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Why demonise the Oil & Gas Industry?

13 October 2023

Written by Nick Lyth, 13th October 2023

I am delighted to say that I have been taken to task recently for doing this. It shows people are reading my blogs, and indeed reacting to them.  They are intended to provoke discussion at a time when we can see the reality of climate change taking fearsome shape. We all need to be considering the problem, how best to solve it, and what that means we should be advocating, expecting, voting for, funding, doing whatever we can to make the difference we need. So discussion and challenge of what I write in my blogs is more than welcome.

Balancing Act: Navigating the Intersection of Oil & Gas Dependency and Climate Change Crisis

I will start by saying that all those who have criticised my blog raise one incontrovertible fact:

  • Our global economy is still dependent on Oil & Gas, and would collapse disastrously without it were supplies to be cut off tomorrow.

Another incontrovertible fact however must be stated:

  • Every additional CO2 emission today is another nail in the coffin of climate change tomorrow. People are suffering already from the consequences of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, desperately in some cases. Adding to it will only make things worse.

The two facts cannot be reconciled. Continued use of products derived from oil and gas will mean additional CO2 emissions entering the atmosphere. The alternative, overnight elimination of CO2 emissions, would mean that critical dependencies within the economic and health systems all over the world would suffer a fatal collapse. 

But they must be reconciled if we are to rebalance our world in a manner that provides a long-term future. That means that we have to find a bridge between the two which allows the one to contribute to the other and vice versa. The bridge that we need is gradual change by means of technology innovation. This bridge is already being built.  We now know, in broad terms, what we have got to do in order to achieve the transition from a hydro-carbon economy to a non hydro-carbon economy.

Falling Short: The Growing Rift Between Climate Awareness and Action

Unfortunately, understanding is very different from doing. There is a gap between what we need to achieve and what we actually are achieving as a global community in the work required to avoid catastrophic climate change. This gap has been widening over the last three decades, not closing. The pace at which it has been widening has been accelerating, rather than slowing down.  What we are actually doing has got worse rather than better in its overall effect on our world.

Many people much better qualified than me have been talking about this gap for three decades or more. They have been drawing the world’s attention to our mistakes, and trying to persuade all of us, from citizens to politicians, from consumers to corporates, from small businesses to large, from children to pensioners, to do something about it rather than continuing to do everything the same way. These people range from King Charles to David Attenborough, from Al Gore to Mark Carney, from James Lovelock to Greta Thunberg.

But they have not succeeded in their efforts to persuade us to change. Instead of lowering the concentration, we have now reached a previously unimaginable level of 420 parts of CO2 in the atmosphere per million. It sounds small, but its effect can already be seen.  The events of this summer in Libya, Rhodes, Hawaii, Canada, India, and many other places have been horrific. All are either entirely or in part attributable to climate change.

Facing Our Complicity: Moving Beyond Blame to Address the Climate Crisis

I do not think we can hide from our complicity, or fail to acknowledge that every additional particle of CO2 emitted now is adding to the problems suffered by those most exposed to climate change.

But what actually are we to do? Can we also acknowledge that we ourselves have been using the products that cause these problems for the last three decades, that we are using them now, and we will still be using them next week, next month, next year? In writing about the problem at my desk today, I am not abating it, I am continuing to contribute to it.

I have been adding my voice in support of those much more important people who have been talking and writing about this problem for more than 20 years now. I have spoken at conferences in the UK and around Europe, I have been writing about the problem in different media, and I have been working in different capacities to support the work needed in practical terms.  But I have failed, by any standards. Whilst I have been doing my best to make a difference in my small way supporting people who are enormously more successful in making their influence felt, we have collectively watched our world’s destruction of the habitat on which we depend to a point where, now, some believe it to be irretrievable.

But how can I blame others, when I myself have continued to be a net CO2 emitter throughout that period?

Indeed, I would not blame the Oil & Gas industry, were it not for one thing. Instead of accepting the science and working with us, their customers, to understand what and how we could alleviate and reverse the damage we had been causing in using their products, the Oil & Gas industry spent large sums of money in its efforts to convince us that the problem did not exist. From the mid-90’s onwards, the coordinated campaign run by the major oil companies was designed to ensure continuity of trade, by means of deliberate misinformation.

They cannot be blamed for continuing to satisfy our demand for their products. But they can be blamed for deliberately misleading us, the political world, their shareholders and, in the end, themselves. If President Trump still believed the lies as late as 2016, living as he did and does in one of the countries worst hit by climate change to date, why shouldn’t the industry itself believe them?

But blaming them leaves us no further forward in addressing the gap, the gap between what we need to achieve and what we are achieving. So I will say now, unequivocally, that I do not want to blame them, that it is fruitless dwelling on past mistakes, and that the only hope for the future lies in the future, not the past. We must dispense with blame, acknowledge that we are all in it together, and work together.

 

There are no sides now, there is no enemy, there is no demon. Coherent frameworks are required, strong leadership is required, and both need clear policy direction from national and international Governments. And policy from our own UK Government will only come if it feels it has the mandate of a popular vote. Once again, it comes back to us, the people who live, work and vote in the UK. Rishi Sunak, our current Prime Minister, can backtrack on Net Zero policy commitments if he knows this will be popular with us.

What then should we be doing to change these dynamics? We know what we need to do, the pathway is relatively clearly laid out. It could be described as gradual change at breakneck speed – but the neck must not be broken. Everyone knows what needs to happen and that the pace is determined by the art of the possible. No-one quite knows what is going to happen while we are putting right the damage we have done to the climate. How bad will the changes to our ecosystems become?  How severe will the effects of these changes be felt? How long will it take before we can hope to see the temperatures stabilise and – the ultimate goal – cool down again to what were normal levels? What damage will we sustain before we can achieve that?

No-one knows for certain. But that is a condition of life. We don’t know what happens next. We have never known. That’s what made Nostradamus so popular. These days, our modern Nostradamus is a computer model. But the truth is, it has just about the same degree of reliability as Nostradamus when it comes to climate change (and he did have several things to say about climate change). The best computer model cannot predict with certainty what happens at 420 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.  It has never happened before.  There are no data points.

Confronting Climate Change: Finding Common Ground for Action

So what are we to do? We have to keep going, but let’s keep going in the right direction.  Let’s keep talking about what really matters, and try to ignore the rest. It’s CO2 in the atmosphere. Let’s say this, and stop saying ESG, Sustainability, Impact or UN SDG’s. If CO2 concentrations continue to increase, the effects of climate change will be increasingly disastrous.

What, in fact, are we saying? At the end of July, the Prime Minister announced 100 new licences would be made available for drilling in the North Sea. “Now more than ever, it’s vital that we bolster our energy security,” he said in a statement. On the 27th September, the controversial offshore Oil & Gas development called, euphemistically, Rosebank was granted consent by the regulator.  It’s located 80 miles west of Shetland, in the middle of the ocean. Quite when it was ever capable of cultivating roses seems an insoluble mystery, but the name was almost certainly chosen for its comforting echoes of natural beauty. Here is what the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, had to say about that: He told the BBC that allowing the North Sea exploration to go ahead would provide “the stability that we desperately need in our economy.”

These people are not even talking about CO2. It is as if the problem for them does not exist, at the same time as people in other parts of the world are dying as a consequence of the excess we are now committed to increasing.  

Which brings me back to the Oil & Gas industry. Why demonise them when they are responding to political direction, which in turn is responding to voter preferences, which brings the whole thing back to us?

This article is not only an attempt to explain that the Oil & Gas industry is not, nor ever should be, demonised, it is more than that.  It is a plea to say that these issues must not be turned into a battleground.  We must not take sides.  There isn’t an enemy.  The Oil & Gas industry  is not an enemy, it is providing us with many of the things we need right now.  Rishi Sunak is not an enemy, he is looking after the interests of all of us, as they are made known to him.  Equally, campaigners for the environment are not enemies, they are helping to make sure the issues of carbon emissions stay in the front of our minds.

Climate change is the enemy. The work we do needs to be making every attempt possible to fight it, and defeat it.  All our work in Green Angel Ventures is committed to this cause.  I would exhort everyone, including the Oil & Gas industry, to make the same commitment.

 

In order to do this, let’s all try to talk the same language about this problem, so that our Prime Minister will understand that the interests of all of us, as they are made known to him, must incorporate the fight against climate change. No back-tracking now, please Prime Minister, the breakneck speed we need must not actually break our collective necks, but equally, it must not slow down to a trot, let alone go in the opposite direction.

 

**Since publishing this blog post, Green Angel Ventures has been featured in the Business Green Net Zero Pioneers Report. This report identifies Green Angel Ventures as 1 of the 50 most innovative UK-based businesses driving deep decarbonisation, paving the way for a greener future. To read more about our thoughts on this and to download the report, click here.**