Just in case anyone is not already aware of the climate crisis, António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, has again sounded the alarm:
- “Addiction to fossil fuels is mutually assured destruction.”
- “Our planet has had enough. Our addiction to fossil fuels is killing us.”
- “But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”
His passionate outcries are supported by the recent IPCC report on the mitigation of climate change, including the headline statement: “Reducing GHG emissions across the full energy sector requires major transitions, including a substantial reduction in overall fossil fuel use.”
An article in The Guardian was even more blunt, “It’s over for fossil fuels: IPCC spells out what’s needed to avert climate disaster.”
Another passionate plea came from NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus: “And it will continue to get worse until we end the fossil fuel industry and the exponential quest for ever more profit at the expense of everything else. There is no way to fool physics.” Later, he added on Twitter: “Now that Will Smith has been banned from the Oscars for 10 years, can we talk about something that really matters ... like banning the fossil fuel industry from profiting off the death of our entire planet?”
After these latest warnings from such prominent and respected figures, surely nations would recognize the urgent need to meet the Paris Agreement target, as time is clearly running out to keep the global temperature rise below the critical 2 C level. One would also expect the public to be demanding reductions in the use of fossil fuels and the voices of dissent to be, at least, chastened if not silenced.
You can imagine how shocked I was at seeing instead a surge of activity on Twitter from what I call “oil apologists” who are unabashedly pushing for the greater use of fossil fuels.
Oil apologists represent just another shade of climate denialism (the anti-science movement that denies climate change is mainly caused by humans, and action is required now). Unlike most climate deniers, oil apologists don’t have a lot to say about the science of climate change because they generally ignore the topic. Their messaging is focused on fossil fuels being necessary for the progress of humanity.
Opinion: Oil apologists have been around for decades but have generally been quiet. Why the sudden surge? The war in Ukraine, writes @GeraldKutney. #ClimateBrawl #ClimateAction #ClimateCrisis #ClimateEmergency
Such views, for example, have been expressed by Alex Epstein in The Moral Case of Fossil Fuels, where he summarized his position: “I had just concluded, based on my research, that the short- and long-term benefits of using fossil fuels actually far, far outweigh the risks.” He discussed in his book “climate mastery”; namely, the ability of fossil fuels themselves to limit the impact of the climate crisis. On Twitter, Epstein, who has more than 90,000 followers, refers to himself and those like him as “climate humanists,” and has used terms such as pro-human for those who support fossil fuel growth and anti-human for those who oppose it.
Politicians are also oil apologists. During the Trump administration, Steven Winberg, assistant secretary of fossil energy, called fossil fuels the “molecules of U.S. freedom.”
Canada, more properly Alberta, has its own homegrown version of oil apologists. The message is the same — produce more oil — but with a twist: the target is other oil-producing regions. The main political spokesperson among the oil apologists in Canada has been Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta.
Jason Kenney’s favourite message is the use of ethical oil or energy from Alberta to replace dictator oil or energy from despotic oil producers such as the Gulf states, Venezuela and Russia. The intent is to grow oil production in Alberta at the expense of foreign competitors. While Canada is a democratic state and can be proud of its freedoms, that does not make oil, from anywhere, ethical, as the burning of even “ethical” oil still contributes to climate change.
Oil apologists have been around for decades but have generally been quiet. Why the sudden surge? The war in Ukraine presented the opportunity for this “humanitarian” justification of fossil fuels. In a recent interview on the Russia-Ukraine war, Noam Chomsky lamented the war profiteering by Big Oil:
“So, what has happened? Well, what has happened now is the euphoria in the offices of the oil companies even exceeds that of the joy in the offices of the weapons manufacturers… They want to be ‘hugged,’ as they put it in their words. We want to be hugged because we’re saving civilization by rapidly increasing the use of fossil fuels, and that’s what’s happening. That is one consequence of the invasion.”
Oil apologists want others to see them as the saviours of humanity and the protectors of freedom. They preach about the horrors of energy poverty and the need for helping lower-income regions achieve a prosperous future. Fossil fuels are humanity’s salvation. Hallelujah!
There are two fatal flaws with the outlandish position adopted by oil apologists. Foremost, they are largely ignoring the climate crisis and the devastating consequences of burning fossil fuels and, secondly, they wrongly presume that fossil fuels will be eliminated without being replaced or that replacements will be much more costly.
A favourite propaganda ploy of the oil apologists is emotional trigger phrases, such as the ones highlighted above, stirring up sentiment to distract and distort. They seek to control the narrative and are running a protection racket — not to protect us but to protect an industry that is harming humanity.