The e-book pictured to the right that I’ve been researching and writing for almost three years — an everyman’s guide to global warming and what we should do about it — was published last week in multiple e-reader formats. It’s available at Smashwords and also at Amazon (and could use some independent reviews). The e-book conversion processes are adequate but not perfect. If you don’t have an e-reader or would like a perfectly formatted version in pdf format, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send it to you.
Back to blogging (after a long absence).
Michael Klare’s “Big Oil’s Broken Business Model” on Tom Dispatch last week discussed the precipitous decline in international oil prices in the last year from $100 a barrel to $40, which could not have been good news for Big Oil. Especially if the International Energy Agency’s predictions that the price will not even get back to $73 a barrel until 2020 are accurate.
Cheap oil is good for the economy but not for the climate since oil along with the other fossil fuels (natural gas and coal) emit carbon dioxide that is the principal cause of global warming. We need to increase the price of oil to help the climate without hurting the economy. How?
The way to do that is to raise the price of oil and the other fossil fuels with a one-time fee or tax when they’re extracted from the ground or imported into the country and rebate the fee as a dividend to everyone in the country. Consumers usually bear the burden of price increases, but they won’t in this case because the dividend they receive offsets the price increases. So who will? Ultimately the oil (and gas and coal) companies, not in their immediate P&L (since their tax gets passed along to consumers), but eventually as their products become less competitive with clean forms of energy like hydroelectric and other renewables and nuclear power that don’t emit carbon dioxide.
But a one-time increase in the cost of fossil fuels won’t have much effect on industries as powerful as gas and oil and coal. The rebatable fee or tax needs to increase every year with respect to fossil fuels extracted or imported in that year, and the provision for this increase needs to be spelled out in the original legislation. Then, I’ll wager, something else will happen.
Bill McKibben, an ardent supporter of climate stabilization and the founder of the worldwide activist organization 350.org, has been leading a campaign to have universities, foundations and other institutions remove fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolio, a tactic that when applied to South African companies had a significant impact on ending apartheid. But it’s not an easy sell because oil and gas companies in particular tend to be very profitable. But if Congress passed the fee and dividend legislation specifying annually increasing fees that don’t impact consumers, the sell will become very much easier because the ultimate end of fossil fuel industry profitability will be apparent. Investors will want to sell their fossil fuel portfolios as soon as they can.
As fossil fuel companies decline, clean energy companies will replace them. There will be some economic glitches, perhaps, but over the long run the economy will prosper from the conversion to clean energy and the many jobs the conversion will require.
The fossil fuel companies will use all the money and guile in their own portfolios to prevent such legislation. It may take a massive lightning strike on the U.S. capitol from one of those unprecedented storms that global warming causes to get Congress to act. But when the legislation passes, then I think we might even see the oil and gas companies reinvesting in clean energy companies. They protest, of course, that they have no expertise in clean energy. But these days companies buy expertise, as Exxon did when it moved into gas fracking. It just takes money.