In the English-speaking world, much energy in political and social progress is channelled into running quasi-military style “campaigns”. We are urged to rally and take action against the political and social opposition, through the assertion that these real people, and real companies, and real power groups, who are responsible for causing or maintaining these real evils, are motivated by nastiness, or greed, or selfishness.
Endless leaflets and speeches and petitions are produced. And so, for example, we have learned that destitution, malnutrition and poor health in England is being caused by such things as dodgy landlords, greedy estate agents, an unnecessary drive towards a smaller state, with smaller governance budgets, done by a policy of austerity, a hostile environment towards foreign-born citizens, selfish company directors who lobby Members of Parliament, and democratic representatives who have private financial interests. And we are being called to wrestle with evil by struggling against a range of powers, to “take the fight” to the opposition of our cause.
Whilst this pattern and method of focussed Civil Society action has been successful over several centuries, and whilst there are certainly some genuinely evil forces incarnated in those organisations, corporates and government agencies who reinforce poverty and other ills, this style of action cannot work in tackling the dangerous risks of climate change.
It is true that there is a tiny group of names and faces that are, via their roles, killing the chances for a liveable Earth, but to set these people and their groups up as our enemies is not going to break the deadlock, or gain traction on solutions-building. They’re only doing their job, these “enemies of the climate”. The leaders of BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil don’t get up in the morning as say, “Today, by proxy, I am going to spew fossil carbon dioxide and methane into the air and flood Indonesia, desiccate Central Africa, burn Amazonian and Australian forests to the ground, and kill all the remaining koala bears.”
And anyway, the problems of addressing global warming is systemic, and not segmental. This is a universal problem, and so requires united action. Somehow we have to make allies out of opponents.
With Renewable Electricity, Renewable Gas, and the consequent Renewable Fuels, we have a group of technologies that can be used as a toolbox by the “planetkillers” to rescue us all. This would make us all collaborators in decarbonising the global economy, whether as energy producers or energy consumers. The main question is : how can such processing and production chains for such things as Renewable Methane, Renewable Hydrogen and Renewable Methanol become a main plank in the strategy for the fossil fuel companies ? What will it take for the chemical engineering giants of the planet, including the large corporations mining and refining crude petroleum oil, Natural Gas, coal and other ancient sedimentised remains, to switch out their core feedstocks for renewable solids, liquids and gases ?
The way forward cannot be through “fighting”; and it will take a lot of reasoning. So where is the debate taking place ? Are governments and parliaments asking the oil and gas majors to substitute renewable feedstocks into their input energy streams ? Are shareholders, investment funds and banks setting ambitious targets for taking out fossil carbon from their business activities, and pointing the way to their preferences on renewables ? What are the non-governmental organisations and charities doing to foster engagement, rather than clamour ? And can we all find a way to work together without the lobbyists sucking the air out of the low carbon transition, and stop the public relations people “greenwashing” everything to insignificance ? Co-operation has to lead to meaningful change.
Responsibility needs to be taken, by those parties that need to make change. In a sense, that is all of us. But this is not by sub-sectoral individual actions, such as changing light bulbs, eating less meat, and turning down the thermostat – although those things are useful.
We need to be responsible for deconstructing the “us and them” oppositional diatribe of the past, whilst creating a space for dialogue on how to get a major change of direction implanted and adopted at the heart of large carbon-spewing businesses. Speaking truth to power, without marching with placards and holding shouty rallies.
It is entirely possible for the world’s oil, gas and coal companies to substitute their primary fossil fuel feedstocks with renewable fuel feedstocks. Who is going to ask them to do that ? And how ? It can’t be done by carbon-shaming or carbon-framing. It needs to be done with other argumentation.
If this negotiation cannot be done, then the fossil fuel energy companies will falter and collapse, sooner or later, due to a range of pressures. Other chemical engineering groups, those that do Renewable Chemistry, will rise to take their place, but this period of change will be slow and chaotic, reforming at a pace too slow to prevent dangerous global warming.
We have only one boat on the ocean of environmental change, and we are all in it.