Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chris Hayes: Leave Fossil Fuels In The Ground

During Earth Day last April, MSNBC's Chris Hayes spoke about the challenge faced by the movement to reverse climate change. Specifically, the movement is calling upon companies like BP and Exxon to leave trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels in the ground, because burning those fuels will raise the global temperature to an unsustainable level (a point made by Naomi Klein in her recent interview with Hayes). Hayes points to two ways forward: putting an onerous price on carbon extraction and developing alternative sources, such as solar energy, that make extraction increasingly worthless. In view of the People's Climate March last Sunday, Hayes' message is more timely than ever. Watch:

Hayes: Now, here's where things get interesting. If we want to stay below that 2 degrees Celsius threshold, there's a limited amount of fossil fuel we can burn. I mean, we know more or less how much fossil fuel raises the temperature a certain amount. And the amount of carbon contained in the proven fossil fuel reserves on the planet right now that we can get out with current technology is 2,795 gigatons.

And if we want to stay in that zone of not exceeding the global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius, we can only use 1/5 of it, 20 percent. That means 80 percent of the known fossil fuel reserves that are on the books that companies like BP and Exxon know about along with oil reliant nations like Saudi Arabia, 80 percent of it needs to stay in the ground. Eighty percent of the fossil fuel needs to stay in the ground.

And this is why I want to talk about money, because that stuff that needs to stay in the ground, 80 percent that's in the books, the fossil fuel companies, the oil-producing nations, that stuff is worth a ton of money. Best estimates are the ballpark of $20 trillion. And so, the only way this works out is if we somehow convince these giant energy companies and nations with entire economies built on fossil fuel extraction to somehow leave it behind, to give up their claim on $20 trillion of wealth, to leave that money in the ground.

...Well, here's why you should not be feeling completely hopeless, completely pessimistic... There may be ways to get to the point where leaving trillions of dollars of fossil fuel in the ground doesn't seem like such an impossibility. The good news is getting fossil fuels out of the ground happens to be extremely expensive. It takes a ton of capital investments, billions and billions of dollars to get it out. And that -- that is the Achilles heel.

One way to attack the Achilles heel is put a price on carbon that makes it not worth anyone's while to take that out of the ground. Another is to work to create cost competitive alternatives to make the fossil fuel sitting in the grounds increasingly worthless.

Solar energy which we discussed is becoming a more viable alternative every day.

1 comment:

Michael J. Mand said...

Why not offer today's energy companies incentive to invest in alternative, renewable energy sources and efficient methods of delivering them. After all, these companies are generally stock-holder owned. Ordinary people can reap handsome dividends from good investments and we all win.