COP26: Youth demand change, politicians protect fossil fuel industry
Two weeks of high-profile negotiations, against a background of climate catastrophes, ended Nov. 13 with little to show for the 26th “Conference of the Parties.” Proposals included that “countries agree to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels — a potential first acknowledgment of fossil fuels’ central role in the climate crisis in a U.N. agreement.” However, the final agreements failed to establish concrete ways to make this happen.
Climate activists held a “funeral for COP26” in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 13. These youth, whose presence was felt outside and within COP26, expressed outrage that over 500 fossil fuel lobbyists, more than the delegate count from any single country, were allowed to attend COP26. They delivered a strong message via social media: They will engage in widespread civil disobedience and do whatever else it takes to hold world leaders accountable.
U.S. politicians keep door open for fossil fuel use
The unfolding climate catastrophe should propel not just the youth but everyone to act. Yet many U.S. politicians have no intention of curbing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). As COP26 was winding down, these politicians were opening up new markets for fossil fuels and furthering extractivism in the melting Arctic.
As existing coal mines and gas wells continue to produce GHGs, U.S. state politicians are actively legislating to forbid municipalities from limiting coal and other fossil fuels usage. On state and federal levels, politicians are clearly in the pockets of Big Oil. Sen. Joe Manchin is not alone.
Claiming to promote “energy choice,” the Pennsylvania state legislature passed Senate Bill 275 in late October. The bill prohibits municipalities from restricting access to natural gas use provided by utility companies. Cities would be prohibited from adopting policies limiting methane gas use in new housing and public buildings or requiring the alternative use of sustainable, climate-friendly energy sources.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the largest contributor to the climate crisis. But the extraction and use of natural gas released by fracking has accelerated the climate crisis with the release of high levels of carbon trioxide (CO3) — 80 times as effective at trapping heat than CO2. The “energy choice” bills offer consumers no alternative sustainable energy solutions such as wind or solar.
Across the U.S., over 70 million buildings currently rely on fossil fuels for heating and cooking. Combined, they generate 13% of GHG emissions.
Rachel Golden, with the Sierra Club’s Clean Buildings Campaign explained the incentive behind gas industry lobbying: “It is important to understand that the gas industry’s main revenue source from delivering gas to end users is to homes and buildings.” Golden noted that homes and buildings account for 94% of gas industry revenue in Pennsylvania, higher than the U.S. average of 87%. (BCTV.org, June 14)
Preemptive legislation prohibits progress
Over the last two years, proposals passed in 20 U.S. states heading off local efforts to curb GHG emissions. Lobbyists from the American Gas Association and other energy trade groups funded these efforts.
Arizona’s Republican-dominated legislature was one of the first to block localities from taking action to limit climate damage. In early 2020 they passed a law to ensure that natural gas utilities are “not subject to further regulation by a municipality.”
Several California cities have passed new building codes phasing out fossil fuel use in response to former President Donald Trump’s rollback of national climate protections. These measures are in jeopardy under this regressive legislative trend.
While President Joe Biden and other U.S. politicians were attending COP26 and giving lip service to youth activists’ demands, on Nov. 5 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal backed by coal companies seeking to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Science denied is climate protection delayed
All these politicians’ efforts to protect the energy industry involve the denial of scientific evidence by industry CEOs, who put their profits ahead of protecting the environment and public health and safety. Scientists working for the industry warned of the environmental dangers posed by fossil fuels; yet top CEOs not only refused to act, they repeatedly lied to the public, putting out disinformation.
A 1979 Exxon study revealed that burning fossil fuels “will cause dramatic environmental effects” in the coming decades. . . . The problem is great and urgent.” (theguardian.com, June 30) Yet rather than act on the evidence, major oil companies buried the findings and created a narrative to promote the alleged benefits of their products.
For many decades, the fossil fuel industry knew that the extraction and burning of fossil fuels was killing life on this planet. They knew that burning coal results in GHGs, causing 800,000 premature deaths globally each year. The major oil companies conspired to bury the findings. They promoted a counternarrative and denied the growing scientific consensus around climate science.
The energy industry is part of a global capitalist empire, which has failed to provide livable wage jobs, affordable education, housing and other means of survival. Young activists today harbor no illusions about their future under this system. Organized globally, and facing the demise of their very future, today’s young activists will no longer sit idly back waiting for change.