Climate change has historically been denied by a lot of people and countries worldwide. In fact, denial occurs through policies established by governments, fines set against those who pollute and government-funded technologies. Even though it is less obvious today, the public-private sector’s relationship has long been very tense when subjects regarding climate change came up on the agenda. Therefore, how has the progress of these “anti-climate” technologies been in the past couple of years? Have policies become more stringent with regards to the climate?
Explanation of climate change denial
Climate change is refuted by lobbyists in different ways.
- Using science. Lobbyists often suggest that climate change is just part of a natural cycle, and that there is no escaping from it. Some even go out of their ways to suggest that climate models are often unreliable and cannot therefore be trusted. However, this argument can easily be countered. In fact, models have been very reliable in predicting temperature rising for the past thirty years, as seen in the figure below.
- Using the economy. Lobbyists will say that climate change is “too expensive to be fixed“. However, economists say that we would need around 1% of the world’s GDP today to fix climate change while we would need more than 20% to do the same task by 2050 (Climate Central, 2016).
- Other forms include humanitarian (“Climate change is good for us”), political (“Other countries are not doing anything, why should we?”) and crisis (“We should not rush into things”) denials.
All of these forms of denial should be frowned upon. It is exactly because of those arguments that old technologies and traditional sources of energy have prospered in the near past and will probably continue to do so in the future if we do not start acting.
Relevant examples to talk about climate change denial
Regarding the policies
The countries’ efforts to decrease their CO2 emissions by 2050 is nowhere near sufficient. Indeed, the countries’ combined efforts “New Policies” identified under the INDC during the COP 21 summit, were only capable of reducing the combined consumption of oil, coal and gas from 81% (in 2017) to 74% (in 2040). Also, the “New Policies” scenario guarantees a demand increase, from 13.9 Gtoe (tonne of oil equivalent) in 2017 to 17.7 Gtoe in 2040, vs 13.7 Gtoe under the “Sustainable Development” scenario (Gauthier, 2020). Not only that but:
- Oil will remain the leading resource
- Natural gas consumption will expand the most
- Coal remains the third-largest resource consumed, with a 10.3%, 42.8% and 1.6% growth rates in 2040 vs 2017 respectively (Gauthier, 2020).
The technologies that are contributing to climate change are many, but they mainly revolve around three main energy sources, coal, oil & gas. Even though their effect on climate change is not similar, they are grouped under “fossil fuels”. But how can we understand that these technologies are still, up until today, contributing heavily to climate change? The easiest way to do that is by looking at their current and expected market share in order to have a better idea about the future trend of these harmful technologies.
Fossil fuels – Production and consumption
They can be found in 96% of the items used each day. For example, coal is used to generate steam. This is then used to power millions of homes across the world. Oil, and most particularly crude oil, is heavily used in transportation while natural gas is mostly used for heating and cooking purposes.
Growth in fossil fuel production increased for a second year (+3% in 2018 vs +2.2% in 2017). This translates into a higher fuel consumption. The main reasons behind this surge came from coal (+3.5% in 2018 vs -6% in 2016) and oil (+2.4% in 2018 vs 0.1% in 2017). However, the natural gas production rate is slightly decreasing (+3.2% in 2018 vs 4% in 2017).
Coal – Production and consumption
Coal has been around for thousands of years, but its use only became widespread in the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century. It indeed formed the basis of the industrial revolution. Back then, coal became used for everything: domestic heating, manufacturing, railways, electricity, carbon chemistry, etc. (AREVA – US n.d.). Today though, coal is only used to generate electricity.
Unfortunately, coal is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions worldwide. Indeed, it is estimated that coal contributes to 40% of the global CO2 emissions. Although many countries are trying to diversify away from fossil fuels consumption, especially in Europe, coal remains an essential source of energy up until now. Coal is estimated to remain stable in the next five years, mainly due to the Chinese market.
Contrary to popular beliefs, coal is the energy source of the future even if it is not sustainable, as every MWh produced emit over 1t of CO2. This basically means that big players will always rely on this energy source due to its enormous economic viability, without excluding potential investments in new technologies as a way to seek new economic opportunities for the future. Indeed, (1) the resource is easy to transport, (2) second most energy-efficient after oil, (3) does not require any physical or chemical transformation and (4) is extremely abundant. For example, China is a heavy coal-powered country; it consumes around 51% of the coal consumption market worldwide (British Petroleum 2019)
Oil and gas
The global oil and gas market volume is evaluated in terms of total consumption (barrels of oil equivalent) of refined petroleum products and natural gas worldwide.
In 2018, the global oil and gas market growth was estimated at 23.4%, with a value of $2,322.7 billion. The market is expected to reach a value of $2,695.9 billion by 2023, an increase of around 16% from 2018. In terms of volume, the market grew by a mere 2.6% in 2018 to reach 54,631.9 million barrels and is expected to grow by 9.4% to reach 59,748.2 million barrels of oil equivalent in 2023.
When it comes to market value segmentation, crude oil is by far the largest of the two, constituting more than 83.5% of it, leaving gas with a market value fraction of 16.5% in 2018.
Finally, it is important to know that the success of crude oil was mostly driven by heavy machinery and automobiles. The latter, being challenged by the emergence of electric and gas-powered vehicles, might negatively affect and change the dynamics of the oil and gas sector in the future.
Indeed, based on the intended nationally determined contribution (commonly known as INDCs – these INDCs were prepared and presented by 169 countries during the COP 21 meeting; the grouping of all of these documents together created the “New Policies scenario”, which was only able to limit temperature increase by 3.5oC), oil is to remain the main source of energy adopted in the world. This is due to multiple reasons; (1) Oil possesses the highest energy density, (2) it can be easily transported due to its nature (therefore saving money on its overall production cost), and (3) does not require any physical or chemical transformation.
Wall-E: one of the best examples of environmentalism in popular culture
In order to better illustrate which path climate change denial can lead us into, Wall-E offers a dystopian look of our planet Earth. Wall-E is a 2008 American movie that discusses the life of a robot cleaning up the Earth after humans left it due to some high-scale environmental catastrophe, leaving behind trash and pollution.
The movie, therefore, suggests that humans have adopted a reactive approach to solve climate change and make Earth habitable again. Moreover, the movie discusses a very important notion: We only get one Earth, this planet is not and will never be a commodity. Indeed, humans living in space do not go on to live on another planet but return to Earth after 700 years of space limbo.
Finally, Wall-E also criticizes consumerism and humans’ lifestyle by showcasing them as childish and passive.
By looking at the past and visualizing what the future might be through the lens of Wall-E, the conclusion is therefore very simple: We need to start acting now! Simply speaking, countries cannot and will not the consequences of climate change. Even though the world has started realizing the importance of that subject, many countries are still lagging behind. It is therefore very important for governments to start establishing laws and policies to slow down the rise of harmful technologies and fuel the growth of alternative technologies that can both fight off climate change and satisfy our world’s energy needs.
Tu es maintenant bien rodé sur la thématique du réchauffement climatique, ses causes et sa négation. Pour en parler parfaitement à l’oral, n’oublie pas de lire cette fiche que l’on t’a concocté !