09 October 2015

Coal and oil companies hate renewable energy

How widely known is it that ExxonMobil has spent billions over the last 30 years to deliberately discredit the impacts of fossil fuel burning has on global temperatures?  I feel like not enough people are aware of how much coal, oil and gas companies invest in arguing against human influence on climate change. The biggest competitor to these industries are renewable energies and while there are definitely some levels of embrace and innovation within them, a greater portion of corporate muscle goes to suppressing new, cleaner technologies from advancement. In other words, rather than adapt and adopt renewable energy as a new source of capital, older energy companies have chosen to fight.

It has been reported that Exxon was warned about the harm it was doing to the environment and the social and economic ramifications for decades. Source: InsideClimate News

Pulitzer Prize winning publication Insideclimate News has been following litigation related to ExxonMobil's efforts to suppress academic research since the 1980s. Click above for the details, but the short of it is that in the 1970s, Exxon (not Mobil yet) commissioned scientists to look into the impact the burning of fossil fuels had on the environment. Not only did the studies indicate what we know now about human caused CO2 emissions influencing global temperatures, but their own researchers warned them to diversify their energy sources (into renewables) and begin to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. The benefits would be not just to diversify and future-proof their business models, but to avoid contributing to the catastrophic climate related problems of today (drought, food shortages, rising sea levels, water quality and all of the political, social and economic challenges that are occurring as a result). Jumping back into present day and, becoming well known around academic circles, and hopefully becoming more mainstream, is the reality that in the face of sound economic advice and urgent scientific warnings, Exxon chose to confuse the issue in order to defend itself against competition alternatives.

The good news is that they're losing this battle, the bad news is that it's taking so long. Surprise, ripping coal and oil out of the ground and burning it for energy is doing irreversible damage to the environment and are resulting in catastrophic events that are beginning to show themselves in very real, practical way.

Still, with most of the academic and cultural world in agreement on this, there seems to be a new obstacles in the way of focusing resources to the growth and permeation of renewable energy into contemporary society. The new debate centres around the efficiency of renewable energy generation as a whole. There's a strong platform of those that view solar, water and wind power generation to be not as economically viable as fossil fuels. While this may be a valid question - economics and scientific research is currently looking into this - it is still unreasonable for this argument to be use to justify pulling resources away from renewables. Industries built on solar and wind power, not being able to generate as much as coal, or as cheaply as oil, should be viewed as a reason to push more investment behind them rather than less. Economies of scale have not yet been reached for the renewable energy industry which means that future investment will only serve to increase the sector’s efficiency.

The world is trending in the right direction. Recent measures are starting to point to renewables surpassing fossil fuels when it comes to gigawatts produced by new power plants in the United States as noted in the previous link. In Europe, electricity generated by renewable sources has grown by 84% from 2003 to 2013, with the same positive data trends emerging from Asia & Oceania.

The key is to make sure our governments don't let up. The debate has turned from environmental to economic with the argument no longer being against climate change but against "costly" renewable energy in favour of cheaper fossil fuels. As government budgets continue to be tightened and public concerns about costs of living increase,  it's crucial to remember that renewable energy is in its infancy and that gains will be made in increasing scale, rather than stunting investment in favour of old technologies. It's good economics to lead the rush in clean technology from the ground up.