Let's stop being fossil fools

Let's stop being fossil fools

Why do we still need fossil fuels? Why are we still burning these finite resources that spew out air pollution when we can harness power from cleaner sources? It all comes down to human greed.

The United States could be on the brink of another war and for what? The answer is oil. The world is on edge following an attack that knocked out half of Saudi Arabia's oil production. Everyone blames Iran, and US President Donald Trump says he can't rule out a military response.

Iran is "lashing out" because its own oil exports have been severely curtailed by US sanctions, retired vice-admiral John Miller, a former commander of the US 5th Fleet, told Foreign Policy magazine. "If they can't export oil, why should anybody else?" he asked rhetorically.

He argued that Iran had been creating "havoc" in the Strait of Hormuz for the same reason, but striking Saudi Arabia directly is far more effective. "It's a way for them to even the table without affecting the Strait of Hormuz."

Now the US is "locked-and-loaded", according to Mr Trump, while Iran's foreign minister says a military strike on his country would trigger "all-out war". All of this, for what? Because Iran wants to sell oil and the US doesn't want it to? Pathetic.

If the US had more renewable energy like Germany, it wouldn't care so much about who is selling or who is buying oil. Nor should it, argues Duncan Clark, co-author of The Burning Question.

"Fuel is enormously useful, massively valuable and hugely important geopolitically, but tackling global warming means leaving most of it in the ground -- by choice," he wrote in an article in The Guardian in 2013.

He argues that cutting CO2 emissions is like squeezing a balloon, as gains made in one place are cancelled out by increases elsewhere because of the nature of exponential growth. It's a feedback loop that he likens to the exponential growth of credit-card debt, where interest is piled on top of interest.

The invention of the steam engine, he reminds us, enabled people to mine more coal to power more steam engines capable of extracting yet more coal. On the plus side, it paved the way for better technologies that led to economical ways of extracting oil.

"But oil didn't displace coal. It helped us mine it more effectively and stimulated more technologies that raised energy demand overall," he writes.

"So coal use kept rising too -- and oil use in turn kept increasing as cleaner gas, nuclear and hydro came onstream, helping power the digital age, which unlocked more advanced technologies capable of opening up harder-to-reach fossil-fuel reserves."

Last year, energy-related CO2 emissions globally reached a historic high of 33.1 gigatonnes (Gt). Coal use for electricity alone accounted for 10 Gt of CO2, most of it in Asia. We just can't stop using it, so Mr Clark's theory still holds true.

"Seen as a technology-driven feedback loop, it is not surprising that nothing has yet tamed the global emissions curve, because so far nothing has cut off its food supply: fossil fuels," he says.

So why can't we cut the supply? It is human greed. When I hear arguments about why we still need gas in the transition to renewables, I can't help but notice that the people arguing for gas are the ones who are producing it.

They want us to believe that we would be poorer without fossil fuels. Meanwhile, renewable technology producers can't just give it away. It seems that everything about fossil fuels versus renewables is still about money when the world is choking to death.

Yet the latest data shows that building a new power plant based on renewables can now compete on cost with that of fossil fuels, so what are we waiting for?

If the US still wants to use and sell oil and is willing to go to war over it, that is their choice. But what we can do right now in Asia, as the biggest user of coal, is to pressure our governments to stop building coal-fired power plants and start investing more in renewables before it's too late.

As Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg told two US House committees last week: "I want you to take real action" against climate change, and I agree. No more coal, no more oil, no more gas, no more excuses, no more greed, renewables now.

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