In true Aspen fashion, I suggest a few readings on energy and the environment that may at first appear contradictory, but on reflection suggest some common ground.
Bill McKibben’s August 2012 Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” documents the immensity of the climate challenge. He also points out an inherent conflict. The world’s fossil fuel companies hold over five times the quantity of proven reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas than the world can burn and still stay under the two-degree Celsius temperature increase most scientists consider the maximum we can tolerate without dangerous interference with the climate system. His argument has re-energized many climate activists, but the failure of governments to deal with the problem leads him to encourage attacks on fossil fuel companies rather than realistic political guidance.
For a more effective political plan, read two short posts by Michael Levi on the Council on Foreign Relations Energy, Security, and Climate blog: “Two Paths Forward on Climate Change” and “Two Paths Forward on Oil and Gas.” Levi points out that large coalitions will be necessary to pass meaningful legislation on climate change in the US and also to increase opportunities for domestic oil and gas production. As these are the principal goals of groups on opposite sides of the energy/climate debate, seeking both goals together could create the broad coalition needed for each. To environmentalists who believe any additional fossil fuel development will accelerate climate change, he responds that more domestic natural gas production will reduce the amount of coal burned in power plants, and that additional US oil production will replace production elsewhere and not appreciably increase oil consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. To those in the oil and gas industries who know we must deal with climate change, but fear that legislation will harm their bottom line, he gives them opportunities.
Jack Riggs is senior fellow of Energy and Environment Program. Learn more about Jack and his work at www.aspeninstitute.org/ee. Jack organizes the Aspen Institute Forum on Global Energy, Economy and Security, and the forum’s 2012 report “The North American Oil and Gas Renaissance and its Implications,” provides an overview of the economic and other benefits of the resurgence of production in recent years.
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