How to fry a planet – spend way more on fossil fuel than renewables

  • Published on August 9th, 2013

The good news – investment in renewable energy is up.

global-warmingThe bad news – we’re still spending WAY more money on old-fashioned, dirty, carbon-heavy, climate-killing fossil fuels.

In his article at TomDispatch, How to Fry a Planet, professor Michael T. Klare points out,

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), an inter-governmental research organization based in Paris, cumulative worldwide investment in new fossil-fuel extraction and processing will total an estimated $22.87 trillion between 2012 and 2035, while investment in renewables, hydropower and nuclear energy will amount to only $7.32 trillion. In these years, investment in oil alone, at an estimated $10.32 trillion, is expected to exceed spending on wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, hydro, nuclear and every other form of renewable energy combined.

It’s all about “unconventional” oil and gas – nasty stuff like fracking and tar sands oil. That’s where the massively-profitable oil companies are sinking their money, not into clean renewables.

And that’s going to screw up our idealized image of a clean energy future, as Klare says:

When it comes to energy and economics in the climate-change era, nothing is what it seems. Most of us believe (or want to believe) that the second carbon era, the Age of Oil, will soon be superseded by the Age of Renewables, just as oil had long since superseded the Age of Coal. President Obama offered exactly this vision in a much-praised June address on climate change. True, fossil fuels will be needed a little bit longer, he indicated, but soon enough they will be overtaken by renewable forms of energy.

Many other experts share this view, assuring us that increased reliance on “clean” natural gas combined with expanded investments in wind and solar power will permit a smooth transition to a green energy future in which humanity will no longer be pouring carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. All this sounds promising indeed. There is only one fly in the ointment: it is not, in fact, the path we are presently headed down. The energy industry is not investing in any significant way in renewables. Instead, it is pouring its historic profits into new fossil-fuel projects, mainly involving the exploitation of what are called “unconventional” oil and gas reserves.

The result is indisputable: humanity is not entering a period that will be dominated by renewables. Instead, it is pioneering the third great carbon era, the Age of Unconventional Oil and Gas.

That we are embarking on a new carbon era is increasingly evident and should unnerve us all.Hydro-fracking—the use of high-pressure water columns to shatter underground shale formations and liberate the oil and natural gas supplies trapped within them—is being undertaken in ever more regions of the United States and in a growing number of foreign countries. In the meantime, the exploitation of carbon-dirty heavy oil and tar sands formations is accelerating in Canada, Venezuela and elsewhere.

It’s true that ever more wind farms and solar arrays are being built, but here’s the kicker: investment in unconventional fossil-fuel extraction and distribution is now expected to outpace spending on renewables by a ratio of at least three-to-one in the decades ahead.

We’ve got a lot more work to do. Read the whole thing to learn more, and/or pick up Klare’s recent book, The Race for What’s Left.

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.