Global warming and the politics of fossil fuel
We’re not going to be able to transition to a non-fossil-fuel economy overnight, Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale Environment 360, said in an interview with OilPrice.com. But if you keep approving tar sands projects, or massive pipelines, or drilling in the Arctic, when does it stop?
(Page 2 of 4)
Fen Montaigne: No better evidence of the warming of the earth in the last century — and particularly in the last 30-40 years — exists than the melting of the cryosphere, or ice zones. More than 90% of the world’s glaciers are in retreat, and the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is nothing short of stunning.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
I have seen this melting with my own eyes, having spent 5 months researching a book on the Antarctic Peninsula, where sea ice and glaciers are retreating rapidly. Earlier this year, I visited a glacier in Switzerland that has retreated by a half-mile since I last saw it 20 years ago; this is not mere anecdotal evidence, as nearly all the glaciers in the Alps, Andes, etc., are in rapid retreat. (Related articles: Extreme Energy, Extreme Implications: Interview with Michael Klare)
The world is warming. The overwhelming evidence is that it’s caused by human activities. The only question is how hot things are going to get. If we continue doing as little as we are doing now to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, it is entirely possible that the world might be 5 to 10 degrees F warmer in a century or two, which is not a world I’d like my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to be living in.
Oilprice.com: More broadly on the climate change scene, Yale Environment 360 recently published an article discussing the implications of a climate activist movement seeking to persuade universities, cities and other groups to sell off their investments in fossil fuel companies. What’s the long-term logic behind this movement and what will the impact be?
Fen Montaigne: I won’t attempt to predict the impact of the divestment movement. But to me one thing is clear: If in the next 100 years the world’s oil, gas and coal companies develop all the fossil fuel assets that they’re now sitting on, the world is going to be a very unpleasant place in which to live, barring some technological miracle that enables us to suck vast amounts of CO2 out of the air. It’s this realization that is driving the divestment movement and the fight to slow climate change.
Believe me, as a 60-year-old American, living in the most affluent country in the most affluent period in history, I appreciate and value what fossil fuels have done for civilization. I know we’re not going to be able to transition to a non-fossil-fuel economy overnight. But if you keep approving tar sands projects, or massive pipelines, or drilling in the Arctic, when does it stop? When does this movement to a renewable energy economy begin? If I were running a fossil fuel company, I’d be uneasy about the concept of so-called “stranded assets,” because at some point — when seas begin to rise significantly, when weather is sufficiently wild and destabilized, and when things are just too damn hot — people, business owners, and governments are going to say it’s time to stop burning fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. I think that as global warming intensifies, it’s likely that a significant portion of the assets of fossil fuel companies are going to have to remain in the ground.
Oilprice.com: As the climate debate increasingly polarizes the American public, science seems to be getting in the way of agendas on both sides. Your magazine recently noted how even environmentalists are ignoring science when it stands in the way of furthering their agendas. Are we entering a period in which scientific facts will be completely sidelined as climate change becomes the strict purview of politics?