From the July-August 2022 issue of News & Letters
by Franklin Dmitryev
From U.S. President Joe Biden to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, rulers are in a mad scramble in exactly the wrong direction as far as the climate emergency is concerned. Natural gas and oil prices have spiked due to tighter supplies caused by Russia’s war on Ukraine and sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and Europe. Country after country has turned this opportunity to reduce fossil fuel use into its opposite, seeking to increase oil and gas imports or production and exports.
‘GOLD RUSH’ FOR GAS AND OIL PRODUCTION
Climate Action Tracker detailed how “We are witnessing a global ‘gold rush’ for new fossil gas production, pipelines, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities. This risks locking us into another high-carbon decade and keeping the Paris agreement’s 1.5°C limit out of reach.”
Both the International Energy Agency and the UN’s authoritative panel of climate scientists had already indicated that no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built if that goal is to be met.
This shows most of all how successful fossil industries have been in locking the world into dependence on their products, not only technically but economically, politically and culturally. Biden and his ilk are cowed by the calls for “energy security” and “energy independence,” which are illusions.
Biden appears to fear nothing so much as high gasoline prices and the media drumbeat blaming him. In response, his administration enacted a raft of retrogressive measures, from opening up more oil drilling to new export terminals for LNG, supposedly to help Europe. Out the window went his promises to hold Saudi Arabia to account for its murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as Biden plans to visit Riyadh in July and beg the Saudis to increase oil output—as he is begging U.S. oil companies to do.
His feckless calls for a gasoline tax holiday are for show only, since its effect on household spending would be minimal. Environmentalists point out that the foregone tax money would be better spent on a public transport fare holiday, but the people who would benefit are taken for granted in Democrats’ electoral calculus.
Similarly, the money spent on pumping up oil and gas supplies would have greater impact if targeted to helping working-class people improve their homes’ energy efficiency. In the UK, a direct action group, Insulate Britain, is dedicated to that goal and points out the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson’s government, which keeps cutting funding for housing maintenance.
The biggest swindle of all is the push to ramp up LNG. With the war as justification, 25 LNG projects are under construction or planned, promising a climate-busting hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year.
LOCKING IN A FOSSIL FUTURE
LNG projects are too slow to replace Russian gas in Europe anytime soon, but the point is to lock them in for the next 20 years before climate justice movements block them. A recent analysis showed that renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency could slash Europe’s demand for gas, without increasing LNG.
The Biden administration is also promising to loosen regulations on toxic air emissions at export terminals. By no coincidence, one of the companies most loudly demanding deregulation owns Freeport LNG in Texas, which exploded in June. Nearby residents have been fighting for cleaner air for a decade, and the terminal had more than 100 emission violations in the last three years.
The pollution and explosive dangers of LNG facilities generate resistance, such as at Port Arthur, Texas, so they like to justify themselves as “energy security.”
COP26 PROMISES IN THE TRASH CAN
Meanwhile, countries such as Germany, China and India are burning far more coal in response to the war’s “energy crisis,” reversing promises made at the COP26 climate summit last November. Russia has slashed environmental protections and is heedlessly extracting oil and gas all the way up to the Arctic.
Europe and the U.S. are pressuring African countries to produce more oil and gas, claiming that it will aid “development” and address energy poverty. In reality, it is meant for export and projects like the East African Crude Oil Pipeline are stirring fierce resistance from Africans who are not part of the elite profiting from them.
These trends really started before the war. It is only movements from below that can keep the fossil fuel capitalists, and their politicians, from turning the opportunity for a greener, freer future into opposite.