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Bye, bye oil, hello peace & democracy
We can get rid of oil, is the chief message of a new AirClim report, Phasing out oil. Many of the methods and policies were in fact devised in 1974, and many have been added since.
The report "Phasing out oil" was written just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The following events made it even more topical.
Oil emitted about 12.5 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2021, of a total of 39.7 billion tonnes from fossil fuels, cement and deforestation. It is a big part of the global warming problem.
Oil is now recognised as a problem in other respects as well, not just for the climate and air pollution. Oil dependence became a big issue during the oil crises in 1973 and 1979, and yet again in the early 2010s because of wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
Over and over again, for more than a century, oil has destabilised the economy through price booms and busts, destabilised democracy, propped up dictators, caused wars and funded wars. Peak Oil, a situation when the world to pump up enough oil to meet the demand, has been yet another menace.
There have been many reasons to kick the habit.
But the oil lobby is strong. Some of its constituents are the oil-producing companies, the “downstream” suppliers, i.e. refiners and service station chains, governments of oil-producing countries, automotive manufacturers and their governments.
Big Oil has gone to battle every day against every effort to limit its power, with an almost infinite budget for lobbying and PR, and it has won most of its battles.
At the 1992 Rio Conference, when the Climate Convention was first negotiated, former oil man president H. W. Bush famously quipped that the “The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.”
The report argues that he was factually wrong. “Our lifestyles are up for negotiation all the time. Lifestyles change for all kinds of reasons.” One of the changes comes from technology. “Technology is sometimes lifestyle-neutral. A hybrid car uses less petrol than an equivalent car without a hybrid system, but the driving experience is not very different. Even a battery car is not so different. For consumers, electricity from solar or wind is the same as electricity from fossil fuels. The light from a LED lamp is much the same as that from an incandescent.”
Using less oil must, accordingly, not be a sacrifice. But it serves the oil industry well to say it must.
In 2019, the report says, the majority of oil (66 per cent) was used for transport: road transport (48%) air transport (9%) and sea transport (9%) in the EU.
We have known for more 50 years that oil consumption can be cut with other modes of transportation and less transport. After the oil crises of the 1970s we got much more efficient cars.
In later years we have seen battery cars take off, with hydrogen from renewable electricity as a complement in the near future.
Vehicle emissions are a problem for which a solution already exists, technologically and economically.
15 per cent of EU households and 8 per cent of offices are heated by oil. That can be cut through better insulation – which should have been implemented 30–40 years ago – and eliminated through heat pumps or district heating.
Oil use to generate electricity has been reduced by 80 per cent since 1998. What remains could be replaced with renewables and efficiency, “which should not be very difficult”, according to the report.
Much oil is used to make plastics. Most of it ends up either as landfill or is incinerated. With better organisation most could be reduced, re-used and recycled, so much less oil would be needed.
Should oil be cut from the supply side or the demand side? Do both, says the report. It is important to stop financing, to stop subsidies for use, to tax use etc and to support emerging technologies.
This clearly can create problems.
A “policy of subsidising battery cars for the rich and financing them with higher petrol prices for the poor is arrogant, stupid and dangerous, as the emergence of the Gilets Jaunes demonstrated in France”, says the report: A fast transition is possible, but it has to be just, or it will not happen.
The report can be downloaded at: https://www.airclim.org/publications/phasing-out-oil