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To Stop Climate Change, We Have To…Burn MORE Fossil Fuels?

If the only way to stop climate change is to burn more fossil fuels in the short run, then we're already doomed.
To Stop Climate Change, We Have To…Burn MORE Fossil Fuels?

United States domestic oil production hit an all-time high this year, and it’s not just an all-time high for the US. At 13.2 million barrels per day, the United States is producing more oil than any country in world history. We’re number 1!

But wait a minute… Didn’t Joe Biden call climate change an existential threat to humanity? Didn’t he promise to end fossil fuels? So why is his Department of Energy rubber-stamping the single biggest fossil-fuel expansion on Earth?

According to this article from The Atlantic, it’s all part of the plan. Let me explain…

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which passed in August of 2022, included several hundred billions of dollars for tackling climate change. As a result, nearly 300 clean-energy projects have been announced since then, and EV sales hit a new record thanks to tax incentives in the IRA.

There’s just one problem: Ever since the war in Ukraine, gas prices have been higher than they used to be, averaging well over $3 a gallon. Understandably, this made Biden worry about the midterms since voters tend to blame gas prices on whoever’s in power.

In order to lower gas prices, he tapped the strategic oil reserve, bringing it down to a 40-year low. Apparently it worked (or at least helped) because what was supposed to be a red wave in November of 2022 turned out to be a red trickle.

But the presidential election is far more important. Trump is leading in the polls, including 7 swing states, while Biden’s approval rating is hitting a new low. Even if the polls are overestimating Trump’s support by a few points, it still looks like he’s on his way to a victory in 2024 since the electoral college gives Republicans a built-in advantage.

What would happen if Trump won? You should google “Project 2025.” It’s a $22-million endeavor funded by the Heritage Foundation and written by more than 350 right-wingers. The goal is to dismantle the administrative state and take an axe to any climate-related projects. They want to go full-speed ahead with fossil fuels, despite the fact that we just experienced the hottest year in 125,000 years.

So from Biden’s perspective, we have to do whatever it takes to stop Trump from getting reelected, and that includes pumping more oil than ever before in order to refill the strategic oil reserve and keep gas prices low, lest voters get angry and kick Biden out of office.

Even if we did cut oil production, that would just encourage other countries to produce more oil—countries that don’t have the same emissions standards we do. The US has one of the least emissions-intensive oil industries in the world, so allowing countries with looser standards to lead the way in oil production would be even worse for the climate.

So you see, in order to stop climate change in the long run, we have to pump oil as fast as possible in the short run.

Now look, I’m not going to argue with the logic of this article. He’s right that if we don’t pump more oil, gas prices will rise, Biden will lose, and Trump will destroy all the progress we’ve made. After that, it will be too late to stop climate change from destroying civilization.

But here’s the thing: If the best-case scenario involves ramping up oil production to levels never seen before, then it’s already too late to stop climate change from destroying civilization.

For those who haven’t been paying attention, climate change is rapidly accelerating. 2023 is virtually certain to average more than 1.5°C above the 1850-1900 baseline. If you don’t believe it, just look out the window. Odds are, it’s unusually warm for December in your area. In fact, snow cover across North America is at a record low.

Meanwhile, we're on the verge of crossing several irreversible tipping points: the Greenland ice sheet collapse, the tropical coral reef die-off, the Northern permafrost abrupt thaw, and the Arctic summer sea ice.

And according to a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, the meltdown of the West Antarctic ice sheet is unavoidable. If this is true, then we’re already committed to at least 5 meters of sea level rise. And since that is just from West Antarctica, the actual level of sea level rise will be much higher.

Do you know what this means? It means dozens of major coastal cities around the world are already gone. New York City, Miami, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo… They’re done for. It’s only a matter of time.

Some argue that sea level rise of several meters will take decades or even centuries, so there’s still time to relocate hundreds of millions of people further inland. I don’t see how that’s possible in a world that’s rapidly running out of natural resources needed for roads, glass, concrete, and so forth, but let’s assume it is possible.

There are still half a dozen other tipping points we need to worry about. The Northern permafrost is a ticking time bomb that contains more carbon and methane than humans have emitted in the last two centuries. And if the Arctic sea ice disappears in the summer, the loss of albedo will cause the oceans to warm up even faster than they already are.

And then there’s the AMOC (Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation). Scientists believe that if it collapses, we could lose half of the global area for growing wheat and maize. That could happen as soon as 2025, and almost certainly within a few decades if the planet keeps warming.

If we reach 2°C of warming, we are virtually certain to cross these irreversible tipping points, and the planet will keep heating up no matter what we do, leading to agricultural collapse followed by the collapse of civilization.

How much longer until we reach 2°C of warming? James Hansen, one of the most well-respected climate scientists in the world, now believes we could get there as soon as the 2030s. Even if he’s wrong, the IPCC believes we’ll get there by mid-century if we don’t stop burning fossil fuels. And personally, I trust Hansen more as the IPCC is incredibly conservative.

The bottom line is this: We are just years away from crossing tipping points that will ensure the destruction of global civilization.

So what are we doing about all this? We’re burning more fossil fuels than ever before! Yup, that’s our strategy. Burn fossil fuels now so that we can “transition away” from them later. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Look, I understand the logic of this article. If gas prices get too high, Trump will definitely get reelected, and we’ll be doomed.

My point is, if our best hope is to burn more fossil fuels at a time when we’ve already crossed one major tipping point and several others are just a few years away, then we’re already doomed.

If the system requires us to keep burning fossil fuels in order to stop burning fossil fuels, then the system has failed. At this point, our best hope of avoiding extinction is for civilization to collapse soon because the longer it continues, the more damage it will do to the planet, and the harder it will be for humans to survive.

Anyway, enjoy your Christmas, everyone. We don’t know how many of them we have left.