May 19, 2015

Climate Change Porn: The Morality of the Scramble

From the New York Times Magazine, by McKenzie Funk:.

Shell Oil’s Cold Calculations for a Warming World

.

Last week, when the Obama administration gave tentative approval to Shell Oil’s plan to return to the Arctic after its disastrous attempt to find oil there in 2012, I found myself thinking of a conversation I had several years ago with a man named Jeremy Bentham (who) leads Shell’s legendary team of futurists …

In early 2008, weeks before Shell bid a record-breaking $2.1 billion on oil leases in the melting Arctic Ocean — the basis for the newly approved drilling plan — the company’s futurists released a new pair of scenarios describing the next 40 years on Earth.

They were based on what Bentham called “three hard truths”: That energy demand, thanks in part to booming China and India, would only rise; that supply would struggle to keep up; and that climate change was dangerously real. Shell’s internal research showed that alternative energy systems — wind, solar, carbon capture — would take decades to make just a 1-percent dent in our massive global energy system, even if they grew at 25 percent a year. “It takes them 30 years to just begin to start becoming material,” Bentham explained to me.

One scenario, called “Blueprints,” painted a moderately hopeful vision of green energy and concerted action within the constraints of technological change, of a swiftly rising price on carbon emissions as the world comes together to remake its energy systems. In this vision of the future, there is active carbon trading. There is a strong global climate treaty. There is still far more warming than society can easily bear — approaching 7 degrees Fahrenheit — but the world still averts the very worst of climate change.

The second scenario, called “Scramble,” envisioned a future in which countries fail to do much of anything to reduce emissions, and instead race to secure oil and coal deposits. Only when climatic chaos breaks out does society take it seriously, and by then great damage has already been done. Drilling in the Arctic, thought to hold up to a quarter of the world’s untapped oil and gas, has a role in both scenarios — but under “Scramble,” it is irresistible. …

When I interviewed him four years later, Bentham admitted to me that the future, so far, was looking a lot more like the chaos of “Scramble.” We had no working international climate agreement and no real price on carbon. Instead, we had a global race for gas, coal and the last drops of conventional oil.

.

British Columbia’s leadership, with its bet on LNG, oil and coal, has taken a number in the Scramble race, accelerating the province’s role as a carbon dealer to the world.  How it handles the existential conflict with our domestic self-image as environmental protectors and sustainability advocates will be revealing, particularly in the post-referendum period.

But the real debate should be about the morality of Scramble.  That scenario, as highlighted, assumes “great damage” will be done before society takes climate change seriously.  If climatic chaos is a prerequisite before anything seriously is done, assuming that the social chaos which accompanies the damage even allows for it, what is the moral argument of decision-makers today, whether the board of Shell or, say, Port Metro Vancouver, when its decisions knowingly make the problem worse than it would otherwise be.

Somehow, “responsibility to shareholders” seems an inadequate response when “responsibility to the future” is discounted, if that future is even remotely apocalyptic.  Shouldn’t that be in the cold calculations when Shell approves this:

.

Shell

Shell’s Polar Pioneer drill rig nearing Port Angeles, Wash., aboard a transport ship, on April 17, 2015.

.

The Times, conveniently, has an Opinionator column on this very subject: “What Can We Do About Climate Change?

This interview … discusses philosophical issues that underlie recent debates about climate change (with) Dale Jamieson, a professor of environmental studies and philosophy at New York University. He is the author of “Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle to Stop Climate Change Failed — and What It Means for Our Future.” 

Posted in

Support

If you love this region and have a view to its future please subscribe, donate, or become a Patron.

Share on

Comments

There are currently no comments. Why don't you kick things off?

Subscribe to Viewpoint Vancouver

Get breaking news and fresh views, direct to your inbox.

Join 7,313 other subscribers

Show your Support

Check our Patreon page for stylish coffee mugs, private city tours, and more – or, make a one-time or recurring donation. Thank you for helping shape this place we love.

Popular Articles

See All

All Articles