U.S. Carbon Emissions Surged in 2018 Even as Coal Plants Closed
By Brad Plumer, Jan. 8, 2019
WASHINGTON — America’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 3.4 percent in 2018, the biggest increase in eight years, according to a preliminary estimate published Tuesday.
Strikingly, the sharp uptick in emissions occurred even as a near-record number of coal plants around the United States retired last year, illustrating how difficult it could be for the country to make further progress on climate change in the years to come, particularly as the Trump administration pushes to roll back federal regulations that limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The estimate, by the research firm Rhodium Group, pointed to a stark reversal. Fossil fuel emissions in the United States have fallen significantly since 2005 and declined each of the previous three years, in part because of a boom in cheap natural gas and renewable energy, which have been rapidly displacing dirtier coal-fired power.
Yet even a steep drop in coal use last year wasn’t enough to offset rising emissions in other parts of the economy. Some of that increase was weather-related: A relatively cold winter led to a spike in the use of oil and gas for heating in areas like New England.
But, just as important, as the United States economy grew at a strong pace last year, emissions from factories, planes and trucks soared. And there are few policies in place to clean those sectors up.
“The big takeaway for me is that we haven’t yet successfully decoupled U.S. emissions growth from economic growth,” said Trevor Houser, a climate and energy analyst at the Rhodium Group.
As United States manufacturing boomed, for instance, emissions from the nation’s industrial sectors — including steel, cement, chemicals and refineries — increased by 5.7 percent.
Policymakers working on climate change at the federal and state level have so far largely shied away from regulating heavy industry, which directly contributes about one-sixth of the country’s carbon emissions. Instead, they’ve focused on decarbonizing the electricity sector through actions like promoting wind and solar power.
But even as power generation has gotten cleaner, those overlooked industrial plants and factories have become a larger source of climate pollution. The Rhodium Group estimates that the industrial sector is on track to become the second-biggest source of emissions in California by 2020, behind only transportation, and the biggest source in Texas by 2022.
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There are signs that those standards have been effective. In the first nine months of 2018, Americans drove slightly more miles in passenger vehicles than they did over that span the previous year, yet gasoline use dropped by 0.1 percent, thanks in part to fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars.
But, as America’s economy expanded last year, trucking and air travel also grew rapidly, leading to a 3 percent increase in diesel and jet fuel use and spurring an overall rise in transportation emissions for the year. Air travel and freight have also attracted less attention from policymakers to date and are considered much more difficult to electrify or decarbonize.
Demand for electricity surged last year, too, as the economy grew, and renewable power did not expand fast enough to meet the extra demand. As a result, natural gas filled in the gap, and emissions from electricity rose an estimated 1.9 percent. (Natural gas produces lower CO2 emissions than coal when burned, but it is still a fossil fuel.)
Transmission towers near the coal-fired Will County Generating Station in Romeoville, Ill.CreditDaniel Acker/Bloomberg
Even with last year’s increase, carbon dioxide emissions in the United States are still down 11 percent since 2005, a period of considerable economic growth. Trump administration officials have often cited that broader trend as evidence that the country can cut its climate pollution without strict regulations.
But if the world wants to avert the most dire effects of global warming, major industrialized countries, including the United States, will have to cut their fossil-fuel emissions much more drastically than they are currently doing.
Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions. We know. Global warming is daunting. So here’s a place to start: 17 often-asked questions with some straightforward answers. Sept. 19, 2017
Under the Paris climate agreement, the United States vowed to cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. The Rhodium Group report warns that this target now looks nearly unattainable without a flurry of new policies or technological advances to drive down emissions throughout the economy.
“The U.S. has led the world in emissions reductions in the last decade thanks in large part to cheap gas displacing coal,” said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, who was not involved in the analysis. “But that has its limits, and markets alone will not deliver anywhere close to the pace of decarbonization needed without much stronger climate policy efforts that are unfortunately stalled if not reversed under the Trump administration.”
The Rhodium Group created its estimate by using government data for the first three quarters of 2018 combined with more recent industry data. The United States government will publish its official emissions estimates for all of 2018 later this year.
For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.
Brad Plumer is a reporter covering climate change, energy policy and other environmental issues for The Times’s climate team. @bradplumer
Repost from Resilience.org [Editor: Highly recommended by Benicia activist Marilyn Bardet: “This is a sobering, lengthy, well researched article on the fracking industry’s ‘bubble’, its hype, claims and the inevitable ‘costs’ and why it is absolutely unsustainable financially, environmentally, socially, and absolutely unethical.” Although the analysis doesn’t even mention oil trains or rail transport, it provides excellent analysis on the impossibility of sustaining any crude by rail project. – RS]
Shale Euphoria: The Boom and Bust of Sub Prime Oil and Natural Gas
By Brian Davey, originally published by Feasta | MAR 24, 2016
Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first send mad
The aim of this article is to show that the shale industry, whether extracting oil or gas, has never been financially sustainable. All around the world it has consistently disappointed profit expectations. Even though it has produced considerable quantities of oil and gas, and enough to influence oil and gas prices, the industry has mostly been unprofitable and has only been able to continue by running up more and more debt. How could this be? It seems paradoxical and defies ordinary economic logic. The answer is to be found in the way that the shale gas sector has been funded. It is part of a bubble economy inflated by monetary policy that has kept down interest rates. This has made investors “hunt for yield”. These investors believed that they had found a paying investment in shale companies – but they were really proving that they were susceptible to wishful thinking, vulnerable to hype and highly unethical practices that enabled Wall Street and other bankers to do very nicely. Those who invested in fracking are going to lose a lot of money.
A Global Picture of disappointed expectations
Around the world big expectations for fracking have not been realised. One example is Argentina where shale oil reserves were thought to rival those in the USA. It is a country where there has been local opposition while central government pushed the industry in alliance with multinational companies and its own company YPC. However profitability has been elusive. To have any hope of profitability shale development has to be done at scale to rapidly bring down costs enough to make a profit. That requires a lot of capital and companies will not make this capital available without being sure that they are going to make a lot of money – but they cannot be sure until they have done tests for up to two years.
“It’s a sort of chicken and egg dilemma. Without profits, the estimated $20 billion a year needed to develop the play won’t come. And without this investment in drilling tens of thousands of wells, the economies of scale won’t be reached on the fields to cut costs.
“A reason not to rush into production — only 400 wells have been drilled — is that wells must be tested for up to two years to gauge the potential of the shale rock before a company will commit billions of dollars. This is especially the case now that low global oil prices have slimmed investment budgets for frontier plays.” (Charles Newbury, “Struggles to cut cost delay oil production in Argentina” Platts Oilgram News. August 17th 2015 at http://blogs.platts.com/2015/08/17/cut-cost-delay-oil-play-argentina/ )
The situation in Argentina highlights the underlying problem for the economics of shale oil and shale gas. Unconventional oil and gas fields have much higher costs than conventional ones. Tapping “conventional” oil and gas from permeable geological strata is cheaper in that the oil and gas flows underground and can be pumped out with less engineering. In contrast an “unconventional gas field” has to release the gas from impermable rock and therefore needs up to 100 more wells for the same amount of gas (or oil). A field must achieve economies of scale to have any chance of making a profit. It needs more activity underground to fracture the rock and it needs more activity on the surface to facilitate that. That is why it is more dangerous to the environment and public health – and also why it is more financially expensive. It requires more ongoing capital equipment too. Without a high gas (or oil ) price all of these activities cannot be made profitable.
Looked at in this way “unconventional oil and gas” is not the magical answer for peak oil (or later for peak natural gas) that it might have once seemed to be. To be long term viable the fracking sector requires three things: favourable geology, high oil and gas prices and easy and cheap credit. All three have proven elusive, making for disappointing results in all of the locations around the world where it has been tried. Unconventional gas is struggling to get off the ground outside of the USA and Australia. And in the USA, where it started, although it managed to get the credit to pay for the capital expenditure there are now grave doubts that a mountain of credit will ever be paid pack.
But let’s look outside of the USA too. Take Europe for example. In 2011 the international oil and gas industry and the Polish government thought Poland was going to be a major source of shale gas. 75 exploratory wells were drilled up to 2015 and 25 were fracked. The amount of gas recovered was one tenth to one third of what was needed for the wells to be commercially viable. Besides retreating from Poland, the industry has pulled out of nascent shale drilling efforts in Romania, Lithuania and Denmark, usually citing disappointing yields.
In the UK and Ireland too fracking is still stuck at the pre-exploratory stage, largely because of the rapid and powerful development of a movement of opposition. Although not definitive, a moratorium in Scotland and a “presumption against” fracking by planners in Northern Ireland, are political set backs for the industry. Yet even if the public and political opposition was not there, there would be reasons to doubt that fracking is viable in the UK. The doubt starts with the geology. While the British Geological Survey has produced maps of shale layers, and while it has been suggested that the carbon content might be there, the data is lacking for other key parameters, for example for rock porosity. In addition the shale in the UK has more folds and faults when compared to US fields. This might to lead to more earthquakes which would damage the wells – plus leading to a potential failure to achieve the pressure needed for fracturing if fracking fluid leaks into small faults when pushed underground.
Oil and Gas Prices
Now there are further doubts because of low and falling oil and gas prices. Here the issues are a little different for oil compared to natural gas on the one hand and for the situation in the USA as compared to other producing zones in the world on the other. That said, what all exploration and production companies are facing, whether in oil or gas production or whether in the USA or elsewhere, is that prices that are too low. It is proving difficult or impossible for most producers to make a profit given the costs of extracting and distribution. That has been especially noticeable for shale gas. Let us however first look at oil prices.
During the crash of 2007-2008 global oil prices crashed from a high peak but then recovered again. Between November 2010 and September 2014 there were 47 months in which oil prices were over $90 a barrel. This period of high oil prices can be described as being broadly reflective of supply and demand. On the demand side the global economy recovered, to a large degree stimulated by a massive credit-fuelled residential and infrastructure boom in China. This pumped up demand. On the supply side production from Libya and Iran was kept out of the world market because of the turmoil in Libya and sanctions against Iran. Thus, while there was some production increase from Saudi Arabia and, eventually, even more from Iraq, these increases were largely cancelled by Iran and Libya. Demand exceeded supply and prices remained high but the situation began to change in the autumn of 2014.
On the demand side the Chinese economy stalled while on the supply side production increased. OPEC as a whole was not the main source of that increasing production, and nor was Russia – the main source of increasing oil production was the boom in US shale oil. For reasons to be explored, production from the USA continued to soar even though prices fell and after a price rally early in 2015 prices continued to fall into 2016.
A similar downward trend has occurred around the world in natural gas prices – though in the USA they have been lower far longer – and certainly too low to allow for profitability.
In regard to gas the issues are somewhat different from oil because the market for natural gas is less globally networked. Natural gas markets are based on global regions and different gas prices in different parts of the world. Thus there is a north american gas market, a european gas market and a market in the far east. There are multiple long distance gas pipelines that are important economically and geopolitically. Wars and rivalries are fought over pipeline routes – this is a component in the Syrian conflict. However natural gas could not be transported so easily between continents – until recently, because now there is an infrastructure for sea transported liquified natural gas under development (LNG). Sea transported LNG begins to change things because it makes the market for natural gas more globally competitive.
At a risk of simplifying a varied picture natural gas prices in various areas have been stable at a low level or drifting downwards over the last two years and insufficient for profitability in a gas fracking sector. In both the USA and Europe natural gas prices are a half of what they were in 2014. In the USA this has been because of overproduction of gas, conventional and unconventional, with conventional production declining and being replaced and overtaken by unconventional production – as of late in 2015 however shale gas production too began to fall. For years production has been unprofitable in all but the best areas and in decline. Now it is in decline generally.
In Europe production decline because of depleting conventional gas fields has not prevented a fall in the gas price because demand has been falling too and this is likely to remain the case. Thus a recent report published by the Natural Gas Programme of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, concludes that European gas demand will not recover its 2010 level until about 2025. The decline in demand has been due to warmer winters but also due to low demand because of the low growth in manufacturing which has shifted to Asia, because of low population growth and because of energy saving measures too. At the time of writing it is being suggested that the competitive threat from the development of an LNG infrastructure will encourage Gazprom to change its pricing strategy to try to fight off future competition from sea transported supplies. In summary, it is highly likely that the gas price in Europe will remain low for a long time. If so, this completely undermines any remaining case for fracking for natural gas in europe, and particularly Britain.
At current gas prices all the exploration and production companies active in the UK and Ireland would struggle to make a profit. There are 4 studies of extraction costs of natural gas by fracking in the UK – by Ernst and Young, Bloomberg, Oxford Institute of Energy Studies and Centrica. All have maximum and minimum extraction costs. Current gas prices per therm are less than the minimum extraction cost in the lowest study. So for the industry to continue at all it has to assume that gas prices will rise in the future.
So what is the future for oil and gas prices? Of course the future is inherently uncertain – a President Trump might provoke any number of wars making America great again – it is difficult to see how Muslims could be banned from entry into the USA without that affecting oil and gas imports from Muslim countries. Or again heightened conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia might escalate with massive consequences, and not just for the oil and gas price. In these and other conceivable situations, the more chaos the less companies will want to invest anyway. Whether prices are high, or low, if there is too much turmoil conditions will not favour new investment. But leaving aside extreme geo-political scenarios will prices go up or will they go down? If oil and gas prices rise will this be sufficiently and for long enough for unconventional gas to be developed sustainably in the narrow financial or business sense?
The rising price scenario
It is important to grasp the idea that a rising prices scenario is only credible in conditions where a proportion of the industry has been driven out of the business – which is the hope of the Saudi oil industry. What the Saudis would like to see is not only the US fracking companies driven to bankruptcy but the banks that fund them with badly burned fingers and unwilling to finance the industry any more. That said the Saudis too have limited pockets. Their current aggressive foreign policy has to be funded from somewhere and it is conceivable that they could lose the capacity to push the anti-shale agenda through to the bitter end.
If the oil price does bounce back the beneficiaries would be the survivors. There is a view then that the current low prices will eventually lead, not only to falling production in the future but to bankruptcies and capital expenditure cut backs both in the conventional and unconventional sectors. It would speed the decline of oil fields like those in the North Sea where investment is now being slashed. With declining supply, inventories will be sold off, the market will move back into balance…. and then further the other way – so that eventually demand again exceeds supply. Higher prices, possibly spiking, will encourage new investment and the fracking companies will surge back at the other side of the crisis.
What must however be assumed for this to happen is that at some point “growth will resume” because, over the last two hundred years, it always has. If growth resumes the demand for energy will revive in order to feed it – making more material production and consumption possible. Some economists argue that one factor encouraging a revival in demand ought to be the low energy prices themselves. Higher energy prices act as a drag on the economy so low energy prices should do the opposite – i.e. stimulate it. In a recent speech the chair of the US Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen, said that falling energy prices had, on average put an extra $1,000 in the pockets of each US citizen. It is assumed that this would encourage extra spending and thus extra income.
The falling or stagnant prices scenario
An alternative view is more sceptical about the revival of the global economy and of demand because of the high level of debt. In an economy where indebtness is low, falling energy prices probably would act as a stimulus for energy consumers. But will there be any or enough stimulus where the debt to income ratio is high? In an indebted economy windfall gains from reduced energy prices are likely to be partly used to pay off debts rather than being spent. A further issue is what will happen because of the way in which the finance sector has made itself vulnerable? It has channelled substantial credit to the energy sector – to exploration and development companies that now have difficulties paying this credit off? It certainly will not help in finding investment money to get fracking off the ground in the UK and elsewhere if it all ends in tears in the USA.
In the pessimistic scenario if the economy does not revive then there can be some scepticism that energy prices will revive too. This is the scenario in which deflationary conditions continue and even deepen. On this view the global economy is entering a long period of stagnation, decline and chaos. Some economists are describing how growth has slowed using descriptive phrases like “secular stagnation”. The fate of the Japanese economy from the early 1990s onwards gives grounds for comparison and concern. After a quarter of a century Japan has not escaped prolonged recessionary conditions. Because the global economy is highly indebted central banks have driven down interest rates to zero and now even below that. This has led to a bubble in asset markets but it has done little to spur generalised economic growth.
There could be a vicious circle here – without demand arising in a sustained growth process pushing up energy prices the profitability of the unconventional sector will never be sufficient to make future investment in that sector pay. In these circumstances future oil and gas production will not rise. Production will fall in the USA, especially as more of the identified sweet spots in the best plays are exhausted. In textbook supply and demand theory falling supply should eventually lead, ceteris paribus, to a rise in prices that justifies more investment and therefore more production. However “ceteris paribus” (other things remaining unchanged) does not apply in a stagnating or a declining economy. A declining economy is not one where private economic actors invest money in the hope of a future return because the necessary confidence and conviction about the future is not there. Purchasing power is hoarded, purchases are deferred where possible, debts are paid off where possible. These actions tend to intensify the deflation. If this is what happens, and it seems likely, it will make the problems of the shale gas sector even worse.
The Fracking Companies and the Finance Sector
Before the current difficulties Wall Street made a fortune in fees arranging debt finance for the US shale sector. Investors who were “looking for yield” instead of the ultra low interest rates payable on government debt thought the way to find that yield was to pile their money into junk finance to fund the frackers. Despite the economic reality Wall Street encouraged the misinvestment. Now the wall of energy sector junk finance repayable in the future is huge. The further forward one goes the higher it is. How much of this debt will ever be repaid? And what will happen to those who lent it if it is not? Given what has already been said the long run ability of the sector to repay its debt seems highly questionable. How did it come to this?
For several years prior to the crash of 2007-2008 the finance sector in the USA were knowingly giving loans to people with no income, no jobs and no assets. The people who organised this were doing so because they were earning fees on each loan arranged. What did they care about the virtual certainty that the loans would never be paid back? The crash was the inevitable result – the consequence of an ethical catastrophe. The banks had packaged the loans up into mortgage backed securities and sold them on so that someone else other than the originating bank carried the risk. Ratings agencies played their role in this crooked system and got fees rating securities that others called “toxic trash” as AAA. Meanwhile derivates contracts against defaults on these rotten securities were also sold even though it was not possible to pay up when the defaults happened – without being bailed out by the monetary authorities, as happened with AIG.
The Shale Bubble – toxic water, toxic air and toxic finance too
For several years after 2007-2008 shale was the next big money spinner – and the next ethical catastrophe for Wall Street. Just as it was blindingly obvious for years that sub prime would crash, but it was a nice money spinner at the time, so Wall Street has made a lot of money pumping up the shale bubble. All the evidence about health and environment costs have been ignored and the information about them suppressed. The information about the economics was ignored too. Of course, someone has to lose eventually but “while the music has played” there has been plenty of money for all sorts of players – petroleum engineers and geologists, PR companies, corrupt politicians, the companies supplying the pipelines, rigs and fracking gear. They had their snouts in the money trough and in many cases abandoned their ethics and their critical faculties while they were feeding.
Nor were investors looking closely enough at where they were going or at what they were funding. Even before the current price crash, many US fracking companies, just like those in Argentina and Poland, were struggling to make real profits yet vast quantities of money were channelled to them. Honest and astute observers who could see that the shale boom was a Wall Street induced bubble were ignored. One example was a report written by Deborah Rogers in early 2013 in which she drew attention to the difference between the reality and the message put out by the PR machine.
According to Rogers “Industry admits that 80% of shale wells ‘can easily be uneconomic.’ Massive write-downs have recently occurred which call into question the financial viability of shale assets and possibly even shale companies. In one case, assets were written off for more than 50% of the purchase price within a matter of months……publicly traded oil and gas companies have essentially two sets of economics. There is what may be called field economics, which addresses the basic day to day operations of the company and what is actually occurring out in the field with regard to well costs, production history, etc.; the other set is Wall Street or “Street” economics. This entails keeping a company attractive to financial analysts and investors so that the share price moves up and access to the capital markets is assured. “Street” economics has more to do with the frenzy we have seen in shales than does actual well performance in the field. With the help of Wall Street analysts acting as primary proponents for shale gas and oil, the markets were frothed into a frenzy. Boom cycles have the inherent characteristic of optimism. If left unchecked, such optimism can metamorphose into a mania such as we saw several years ago in the lead up to the mortgage crisis. (Deborah Rogers, “Shale and Wall Street” Energy Policy Forum 2013http://shalebubble.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/SWS-report-FINAL.pdf)
Long before the price slide beginning late in 2014 the much hyped boom was not what it seemed. Roger’s article shows many parallels between the crazy and unethical excesses of Wall Street prior to the 2007 crash and what has been happening in the shale boom. As had happened with sub prime mortgages which were bundled up to become part of mortgage backed securities and then sold on – new kinds of financial assets were invented and sold to allow the unwary to invest their money in order as to “get a part of the action” and participate in the shale bonanza too. One bank instrumental in all of this was Barclay’s Capital, working together with a company called Chesapeake Energy. To help Chesapeake the Barclay’s financial wizards invented a structure called a Volumetric Production Payment (VPP). Rogers quotes a finance industry magazine, Risk, from March 2012.
“The main challenges in putting together the Chesapeake VPP deal were getting the structure right and guiding the rating agencies and institutional investors—who did not necessarily have deep familiarity with the energy business—through the complexities of natural gas production.”
The resulting financial assets were highly complex, off balance sheet, and as Barclay’s admitted the rating agencies had to be “guided” so that they could understand the complexities of the deal. (So much for the competence and independence of the resulting “rating”. ).
Production taking precedence over profitability (and over economic rationality)
The result was that current profitability took second place to an industry PR narrative about what was supposedly going to happen in the future as the shale companies grew and grew. Prior to the crash of 2007 bank employees were under pressure and being incentivised by bonuses to make as many loans as possible – even though many loans were unsound. Now the fracking company managers were being incentivised to produce as much product as possible even though they were losing money. The measure of the future dream was production growth rather than what it ought to have been – profitable production growth. The latter depended on whether that production growth was actually covering costs of production and it was not. It should be stressed again that this was happening before the current price slide. For example an analyst Arthur Berman looked at the financial figures for Exploration and Development Companies representing 40% of the US shale industry for 2013 and 2014 and found them to be powerfully in the negative. There was a $14 billion negative cash flow in 2014. (http://www.artberman.com/art-berman-shale-plays-have-years-not-decades-of-reserves-february-23-2015/)
Nevertheless the good news headlines about the production growth kept the share prices rising and the managers were on bonuses to make that production growth happen. Apart from the sceptics and the communities whose environments and health were under attack, the industry, the government, some naïve academics and Wall Street, all played their part in pumping up the dramatic narrative of the resurgent American Oil and Gas Dream. Eventually the USA would rival Saudi Arabia and more…becoming great again no doubt. As a more recent article in the Wall Street Journal explained:
“Markets have been waiting for U.S. energy producers to slash output during a period of depressed crude prices. But these companies have been paying their top executives to keep the oil flowing. Production and reserve growth are big components of the formulas that determine annual bonuses at many U.S. exploration and production companies. That meant energy executives took home tens of millions of dollars in bonuses for drilling in 2014, even though prices had begun to fall sharply in what would be the biggest oil bust in decades. The practice stems from Wall Street’s treatment of such companies’ shares as growth stocks, favoring future prospects over profitability. It has helped drive U.S. energy producers to spend more unearthing oil and gas than they make selling it, energy executives and analysts say.
It has also helped fuel the drilling boom that lifted U.S. oil and natural-gas production 76% and 31%, respectively, from 2009 through 2015, pushing down prices for both commodities. “You want to know why most of the industry outspent cash flow last year trying to grow production?” William Thomas, CEO of EOG Resources, said recently at a Houston conference. “That’s the way they’re paid.” (Ryan Dezember, Nicole Friedman and Erin Aillworth. “Key Formula for Executives Pay: Drill Baby Drill” http://www.wsj.com/articles/key-formula-for-oil-executives-pay-drill-baby-drill-1457721329)
The Euphoric Economy at Work – how to rip off manic investors
All of this raises the question of how, with profitability so low, this reckless show has managed to stay on the road for so long and still continues. A cynical answer would be to say that the function of Wall Street is to connect the greedy and stupid with people and institutions without scruples who will spend their money for them. For this to happen optimism must be generated at all times whether this optimism has any foundation or not. The study of bubbles is all about people who are able to swim in an ethical sewer oblivious to their environment. They are too “euphoric” or high on the prospect of making a lot of money to calmly calculate what is happening. Another word for this is mania. It helps to consider this as a period of collective madness like a mania – a period of collective excitement in which the capacity for ethical and other judgements are impaired.
In this collective insanity one can think of the money making calculations like this – if you buy the right to drill and are able to identify the geologically favourable “sweet spots” then at first the results are likely to be good. Instead of then drilling the less favourable locations and seeing your profits fall away you tell beautiful stories to another company with deep pockets enticed by the good news of the early success. So it is possible to sell the less favourable areas. Or maybe you sell the company, merging it with another. In this Wall Street (or the City of London no doubt) will come to your aid because it makes nice fees from mergers and acquisitions. The new owners then makes the loss. It is the buying company that then has to write down its balance sheet when it subsequently discovers that it was sold a mirage.
The stories about being duped are never told as loudly and plainly as the stories of the wonderful shining future that sell the fraud in the first place. That’s because managers do not like to speak loudly about their incompetence to avoid the embarrassment of admitting they were duped. It is usually possible to deny that it would have been possible for them to know what was happening and, after all, why should these managers care when it was other people’s money that they were losing? (The money of shareholders or bond holders).
But if the faith in the industry can be maintained then these kind of deals can at some time make the banksters and crooked production company bosses much more money than merely by drilling and fracking for shale gas or oil. Thus buying and selling drilling leases (bundled up together just like sub prime mortgages were) was a great money spinner for companies like Chesapeake. The greater the euphoria generated, the more money to be made. This is Deborah Rogers again:
“Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, stated unequivocally in a financial analyst call in 2008: ‘I can assure you that buying leases for x and selling them for 5x or 10x is a lot more profitable than trying to produce gas at $5 or $6 mcf.’”
Eight years later Aubrey McClendon was dead. He had been charged on a federal indictment of bid rigging from late 2007 to 2012 and drove his car at high speed into a bridge. There was a strong suspicion that he had killed himself.
The madness of shale goes on. Wall Street and the shale companies are still managing to play the same game of passing the risk parcel to the bigger fools who will take the loss. If people can be persuaded to buy into the companies just before they go bust then the smarter and bigger players can get out. At the time of writing (March 2016) there are suspicions that the banks are orchestrating a rise in the price of oil in order to help the shale companies raise capital which will enable them to pay off the banks while letting “the suckers” take the fall. This led one analyst to describe the glut, not just of oil, but of stupidity.
Ethical or Financial Bankruptcy – which is more fundamental?
It is common in economics to refer to markets becoming frothy at times like this. Commentators seek to find the fundamentals underlying the “froth” (perhaps better described as scum). But what are “the fundamentals” in this story? The really fundamental thing is not that this sector is financially bankrupt – it is that it is ethically bankrupt too. An ethically bankrupt sector is definitely not sustainable. Any economic sector that destroys the environment including the climate, assaults public health and then enlists government in a corrupting endeavour to write and use the regulations in such a way as to undermine the very possibility of resistance is corrupt to the core. An industry that destroys people’s health and environment and then settles in court on condition that people are bound to secrecy about what has happened to them, as is common practice in the USA, cannot be trusted to tell the truth. It does not surprise in the least therefore that the unethical business methods of this sector, as well as the unethical methods of its allies in finance, also rely on trickery and defrauding anyone stupid enough to invest their money in it.
What will happen in the USA will no doubt have a big impact for the future credibility of the fracking industry in the UK and elsewhere in the world. That story is not yet in its final chapter but what has happened in the USA is already a cautionary tale and we would be stupid to ignore it. Local authorities in the UK should be careful that they are not caught out picking up the environmental costs of a collapsing industry. It has already happened in the USA and Canada – the advantage of limited liability to an industry without ethics is that it enables it to pass the cost of clearing up to communities after bankruptcies.
“CBC News reported that falling gas and oil prices have prompted many smaller companies to abandon their operations in Alberta, Canada, leaving the provincial government to close down and dismantle their wells. In the past year alone, the number of orphaned wells in Alberta increased from 162 to 702. At the current rate of work,deconstructing the inventory of wells abandoned just in the past year alone will be a 20-year task.” (Source: Johnson, T. (2015, May 11). Alberta sees huge spike in abandoned oil and gas wells. CBC News.http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-sees-huge-spike-in-abandoned-oil-and-gas-wells-1.3032434 )
In conclusion – a mountain of debt that will never be repaid?
People might ask, if the future of fracking is so much in doubt then why bother to build a movement of opposition to oppose it? The answer can be expressed by adapting a famous quote by John Maynard Keynes. In the original Keynes says “the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent”. The market can also remain irrational long enough to do a lot of damage. What this article has barely done at all is refer to what are called, in economics-speak, the “external costs” of fracking – the damages to climate, to local environments and to public health. Nor has this article examined the claimed benefits to employment and to local economies which are usually grossly overstated. There is now plenty of evidence about these things. What I have tried to do instead is to show that even in the narrowest of meanings of “economic” fracking does not make sense. A lot of damage is being done and there will be little positive to show for it. The ability to continue this destructive path is due to the legacy of political influence of the fossil fuel lobby in government and in the finance sector. The legacy influence has been strong enough to ignore and crush the opposition despite the damage. In the USA it can be argued that the fracking boom has been an irrational, unethical and ultimately unprofitable attempt to extend the lifetime of fossil fuels in order to keep the oil and gas industry in work, aided and abetted by Wall Street. It is an industry trying to secure a future for an influential network of professional and business interests that should, in truth, be being wound down – including the engineers, the university departments of petroleum geology, the regulators to name a few. A mountain of debt has been accumulated to perpetuate the illusion that these people have a future in which they can go on much as before – a mountain of financial debt that will never be repaid.
Stupidity has a knack of getting its way – Albert Camus
Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results
By John Schwartz, March 19, 2016
READING, N.Y. — They came here to get arrested.
Nearly 60 protesters blocked the driveway of a storage plant for natural gas on March 7. Its owners want to expand the facility, which the opponents say would endanger nearby Seneca Lake. But their concerns were global, as well.
“There’s a climate emergency happening,” one of the protesters, Coby Schultz, said. “It’s a life-or-death struggle.”
The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.
Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.
Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called “Keystone-ization.”
As the climate evangelist Bill McKibben put it in a Twitter post after Paris negotiators agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”
Regulators almost always approve such projects, though often with modifications, said Donald F. Santa Jr., chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, the protests are having some impact. The engineering consultants Black and Veatch recently published a report that said the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”
Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast.
In Portland, Ore., where protesters conducted a “kayaktivist” blockade in July to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs from leaving port, the City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion of facilities for the storage and transportation of fossil fuels.
Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.
“When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” he said. “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.”
The movement extends well beyond the United States. In May, a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience, under an umbrella campaign called Break Free 2016, is scheduled around the world to urge governments and fossil fuel companies to “keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.”
This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”
The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.
Speaking to the crowd at Seneca Lake, Mr. McKibben, who had come from his home in Vermont, said, “Our job on behalf of the planet is to slow them down.”
He added, “If we can hold them off for two or three years, there’s no way any of this stuff can be built again.”
But the issues are not so clear cut. The protests aimed at natural gas pipelines, for example, may conflict with policies intended to fight climate change and pollution by reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels.
“The irony is this,” said Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, whose pipeline projects, including those in New York State, have come under attack. “The shift to additional natural gas use is a key contributor to helping the U.S. reduce energy-related emissions and improve air quality.”
Those who oppose natural gas pipelines say the science is on their side.
They note that methane, the chief component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short term, with more than 80 times the effect of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
The Obama administration is issuing regulations to reduce leaks, but environmental opposition to fracking, and events like the huge methane plume released at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood near Los Angeles, have helped embolden the movement.
Once new natural gas pipelines and plants are in place, opponents argue, they will operate for decades, blocking the shift to solar and wind power.
“It’s not a bridge to renewable energy — it’s a competitor,” said Patrick Robbins, co-director of the Sane Energy Project, which protests pipeline development and is based in New York.
Such logic does not convince Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“Saying no to gas doesn’t miraculously lead to the substitution of wind and solar — it may lead to the continued operation of coal-fired plants,” he said, noting that when the price of natural gas is not competitive, owners take the plants, which are relatively cheap to build, out of service.
“There is enormous uncertainty about how quickly you can build out renewable energy systems, about what the cost will be and what the consequences will be for the electricity network,” Mr. Levi said.
Even some who believe that natural gas has a continuing role to play say that not every gas project makes sense.
N. Jonathan Peress, an expert on electricity and natural gas markets at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while companies push to add capacity, the long-term need might not materialize.
“There is a disconnect between the perception of the need for massive amounts of new pipeline capacity and the reality,” he said.
Market forces, regulatory assumptions and business habits favor the building of new pipelines even though an evolving electrical grid and patterns of power use suggest that the demand for gas will, in many cases, decrease.
Even now, only 6 percent of gas-fired plants run at greater than 80 percent of their capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and nearly half of such plants run at an average load factor of just 17 percent.
“The electricity grid is evolving in a way that strongly suggests what’s necessary today won’t be necessary in another 20 years, let alone 10 or 15,” Mr. Peress said.
Back at Seneca Lake, the protesters cheered when Schuyler County sheriff’s vans showed up. The group had protested before, and so the arrests had the friendly familiarity of a contra dance. As one deputy, A.W. Yessman, placed zip-tie cuffs on Catherine Rossiter, he asked jovially, “Is this three, or four?”
She beamed. “You remember me!”
Brad Bacon, a spokesman for the owner of the plant at Seneca Lake, Crestwood Equity Partners, acknowledged that it had become more burdensome to get approval to build energy infrastructure in the Northeast even though regulatory experts have tended not to be persuaded by the protesters’ environmental arguments.
The protesters, in turn, disagree with the regulators, and forcefully. As he was being handcuffed, Mr. McKibben called the morning “a good scene.”
The actions against fossil fuels, he said, will continue. “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” he said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”
A version of this article appears in print on March 20, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Protesters Across U.S. Turn Up Heat on Fossil Fuel. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
The ‘Gasland’ director talks to AlterNet about the dangers of fracking, his new film and how you can be a part of the solution.
By Reynard Loki / AlterNet January 22, 2016
The so-called fracking revolution has transformed America’s energy landscape. With more than 100,000 oil and gas wells drilled and fracked since 2005, the nation has secured cheap and plentiful energy, forcing a drop in natural gas prices. The oil giant BP believes that with this surging production of shale oil and gas, the U.S. could become energy self-sufficient by 2030, escaping the grip of OPEC, the Saudi-led oil cartel that currently accounts for 35 percent of American oil imports.
But as advocates hail fracking as a savior that can unlock the nation’s energy independence, opponents have raised the alarms about this method of extracting natural gas for its harmful effects on public health and the environment. Fracktivists have also warned that the focus on fracking has derailed the ultimate goal of moving to a low-carbon economy powered primarily by renewable energy. The anti-fracking movement has steadily grown, bringing together environmentalists, public health advocates, supporters of renewable energy and local communities across the country that have felt the negative impacts of fracking projects.
One of the early mobilizers of the nationwide anti-fracking movement was the 2010 Emmy Award-winning documentary Gasland, written and directed by Josh Fox, whose journey into fracking started in May 2008, when he received a letter from a natural gas company offering to lease his family’s land in Pennsylvania for $100,000 to drill for gas. In his new film, How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), which premieres this month at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, Fox travels to 12 countries on six continents to examine climate change through a fresh lens and uncover personal stories of hope.
I had a chance to ask Fox some questions about the current state of fracking, the grassroots anti-fracking movement, his new film and his thoughts on the future.
Reynard Loki: On a scale of 1 to 10, how you would grade COP21, the international climate talks held in Paris last month?
Josh Fox: I’d give it both a 10 and a 1. As far as what governments have pledged and said that they were capable of doing, in a lot of ways, it’s the best we could hope for. Having said that, government’s approach to this question for the past 25 years has been so lame, so problematic, so full of undue influence by the fossil fuel industry and not heeding or listening to the science — we’re in such bad shape. In many ways, this agreement is a step backwards from the 2009 debaclein Copenhagen, which pointed the world toward the idea that we were going to limit climate change to 2° of warming. The INDCs — the “intended nationally determined contributions” — to the current agreement are leading us down a path of between 3.5-3.7°.
JF: The agreement points to the wide gulf between what science and nature are telling us we have to do, and what politics at that level is willing to do. It’s simply ineffective. These are not legally binding agreements, let’s not forget that. These are aspirational. The idea that somehow this agreement is going to lead us down the path of a 2° warmed world, or a 1.5° warmed world, is completely nonsensical. It is one of the most expensive diplomatic agreements in the history of humankind and is very strong-worded in terms of its language, but it doesn’t actually make this problem stop.
We know that the Republican Party will not take serious action on climate change. If the Paris agreement had to be ratified by Congress, it would fail. Congress is so stuck on stupid, and so completely out of touch with the rest of the world, that we know that’s not going to happen. We have to get serious in this country about actually stopping fracked gas, stopping all of the other fossil fuels and making the transition toward 100 percent renewable energy.
RL: How dangerous is climate denialism?
JF: The fossil fuel industry has led us down the path of denial of the very thing that runs our entire civilization, which is science. Our civilization runs on science. It doesn’t necessarily run on fossil fuels, but it definitely runs on science. When you have the fossil fuel giants creating an atmosphere that is so damning of the very building blocks of civilization, it signals that these people have to go. That system has to be changed, and those proponents are not only both fiscally and environmentally responsible, but I would argue, have a degree of criminal negligence.
If these people know that what they’re doing is destroying the planet, and they continue to do it, I would say that that’s a case for criminal negligence, as it was with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as it is with all of these fossil fuel disasters that happen on the ground, this is a fossil fuel disaster that’s happening in the sky. We have to understand that these people continue to be responsible as they continue to campaign that climate change doesn’t exist.
RL: Were you surprised that the Paris accord agreed to the 1.5° mark?
JF: I thought that was a surprise, but I don’t think it is a surprise if you know the strength of the environmental indigenous network that made that goal such a prominent part of the Paris talks. It was the indigenous people from the Pacific Islands and the Amazon who were saying, “Listen, two degrees is a crazy idea.” A 2° warmer world is so dangerous and such a problem that you simply cannot aspire to a 2° warmer world, because 2° is not a limit. It’s an average.
RL: What does a 2° warmer world mean?
JF: A 2° warmer world on average means that Africa is going to warm by three or four degrees. Desmond Tutu came out and said if you agree to two degrees, you agree to cooking the continent. Similarly, our coastal cities in the United States would suffer a six-meter rise in sea level. That’s the end as we know it for New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami, Washington DC. You’re talking about an East Coast that no longer has a stable coastline. That’s unimaginable, even just for the United States, let alone thinking about the Marshall Islands, or Tuvalu or Samoa or Fiji — all of these places across the southern Pacific.
Here’s the problem, though: We already have warmed the earth by about a degree right now. Carbon dioxide sits in the atmosphere for 30 or 40 years or longer. We already have enough CO2 in the atmosphere right now to get us to 1.5°. A 1.5° limit means shut off all emissions right now. That’s not happening.
RL: What’s the alternative?
JF: There is one way to start to get toward that 1.5° goal. That’s by radically reducing methane emissions. Methane emissions warm the earth faster, and it sticks around for less time. If you cut methane emissions, it’s your fastest way toward cooling the planet back down. Unfortunately, the United States is in the process of making a wholesale transition from coal to natural gas. What we should be doing is making a transition from coal and natural gas to renewable energy immediately.
RL: Can natural gas act as a lower carbon bridge from coal to renewable energy, as President Obama and others have suggested?
JF: You’ve got 300 new gas power plants being proposed in the United States alone. This is a disaster. It is a total contradiction to the Obama administration’s stated goal of keeping the planet well below 2°. John Kerry was a big part of saying, “We need to keep the planet well below 2°.” We can’t do that and build 300 new fracking power plants. We can’t do that and frack two million more wells for natural gas and build hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines, compressor stations and LNG [liquefied natural gas] terminals — and lift the oil export ban.
All of these things the United States is doing are in direct contradiction with its aspirational goals stated in Paris. We should be phasing out natural gas—period. Not planning for its future. We cannot possibly keep using fossil fuels if we want to keep our major cities on the East Coast from going underwater. Period. That story has been written.
We know how much methane will go into the atmosphere. We’re already at 1.5 degrees. We have no budget left for carbon at all. Even if you stopped all the methane, you’re still talking about half the carbon of coal. Even if you stopped and you built those power plants, you’re still talking about huge emissions of carbon dioxide. There’s simply no way around it. You have to start to convert immediately to 100 percent renewable energy and do that on a very fast time scale.
RL: So what has to happen?
JF: Actual participatory democracy in the streets. Right now all of those power plants, pipelines, compressor stations and LNG terminals have really significant opposition at the local level. People in upstate New York are fighting theConstitution pipeline. In Massachusetts they’re fighting the NED pipeline. InSeattle and Portland and across the Gulf Coast, they’re fighting LNG terminals. In Denton, Texas, the birthplace of fracking, they’re fighting fracked gas power plants. These local fights have to be invested in and supported by the elements that support the fracking fight, by the people who are supporting the climate change fight.
RL: Who should be financing the movement?
JF: There are millionaires and billionaires and ordinary people who are putting tons and tons of money out there to try to create this movement against climate change, and movement for global environmental justice. Those fights at the local level in the United States have to be supported. We’re talking about hundreds of groups across the United States that are fighting these fights at an individual level. It’s like Keystone XL times 100. It’s like Tom Steyer, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg and all those powerful people who believe that climate change is a bad thing. They need to start talking to the activists because fracked gas running the show in the United States for the next 40 years definitely means we’re going underwater here in New York. We’re going underwater in Philadelphia. We’re going underwater in Miami. That’s what it means.
You’re signing the death warrant for those cities unless you realize that fracked gas is the worst possible fuel for climate.
RL: Is natural gas really cleaner than coal?
JF: Fracked gas at the power plant burns cleaner in terms of less CO2 and has less particulate matter than coal. However, methane itself, natural gas, fracked gas, is according to IPCC, 86 times more potent a global warming agent than CO2 is in the atmosphere. That means that if you’re leaking significant portions of natural gas directly into the atmosphere rather than having it all burned, then the leaked methane plus burned CO2 adds up to a worse greenhouse gas emission profile than coal. What we’re seeing out there in the field is huge amounts of natural gas, fracked gas, are leaking out of the process at every stage. Gas lines leak, the compressor stations leak, the fracked gas drilling process itself liberates and vents methane directly into the atmosphere. It’s something that we reported on in Gasland 2. Scientists at Cornell estimated several years ago that between 3.6 and 7.9 percent of all the gas harvested through fracking and shale gas, leaked into the atmosphere at methane. That means that when you combine the total emissions profile for fracked gas, with respect to climate change, you’re actually doing worse than coal. Fracked gas is substantially worse than our worse fuel.
Look at what’s happening right now in Porter Ranch in California — a methane geyser that has erupted out of a natural gas storage facility that currently is the largest single climate emissions source in the world. It is emitting 25 percent of California’s methane every single day. That is one facility that went awry. There are hundreds of thousands of these facilities across America right now with antiquated equipment.
RL: But coal isn’t better than natural gas.
JF: I’m not campaigning for coal. I think coal is a disaster. We have to phase out coal. Unfortunately, however, 10, 15 years ago, the natural gas industry’s propaganda was so pervasive and insidious that they were able to misinform the world that they were cleaner than coal in terms of climate change emissions. It is absolutely 100 percent not true. That is a myth that the natural gas, the fracked gas industry, propagated out into the world to get people to buy into the idea that natural gas, or fracked gas, is clean. Fracked gas is anything but clean. It pollutes the groundwater when you do the fracking. It pollutes the air in the sites all around it and causes health problems.
We know now that so much of this process leaks, that we’re talking about something that’s worse than coal, especially if you’re talking about expanding it. Methane’s not even a part of the Paris agreement, okay? That’s a huge problem. It’s all about carbon. Right now, we’re talking about a huge, huge upswing in methane emissions in the United States that will only get worse if we permit these frack gas power plants, these frack gas pipelines, and these LNG terminals.
RL: How close are we to getting the entire nation powered by renewable energy?
JF: Very far away. I think it’s something like less than 10 percent. But when Americans have had our backs up against a wall, we’ve done the impossible over and over again. When JFK said we’re going to put a man on the moon, we did it, and we did it really fast. We did it inside of a decade. When the Nazis were militarizing in Europe, FDR went to the automobile industry and said, Okay, we’re going to build the largest war machine the world has ever seen because we need to defeat fascism in Europe.
The car industry went back to FDR and they said, Well, we’re going to try our best, but it’s going to be pretty hard to do that at the same time as we make all these cars. FDR said, No, I don’t think you understand what I’m saying. We’re going to ban the sale of private automobiles in this country.
In seven years, they built the largest war machine that the world has ever seen and defeated the Nazis in Europe. We did that in six years. We can do this.
RL: Let’s talk about China for a moment. According to new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, for the first time ever, developing countries account for the majority of global clean energy investment. Over the last year, China alone outpaced renewable energy investment in the U.S., U.K. and France combined.
JF: China’s decision to close down 1,000 coal mines and not open any new coal mines — that’s really significant. If America did the same thing, and said we’re going to stop doing coal, and we’re going to stop doing our fracked gas, our new infatuation with fracked gas, then we’re talking about something that could really be meaningful. The Chinese just committed last year to building one terawatt of renewable energy by 2030. One terawatt of renewable energy by 2030 is about 20 percent of Chinese electricity generation. In the United States, that’s 100 percent. If the Chinese can build one terawatt in 15 years, why can’t we build it in 10? There’s no reason. It’s simply the political will on the ground.
We’ve seen these types of transformations sweep through our society time and time again. Fifteen years ago, no one had a cellphone. Now it’s unimaginable that you don’t have a supercomputer in your pocket. Don’t tell me it’s not possible to do. However, it’s certainly impossible if we build these fracked gas power plants.
RL: In your new film,How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change), you travel to 12 countries on six continents. On your website, you say that “the film acknowledges that it may be too late to stop some of the worst consequences and asks, what is it that climate change can’t destroy? What is so deep within us that no calamity can take it away?”
Are you hopeful or pessimistic about the future?
JF: That’s a day-to-day question. In the new film, I go through the whole gamut of emotions, from deepest despair to dancing in the street, literally. This film is about the answer. I think when you really encounter the depths of the problem, there’s nothing but despair and sorrow and grief, that it has to take you over. However, the depths of that emotional responsibility led me to meeting some of the most inspiring, positive, innovative, creative, willful and resilient people on the planet.
The film takes you to the Amazon, where you’re with the indigenous environmental monitors who are trying to get the story out about oil spills that are poisoning the fish in their villages and jungles. We take you to the Pacific Climate Warriors blockading the Port of Newcastle against the largest coal export facility in the world. These people are indomitable. People fighting for human rights in China. People fighting for stopping the fracking and tar sands expansion in America. The stories are incredibly emotionally powerful, and so it’s a rollercoaster ride.
RL: What’s the film’s central message?
JF: The idea is how to let go of the world. Well, we’ve got to let go of the world of greed and competition. We’ve got to let go of that world to give birth to another one. Climate change is going to claim a lot of places. It’s going to create a lot of suffering. It’s going to create a lot of havoc. What are all the things that climate can’t change? Well, those are community, love, resilience, human rights, democracy, basic decency and generosity. These are the things that we have to pull upon.
When you look in the depths of your heart and the depths of your soul, what are the things that make life worth living? Those are the things that climate can’t change.
RL: Those are all great ideals, but isn’t the reality on the ground different in terms of people who are busy dealing with their everyday lives and own struggles?
JF: What we’re saying to people is, don’t fool yourself right now. This is not going to be an easy task. This is something that you’re going to have to sacrifice for, and this is something that you’re going to have to actually work for. That means one to two hours a week as a volunteer at your local organization. That means one to two hours a week … It might mean missing your kid’s Thursday night soccer game once in awhile. Well, if that’s what it means, fine. It means creating a stronger, and a safer, and a more healthy planet for their future. That’s what is required and nothing less. At the same time, this is really just an invitation to a party. The movement is culture. The movement is music. The movement is film. It’s having your neighbors over for dinner. That’s what this is.
RL: What would you say to someone who’s concerned about climate, but hasn’t yet made the personal leap to become active in the climate movement?
JF: What did other movements do in the history of movements? Look at the civil rights movement. Look at the suffragettes. Look at feminism. Look at the movement to get children out of the workforce in the coal mines. What did those movements do? The answer is everything. They had songs. They had stories. They had plays. They had movies. They had marches. They had civil disobedience. They had conversations around your coffee table. This is what it means to be a participant in democratic civilization. This is what it means to be a citizen, and this is the biggest challenge that democracy and human organization has ever faced.
Of course it’s going to take some time, and it’s going to take some willingness, but the good part of that is, that’s going to be a meaningful experience. It’s going to be a fun experience. It’s going to be something that brings us closer to what makes life worth living.
Watch the trailer for How to Let Go of The World (And Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change):