Within the last thirty years or so, five of the biggest American oil companies have dished out around 3.6 billion dollars to “convince” the world, and those with political power, that their industry is not detrimental to the environment.
In 2017-18, “fossil fuels outspent renewables by more than 13 to 1” in US politics, according to Yale Climate Connections.
Since January 2017, when President Trump was sworn into office, the industry has basically been on a field day celebration. Without a moment of hesitation, Mr. Trump seized the Environmental Protection Agency and ripped out its spine with his bare hands. As of May 2020, his administration has successfully reversed, revoked or rolled back 64 rules aimed at protecting the environment, and he’s working on dissecting and gutting another 34.
By the looks of it, the environmental progress made in the last few decades is now rolling down the gutter, headed for the sewer. It may not be long before major US cities look like some in China and India, where even on the most cloudless days you’re as likely to catch a clear glimpse of the sun as you are to see the Loch Ness monster parading down the highway.
But despite all the efforts by the powers in mention, renewable energy is not only standing strong, it’s actually expected to replace coal as the main source of U.S power this year.
How is this happening?
For one, coal plants continue to get retired as a result of numerous market forces, and their most viable replacements are from renewable sources. The price of solar and wind energy continues to drop, increasing their ability to compete with fossil fuels. This is quite amazing considering how the US has put ten times more taxpayer dollars into subsidizing oil, gas and coal than on education.
But let’s not jump for joy just yet. This doesn’t mean we’re barreling towards a world covered in green meadows and bunny rabbits and people holding hands under blue skies, gleefully swaying their bodies to the tune of John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
Although it emits less C02 when compared to the burning of coal, natural gas takes a significant toll on the environment when we examine the entire life cycle. Drilling and extraction from wells, along with the need for transport by way of pipes, can result in substantial methane leakages, a gas with 86 times more global warming potential than C02 over a 20-year period.
The expansion of renewables has also gotten quite a boost from the Covid-19 crisis. As offices, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, etc., are devoid of workers and patrons, the demand for energy has taken a dive. Coal plants are more expensive to operate than renewables, which is why utility companies are relying more on wind and solar.
But the Covid crisis will eventually end, and demand for energy will get catapulted once again. The burning of fossil fuels (along with other human activities, like animal agriculture) can warm the planet to dangerous levels for our civilization. Sure, market forces are moving the dial in an environmentally favorable direction, but this apparent shift is not deterministic.
There’s also the chance Mr. Trump gets another four years and pulls something out of his sleeve to hinder these market forces, and it won’t be a rabbit he picked up from a lush green meadow.
So let’s not let our guard down, and let’s continue to strive for a better, cleaner world as if our lives depended on it, and that means voting for leaders who will do more than simply allow us to imagine.
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