KATE ARONOFF - DEMOCRATS MUST WAR WITH FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES TO COMBAT CLIMATE CRISIS

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6 september 2019


Democrats must go to war with fossil fuel industry to take on the climate crisis


Any climate plan that doesn’t challenge the gargantuan power of the industry head-on is flatly denying several realities about our energy system


Kate Aronoff, The Guardian, Fri 6 Sep 2019

Nearly every candidate that participated in CNN’s seven-hour climate town hall agreed that we need to invest trillions of dollars in building a clean energy economy fit for the 21st century, and create hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs in the process. However impressive these commitments are, they won’t be worth much if they don’t also take on the fossil fuel industry.

There was plenty of common ground to be found on Wednesday night, where candidates happily focused more on presenting their own visions than tearing down those of their opponents. On what to do with dirty energy companies, though, the differences couldn’t be starker.

As the Intercept’s Akela Lacy reported shortly before the debate, Joe Biden today is scheduled to attend a $2,800-a-head fundraiser hosted by Andrew Goldman, the co-founder of a company that specializes in opening up new markets for natural gas. Asked about that fact, Biden and his team went on the defense: technically Goldman is not involved in the day-to-day management of the company, and as such Biden fundraising off him doesn’t violate the terms of the Fossil Free Pledge activists pressured him to sign several months back, that he won’t take donations from the industry over $200. The Sunrise Movement – which has pressured candidates to take the pledge – has now called on Biden to cancel the event. A few minutes later, after a heated exchange about Goldman, Biden demurred on whether he would ban fracking and talked up the climate legacy of an Obama administration that oversaw the shale boom and the end of the ban on crude oil exports.

Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has pledged in his plan for a Green New Deal to make the fossil fuel industry enemy No 1, cutting into their business model and holding them accountable for the years they spent spreading misinformation about global warming. Elizabeth Warren rightly called out the fact that focusing on plastic straws and lightbulbs – as last night’s moderators at CNN insisted on doing – distracts from the fact that responsibility for this crisis is concentrated among a small number of corporations; just 90 companies – most of them fossil fuel producers – have been responsible for two-thirds of manmade greenhouse gas emissions since the dawn of the industrial age.

There has been plenty of debate this cycle over candidates’ relative positions on nuclear energy, with policy wonks not unreasonably arguing that it could be risky to take that option off the table entirely. But any climate plan that doesn’t challenge the gargantuan power of the fossil fuel industry head-on is flatly denying several realities about our energy system. While the cost of renewables has plummeted over the last several years, their share of our energy mix has remained largely flat. Use of natural gas – what Amy Klobuchar called a “transitional” fuel – will need to decline 74% by mid-century, if we’re to take the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change seriously, but is poised to grow dramatically over the next several years via fresh development in the Permian and Appalachian basins. Building even prodigious amounts of clean power won’t stop that, or magically outcompete incumbent fuels. In short, there is nothing “inevitable” about the transition to renewables.

The extended discussions about carbon pricing further left out the uncomfortable fact that – if that price isn’t high enough or complemented by stringent regulations – it could kill coal while driving business to big oil and gas companies not impacted by modest fees on pollution. That could trigger a massive build-out of dirty infrastructure, new long-term contracts could lock the world into an emissions that would make it virtually impossible to meet our climate goals – let along the hugely ambitious one of “well below 2C” outlined by the Paris climate agreement every candidate praised last night.

What’s more, coal, oil and gas companies, along with investor-owned utilities, have spent millions of dollars to mislead the public about the existence of the climate crisis and blocking policies to curb it at every level of government. Just last year in Washington state, BP spent $13m in a successful attempt to kill a modest carbon tax – a proposal it theoretically supports. How do candidates think they will respond to their plans to create a carbon free America by mid-century at the latest?

There’s no way around it: curbing the climate crisis means going to war with the fossil fuel industry – not attending their fundraisers.


* Kate Aronoff is a freelance journalist focusing on US politcs and the climate crisis


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