Climate advocates should call for fossil fuel abolition, not “net zero”


in Language, Politics, Rants, The environment

The concept of “net zero” has become a major mechanism for industries and politicians who are unwilling to move past the fossil fuel economy to pretend that somehow that will not be necessary, since some future technology or tree planting will cancel out the emissions.

I’ve written before about how you would need a carbon capture industry far greater than today’s oil industry to bury our current emissions, and this CO2 burial industry would not produce anything of value to sell, meaning it would need to be paid for in a way not envisioned in any of the net zero promises I have seen. Tree planting is perhaps even more hopeless, since temporary sequestration of CO2 in biomass is not comparable to the permanent addition of CO2 to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. When climate plans rely heavily on tree planting it’s a strong indication that they are intended for public relations purposes and do not have a sound scientific basis.

“Net zero” is also profoundly ambiguous about what kind of action needs to take place, since it suggests that we *can* persist indefinitely with fossil fuel use, just so long as some other people undertake compensatory activities to cancel it out. That’s not the right message or set of incentives to present to individuals and firms when we desperately need them to stop investing in long-lived fossil fuel infrastructure.

Being clear that our intent is to abolish fossil fuels accomplishes several useful things. It reinforces how fossil fuel firms and infrastructure are poor long-term investments, making it all the clearer that Canada should not be allowing new bitumen pipelines or LNG facilities. It stresses how stabilizing the climate can only be achieved through the effective abandonment of fossil fuels, and in so doing elevates the importance of building up all other forms of energy.

Maintaining a climate comparable to what humanity has experienced for its entire history requires a true zero, the effective abandonment of fossil fuels as sources of energy. Talking about “net zero” is chiefly emerging as a way to sound visionary and ambitious, while actually retreating into the hope that somehow new developments will eliminate the need for a difficult choice. We shouldn’t trust business or political leaders who talk that way.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

. March 1, 2021 at 12:46 am

Net-zero pledges are their own genre of crap. Climate justice groups—particularly those from climate-vulnerable countries—have consistently raised concerns about the faulty accounting embedded in such promises, which place enormous faith in unproven technologies to counterbalance continually rising emissions. Just this week, Friends of the Earth International released a report supported by the Third World Network, the Indigenous Environmental Network, and La Via Campesina (among many other groups) once again taking aim at the creative math that can obscure a nation’s or company’s intent to keep emitting at unsustainable levels.

“‘Net zero’ is a smokescreen, a conveniently invented concept that is both dangerous and problematic because of how effectively it hides inaction,” the groups wrote. “We have to unpack ‘net zero’ strategies and pledges to see which are real and which are fake.” Instead of pledges that rely inordinately on technological fixes we don’t yet have, they call instead for commitments to “real zero,” including “a coordinated phase-out of fossil fuel production and consumption,” along with “binding rules on big business, allowing us to rein back the power of transnational corporations (TNCs) and provide victims with access to justice, compensation and restoring of their livelihoods wherever crimes occur.” Carbon markets, they argue—baked into Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, thanks in part to Shell—won’t cut it: They mainly create new profit-making opportunities in the form of carbon-offset markets that do more harm than good. These often rely on land grabs that threaten biodiversity, all with dubious climate benefits

. June 20, 2021 at 4:43 pm

The ‘Big Con’ Revealed: Report Details Fossil Fuel Industry’s Deceptive ‘Net Zero’ Strategy

“Big polluters and rich governments should not only reduce emissions to Real Zero, they must pay reparations for the huge climate debt owed to the Global South.”

The IEA’s New Net Zero ‘Roadmap’ is Dangerously Reliant on Destructive Bioenergy

The influential agency is also wildly overestimating the amount of bioenergy currently in production, argues Biofuelwatch’s Almuth Ernsting.

. June 25, 2021 at 4:50 pm

All governments do this, but Boris Johnson’s has perfected the art. It operates on the principle of commitment inflation: as the action winds down, the pledges ramp up. Never mind that it won’t meet the targets set by the fourth and fifth carbon budgets: it now has a thrilling new target for the sixth one. Never mind that it can’t meet its old commitment, of an 80% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Instead, it has promised us “net zero” by the same date. Yes, we need more ambition, yes, it is following official advice, but higher targets appear to be a substitute for action.

. July 20, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Greenland bans all oil exploration

Arctic nation has no active oil fields but U.S. estimates there could be 17.5 billion barrels undiscovered

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