Trump: Let's Drill for Oil in America's Last Pristine Wilderness to Balance the Budget
By Andy Rowell
"Disruption" is one of the buzzwords of the energy market right now as plummeting costs of renewables is changing the way we heat our homes and drive our automobiles.
Some of the biggest names in the energy business spoke Wednesday on that very topic in London at the Financial Times' Energy Transition Strategies Summit, at the panel Rethinking Energy in a Time of Disruption.
The speakers discussed the "major trends transforming the global energy industry and the leading-edge strategies to adapt, thrive and prosper in the brave new post-COP world which is emerging."
At the conference there was huge excitement about the clean energy transition, with the FT believing the transition is well under way. Wilfrid Petrie, CEO of ENGIE UK & Ireland, told the audience, "The transition to clean energy is more like a revolution."
Juliet Davenport, founder and CEO of Good Energy, one of the UK's first 100 percent renewable electricity supply and generator companies, added that rapidly changing "consumer behavior" as well as "technological change" was leading to a "fast energy transition to renewables."
Even Big Oil admitted that rapid change was amongst us. Spencer Dale, chief economist of BP, told the conference that "renewables will grow faster than any energy source ever, any time in history."
Indeed, the International Renewable Energy Agency annual report believes some 9.8 million people are now employed by the renewable industry, up 1.1 percent from 2015. More than three million of those are in solar power.
#RenewableEnergy Generates Jobs for Nearly 10 Million People https://t.co/ZfeOGVeY2B @IRENA @SEIA @AWEA @mzjacobson @MarkRuffalo @NRDC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495633802.0
As the rest of the world embraces renewables, President Trump is belligerently ignoring the global trends and trying to promote fossil fuels. Ed Fenster of U.S. solar group Sunrun told the FT conference, "We really don't see a material impact from the Trump administration."
Despite this, Trump will have some discernible impact on the global energy market, specifically in North America. And while business increasingly wants to rip up the rules of the energy market, Trump wants to rip up one of North America's last pristine wilderness areas for oil: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Many people thought the debate about whether to drill in ANWR, the largest protected wilderness in the U.S., was long dead and buried. Drilling for oil in ANWR was first mooted in the seventies, and has continued ever since.
According to Defenders of Wildlife, "At more than 19 million acres, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is also one of the last intact landscapes in America, and home to 37 species of land mammals, eight marine mammals, 42 fish species and more than 200 migratory bird species."
But if you thought ANWR was safe, think again. Trump and his fossil fuel cronies want to try and drill it for oil one last time. In his budget announced Tuesday, opening up ANWR is a priority for Trump.
The ANWR line item in the budget plan "is entirely consistent with, and in fact a central part of, the president's desire to be not only energy independent, but energy dominant. We want to dominate that space," according to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Trump wants to dominate the energy market. But as energy pioneers disrupt that market towards clean tech, Trump and his fossil fuel buddies cling to a by-gone age of fossil fuels. But we must not let them destroy America's "crown jewels" in what could be one of the last destructive acts of the hydrocarbon age. We must disrupt. We must resist.
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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