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End the Fossil Fuel Era and Turn Down the Heat

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As people worldwide join forces to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis, the industry largely responsible for turning up the heat is doubling down on efforts to keep record profits rolling.

Paying for media and “influencer” campaigns, selling “natural” gas as a climate solution, attacking electric vehicles, holding conferences, garnering support from political and media entities — the fossil fuel industry employs many strategies to maintain its lucrative hold on global economies and lives.

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In a system where billionaires, corporations and the politicians they’ve bought hold the economic reins, and the “invisible hand of the market” and constant growth are considered efficient ways to produce and distribute societal goods and needs, the industry’s actions make sense. But if you understand global climate disruption, biodiversity loss, ecological collapse and increasingly unpredictable and devastating impacts, you know it’s suicidal.

It’s not difficult to become so indoctrinated into a system you’ve lived within all your life that imagining another way is a challenge. What coal, oil and gas companies are doing is treated as “normal.” Their numbers are listed on stock exchanges, governments subsidize and proselytize for them, news media chart their progress in positive tones — all while they step up efforts to continue exploiting and profiting from products that put us in increasing jeopardy.

Scientists everywhere are warning that we’re nearing dangerous tipping points and feedback loops — if we haven’t arrived already. What’s industry’s response?

Suncor, a member of oilsands group the Canadian Pathways Alliance, is the latest to bail on renewable energy work and commitments. CEO Rich Kruger said the company had been focusing too much on the long-term energy transition and not enough on “the business drivers of today” — meaning oilsands operations.

The company sold its wind and solar power assets last year, “getting out of the renewable energy business it had been involved in for more than two decades,” BNN Bloomberg reports. Other companies are also focusing on fossil fuels, and cutting jobs.

But doubling down on polluting fuels in the thick of crises they’re causing is a tough sell. Industry has responded with the same types of massive communications, greenwashing and gaslighting campaigns it’s been employing for decades, fully aware of the devastating consequences of using its products as intended.

I don’t know how fossil fuel executives sleep at night. Even more galling, as they rake in unprecedented financial gain, they keep coming to governments asking for public money.

Industry wants, and usually gets, subsidies for everything from largely unproven, expensive technologies such as carbon capture and storage — favoured mostly as a way to keep fossil fuels burning — to cleaning up drilling sites to electrifying liquefied “natural” gas operations. When governments acquiesce, the money comes from taxpayers. Despite promises by industrialized countries since 2009 to end inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, the world’s nations invested US$1.4 trillion in public money in 2022 alone! (Canada recently announced an end to some subsidies.)

But, with help from politicians and media, fossil fuel spokespeople work to spin the industry as responsible, necessary, clean and part of the solution to the climate crisis.

The full-on campaign to sell fracked methane gas as a “natural” climate solution is the latest. Although the idea that “natural” gas should be a transition or “bridge” fuel has been around for well over a decade (you’d think we’d have crossed the bridge by now), there’s a renewed push as the Russian invasion of Ukraine disrupts supplies and drives prices higher.

Gas may have once had a role as a bridge fuel — even though it’s responsible for some of the most potent emissions and other environmental damages — but that time has passed. Costs of cleaner energy from wind and solar are dropping rapidly as technologies, including storage, improve. Most renewable energy is already less expensive than energy from coal, oil or gas — and less polluting!

Fossil fuel companies are also targeting a former ally, the automobile industry, with ads depicting electric vehicles as “an onerous tethering to the grid.” And they’re paying popular social media “influencers” to do their public relations. It’s a desperate push for corporate survival that puts human survival at risk.

It’s past time to end the fossil fuel era. The industry must adapt and change or get out of the way.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation Senior Writer and Editor Ian Hanington.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

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David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

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