Well this is hard – the fossil fuel companies have done well and being required. This is slowly changing – electric cars are now back, and provided countries do not backslide new combustion engine cars will cease to appear within the next few decades. Likewise the electricity generation is rapidly transferring into green.

The result of everything that we know, should lead to fossil fuel companies being the pariah of the human society. They should be unable to give their money away to sporting events or museums. They must be seen as a hideous and lying industry, that will only be tolerated as long as essential.

How quickly can we move away?

  • Cars are likely to go electric at a faster and faster rate. Companies as large as Toyota are well aware that they are risking bankruptcy by being at the back of the pack. This is often one of the highest carbon emissions for a family.
  • Thermal solar and heat pumps are far more efficient that burning gas, and increasingly are finally starting to be recognized as such. While currently nascent, geothermal also has great potential in much of the world.
  • Even industries as dirty as air travel are greening fast. Airlines such as easyjet are aiming to be fliying hybrid planes within the next decade and fully electric not long after. While most of these are relatively short range (1000 miles or so), with batteries improving, and other ideas in the pipeline, we may be able to decarbonize flight sooner than predicted

There are obviously other things we can do, outside the world of fossil fuels but this has to be the first step.

Tomorrow I will look at the progress on nuclear fusion (what happens in the sun) and the potential way that this can take over from fossil fuels by replacing the base load of our grid.

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