In perhaps the ultimate demonstration that ‘net zero’ promises are a delaying tactic meant to preserve the status quo which favours fossil fuel producers, Canadian bitumen sands giants Canadian Natural Resources, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil, MEG Energy, and Suncor Energy have formed “an alliance to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from their operations by 2050.”
When firms that see their futures as continuing to dig up the world’s dirtiest hydrocarbons en masse it becomes clear how ‘ambitious’ promises set in the far future are a tactic to avoid meaningful regulation and lobby for additional subsidies right now. In a world genuinely heading for net zero, there will be no reason to exploit the world’s dirtiest fossil fuels, including coal and the bitumen sands. Furthermore, the idea that ‘net zero’ can apply in this context is fanciful. Using a technology like direct air capture to collect all the emissions associated with extracting, upgrading, and burning oil from the bitumen sands would cost so much that it would undermine any economic rationale for extracting the oil in the first place. Furthermore, the idea that the pollution can just be buried fails to fairly consider the scale at which CO2 would need to be buried. There is simply no comparison between the total amount of carbon pollution we emit and the amount we might plausibly bury given the need for a vast new infrastructure to sequester carbon by the gigatonne, and the fact that this infrastructure would only consume money and energy without producing anything of value except reduced pollution. Rather than keep pounding back whisky in the hope that we can build a machine to clean our blood before we die, we really just need to abolish the practice which is creating these dire risks, namely continued fossil fuel exploitation.