The Stakes Are High In The Climate Wars

Global spending on energy is probably somewhere between $5 and $7 trillion US dollars. It’s actually difficult to be more precise than that, but when figures are that high perhaps it doesn’t matter.

Our climate, any changes to it and our responsibility for some of those changes matters to all of us. But because the bulk of whatever changes we have caused are caused by our use of energy, those involved in the $5-7 trillion sector have a lot at stake. It matters more.

Although all of us involved in the Climate Debate know who the Koch Brothers, Exxon, Shell and Peabody Energy are, they are only one side of the playing field. General Electric, Siemens, Solar City, Archer Daniels Midland, Trina and Yingli, BHP Billiton, Vale and a host of other very large companies are competing to be the dominant energy supplier for the rest of the century. Many have more than one offering–Exxon supplies natural gas as well as oil, General Electric works on nuclear power as well as wind turbines, etc.

In what I described yesterday as The Greater Game, I noted the number of players, ranging from companies and governments to NGOs and organized crime. But it’s time to recognize that the reason everybody is involved is not just a concern for our health and well-being. People want a bigger slice of a pie that is very large and is going to grow rapidly through most of this century.

Whether it happens by 2030, 2040 or 2050, energy consumption is set to double in the medium term future. And it may well double again by 2075. If the dollar figures involved in energy production and provision double along with it, a $10-14 trillion dollar market is well worth playing for.

And when playing for that kind of stakes, you can bet they will play hardball. NGOs inclined to oppose nuclear power get donations from fossil fuel companies. NGOs opposed to fossil fuels are supported by other energy providers. Those appalled by the strength of the fossil fuel lobbying battalions would be equally appalled by the strength and numbers of lobbyists for other types of energy, especially nuclear.

As each of the competing energy technologies has both strengths and weaknesses, there is plenty of room for argumentation and horse-trading. But scientists, bloggers and citizens won’t have any seats at the table where winners and losers are decided.

Our signals from outside the casino may have some marginal effect, which is one reason I continue to write. But a lot of money is involved in the Greater Game–enough to deafen the players to outside information and blind them to the probable effects of wrong decisions.

Poker

13 responses to “The Stakes Are High In The Climate Wars

  1. Tom,

    I discovered your blog late last week, via a link from Climate Etc. I’m slowly working my way back through your posts, and I am having a bit of a problem. I do a lot of reading on my old iPad 2, and due to WordPress’ Infinite Scroll I can’t go thru more than about twenty posts before Safari chokes & refuses to load any more. Would you consider adding an Archives widget to the sidebar? You could use the dropdown option so it doesn’t take up too much real estate. That way folks like me who want to explore your oeuvre can more easily find older posts.

    Many thanks for your blog! I very much hearing a more rational voice than is typical in the blogosphere these days.

  2. Thank you! My apologies, I totally missed it. Away I go😉

  3. Something that has nagged me a little is why people think the energy market is such a special case. What I mean is that many other large sectors of the economy have seen massive upheavals – tech, telecoms, media etc. All have gone through this process of the destruction of old capital and the rise of new, too busy investing in Google to mourn the death of Myspace. Yet somehow it seems generally accepted that (in)vested interests can stop a similar upheaval happening in the energy sector. Everybodies to busy destroying the planet with fossil fuels to be bothered to earning money from renewables investment. It sorta doesnt make sense to me.

    • The problem I see is the fact that renewables aren’t able to compete with fossil fuels. They require heavy subsidies, and this leads to corporate lobbying for ever increasing subsidies which eventually come from end user taxes and fees.

      Ive seen very misleading material claiming “fossil fuels are subsidized” which either refer to subsidies in OPEC and other oil exporters, use an unsupported or badly documented externality cost, or simply make up numbers out of sheer ignorance.

      I also see misleading statements about the ability of solar and wind to surmount the intermittency problem and inability to follow the grid load.

      Thus we see many individuals forming opinions based on distorted information. And I suspect a lot of that information is financed by corporate entities which stand to profit enormously from a subsidy and mandate ordained wind and solar demand.

      • Fernando,
        Spot on re subsidies. People can make up whatever numbers further their favorite ideological position. Fictions like the “social cost” of fossil fuels are dangerous—they preclude any rational discussion of the cost/benefit analysis of different energy sources. But I guess that’s the desired outcome.

        It’s possible to find out what actual subsidies are, it just takes a bit of digging. One can find out that, for example, in the US one of the largest fossil fuel “subsidy” is LIHEAP, the low-income heating assistance program, which was worth a bit over $3.1 billion USD in 2013. Wind energy producers, via Energy Investment Grants[1], made off with over $4 billion[2]. At the same time, subsidies for conservation efforts like weatherization and energy efficient appliance rebates were slashed to the bone between 2010-2013. So we see fossil fuel “subsidies” in the form of assistance to low-income folks to keep the heat on, and “renewable” subsidies in the form of cash grants to Warren Buffet to build wind turbines in Iowa—and the near-abandonment of federal support for domestic conservation efforts.

        [1] Section 1603 program (energy grants) http://www.treasury.gov/initiatives/recovery/Pages/1603.aspx
        [2] Federal energy subsidies: http://www.eia.gov/analysis/requests/subsidy/

    • You seem to assume as a given that the use of fossil fuels is destroying the planet.
      That is an amazing assertion. Perhaps you would be so kind as to offer some evidence of this?

      • “You seem to assume as a given that the use of fossil fuels is destroying the planet.”

        I dont, I was being facile.

  4. I’ve often wondered if the XL pipeline environmental movement may not be financed in part by Venezuelan government actors, oil refiners located near the Canadian border, and rail roads which transport the crude due to the lack of pipeline capacity?

    The Venezuelan connection is an interesting issue. There’s an ongoing investigation to trace the eventual destination of over $1.5 billion USD laundered by the Venezuelan regime via a crooked bank in Andorra. Some of this money was used to finance extreme left parties in Europe, some seems to be simply stolen and stashed away, and some was used to reward individuals who write pro Venezuelan regime propaganda. When the cases go to trial and the story is finally revealed we will find out very interesting facts…

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