If only Richard Nixon could go to China, then maybe only the United Arab Emirates could host a climate summit that yielded a unanimous agreement to transition away from fossil fuels. No, COP28 in Dubai didn’t produce the sort of ironclad pledge to eliminate the use of oil, gas and coal that so many scientists, environmentalists and country representatives in attendance wanted to see. But it did commit the nearly 200 countries in attendance to move “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.” Denmark’s Climate and Energy Minister Dan Jørgensen said, "We're standing here in an oil country, surrounded by oil countries, and we made the decision saying let's move away from oil and gas."

And yet, for all the talking that occurred over the two weeks in Dubai, few people seemed willing to call out the oil and gas industry and its thousands of representatives at COP28 for the contradiction that lies at the heart of their shared conceit. Whether it’s ExxonMobil or Saudi Arabia, they all seem to believe they can reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050 but maintain or even expand current levels of production. Somehow, by affixing huge volumes of carbon capture technology (heavily subsidized by governments, of course), they’ll get to have their climate cake and eat it too.

But of course, upwards of 80 per cent of emissions associated with the combustion of oil and gas come at the tailpipe, and that’s the part governments committed to their own net-zero targets must address. As those emissions are phased out in major economies like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and Japan, global oil and gas production will necessarily have to follow suit. This is as plain as day in the International Energy Agency’s forecast, which shows that in a net-zero global economy, the volume of oil consumed would fall from over 100 million barrels per day in 2023 to 24 million barrels by 2050. Natural gas demand drops just as precipitously, from 4,150 billion cubic metres per day to 900 billion in 2050.

These are stunning, staggering declines in demand, and yet they’re ones that nobody seems willing to acknowledge will actually happen. Take Mark Cameron, vice-president of the Pathways Alliance and part of the large Alberta delegation in Dubai. As he told The Atlantic’s Zoë Schlanger, “We can’t control the way that our product is used once it leaves our plant gates or our pipelines.” To climate activists, this probably sounds like a cop-out. To me, though, it sounds more like a confession — and a pretty consequential one at that.

Cameron is right about the fact that the companies his organization represents can’t control the way their oil and gas products are used once they’re combusted in the engines of people’s cars and trucks or the furnaces that heat their homes and businesses. But they also can’t control the increasingly attractive economics behind things like electric vehicles and renewable energy. They can’t control the rapidly growing demand from both consumers and businesses for products that reduce or eliminate the need for fossil fuels. And they certainly can’t control the behaviour of major fossil fuel-importing countries like China, where growth in both zero-carbon energy and electric vehicles continues to outstrip even the most ambitious projections.

They are, in a word, powerless. This probably sounds crazy in a country like Canada, where oil and gas companies exert a massively disproportionate influence over the national political discourse — to say nothing of places like Alberta or Saskatchewan, where they essentially control it. But the truth is that the energy transition is already well past the point of no return and all the slow-walking in the world won’t change the pace at which it unfolds. Even geopolitical events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which the fossil fuel industry has tried to weaponize for its own purposes, simply serve as a reminder of why true energy independence is so important.

Given that, there are two possible explanations for the fossil fuel industry’s apparent indifference to the consequences of its own stated objectives. The first is that these companies have no real expectation of anyone actually meeting them and are simply using events like COP28 to stall for time. The second is that it will be someone else’s problem by then, and they’re simply trying to extend their window as long as possible. Both are different versions of the same bullshit, and both need to be called out as such.

Now that the world has declared the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, it’s time for the oil and gas industry and governments in its thrall to act accordingly. They must plan seriously for a world of declining demand and adjust their own forecasts to match. Companies need to either actively plan for a transition away from selling as much oil and gas as they do today to some other line of business or embrace the idea of winding down their operations over time. Governments that depend heavily on revenues from the fossil fuel industry should wean themselves off it as quickly as possible. In both cases, pursuing business as usual is a form of deliberate sabotage that will leave future generations shouldering the highest price.

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The oil and gas industry is responsible for 100% of plastic. The fight to reduce the burning fossil fuels must also be directed at big plastic as well (e.g. Dow Chemical, NOVA Chemicals, etc.).

Plastic is tougher. It's really useful, its harms are diffuse and not planet-wrecking, and there is nothing on the horizon that can out-plastic plastic for cheaper. We may be stuck with a fair amount of plastic until the world population shrinks quite a bit. However, it is going to get a lot less permanent because some bacteria and fungi are learning to eat the stuff.

The harm depends on the particular plastic, but many of them offgas or leach toxic substances into liquids. Some people appear to be more susceptible than others to some harms. But ultimately, they're like lead and asbestos, except their harms can be more insidious.
Biodegradable plastics can be made from corn or rice by-products, too. I vote to leave corn out of the mix, given the number of people allergic to even small amounts of corn products.

I pick explanation number one: Big Oil has no expectation of meeting climate targets and will delay the inevitable as long as possible. I don't understand the enthusiasm surrounding the outcome of COP28. After the "say my name" moment, what? I foresee a duel to the death between the electrifying auto industry and the fire-breathing dinosaurs of the oil patch. We need pedal to the metal on all fronts because climate change isn't waiting.

The outcome, if not the entire COP28 was joke with the event basically run by oil & gas with their usual greenwashing. Regardless of the agreement, Oil & Gas has no intention of meeting the targets and continuing to increase production and emissions. Their talk of carbon capture technology is greenwashing and a waste of time and money should the governments get sucked into subsidizing this.

Pathways Alliance: “We can’t control the way that our product is used once it leaves our plant gates or our pipelines.”

O&G producers are just innocent suppliers meeting consumer demand. Don't blame industry. Blame consumers.
Same line used by tobacco companies. Just delivering "what the consumer demands".

An argument well past its best-before date. Shifting responsibility from the menu-makers to the menu-takers.
Following the tobacco industry's playbook when they tried to blame smokers.

Fossil fuel producers are not innocent suppliers, simply meeting society's demand. Neither are drug producers, smugglers, and dealers, who hook new customers, especially the young, on their products. Think tobacco industry.
Environmentalists have tried for decades to change the menu options.
No one has obstructed change more than the oil industry.

Around the world, the fossil fuel industry does everything in its power to perpetuate demand, protect its profits, sideline the competition (including laws to thwart ESG investing), and maintain its hegemony. Funding climate-change denial campaigns for decades, manufacturing doubt, blocking alternatives, lobbying to delay or weaken regulations, milking govts for endless subsidies, and obstructing climate action.
So, yes, industry is very much to blame.

Carbon pricing reduces supply and demand at the same time. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry also obstructs demand-side solutions, by opposing realistic carbon pricing.

Mark van Baal, founder of Follow This, a group that organizes shareholder rebellions against publicly held fossil-fuel companies: "First, oil companies denied climate change. Then they denied that it was a supply-side problem. They said, 'It's the consumers. And as long as people want to fly, and drive a car, then there's nothing we can do. We just delivered the demand.' Now the denial is: 'We have to change, but we can only change slowly.' So they make this delay. A lot of oil majors have nice promises for 2050.
"… there is no time for gradual transition anymore. If they wanted a gradual transition, they should have started in the 1980s when they knew — and then decided to fund climate denial. It needs to be a very disruptive transition."
"How to reform Big Oil from the inside out" (Mother Jones, 2021)

A portfolio of supply-side and demand-side policies is effective in other policy areas (e.g., curbing tobacco use). No reason not to use both arms of the scissors. We need to use all levers at our disposal to reduce emissions.
"It's time to think seriously about cutting off the supply of fossil fuels" (Vox, 2018)

The oil industry has long tried to shift responsibility to consumers.
Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, D.C.: "For decades there's been a persistent myth that everyone is responsible, and if everyone is responsible then no one is responsible."

"ExxonMobil blames climate change on the public by using 'misleading' language, researchers say" (CBC: What On Earth)
"However, externally, words like 'energy demand,' 'global demand,' 'living standards' and 'consumers' were frequently used, which illustrates how the message and the onus was put on consumers.
"For example, chairman and CEO Darren Woods is quoted as saying: 'There are few challenges as important than meeting the world's growing demand for energy while reducing environmental impacts and the risks of climate change,' in a 2019 public report.
"'So there's a set of words — demand, need, use, consumption — that [suggest] the reason we have this problem is not because ExxonMobil produces a defective product but because we need these things, we use them, we demand them,' said Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the study and a professor at Harvard.
"'In a sense, when we hear these words … what ExxonMobil is saying is, it's our fault. I mean, our fault — consumers — right? They're denying responsibility for their own actions and saying, well it's the fault of the consumer.'"

Fossil-fuel addiction goes far beyond the individual. Society is structurally dependent on fossil fuels. No cure for individuals is possible until society is transformed. A focus on individual behavior distracts from the systemic changes the problem requires.
Systemic problems cannot be solved by individual action or by a market tilted in favor of fossil fuels. Only government can apply the systemic solutions required.

At this point, the price won't even be shouldered by future generations. It's us. I'm not that young, but my vague plan is to live for 30+ more years. If I manage that, that's the 2050s. At the rate climate bad stuff is increasing already, what are the 2050s going to be like if we don't get our act together NOW?

In the late 1930s UK Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed a piece of paper on German ground with a smirking Adolf Hitler that stated categorically that Hitler would not invade Poland or England and start another war in Europe.

Chamberlain went back to London and was filmed waving the document in the air exclaiming, "Peace in our times!"

A few weeks later Hitler invaded Poland, followed later by the indiscriminate bombing of London citizens, and then another five years of outright war. Yes, Hitler was defeated in the end, but the cost was very, very dear mainly because England and Europe were lulled by the 'Peace in Our Times' lullaby while Hitler quietly laid plans and schemed.

Substitute "Chamberlain" with climate delegates, negotiators and activists at COP (whatever the number), and "Hitler" with Big Oil and you've got yet another meaningless piece of paper that will not of itself stop emissions nor change the boardroom and shareholder minds of fossil fuel interests. Only a fully awake citizenry armed with sharp pencils and money to buy or invest in renewables can do that.

Seniors who are in comfortable places, but can't really care for themselves any more, and relatives get them committed to care, usually have to be dragged out; they know it's a rapid downhill slide in an uncaring care place.

This will be the same. We'll have to drag.