Fossil Fuels are deeply rooted in our daily lives…
In 2019, the oil and gas industry became the leader of total global annual revenue, collectively earning more than $4.8 trillion dollars. Oil and gas companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Aramco, America’s Exxon, and the multinational Dutch corporation, Shell, have provided fuel for transportation, power, and electricity across the globe. They do so on an incredibly massive scale, which has solidified this industry as the top total revenue generator in history.
With roughly “$4.8 trillion in total revenue in 2019” (Forbes Global), the oil and gas industries work as the engine to society, allowing for anything from powering cars to providing the electricity to households. “Fossil fuels are found in 96% of the items we use each day. One major use of these products is as fuel, gasoline for cars, jet fuel, heating oil and natural gas used to generate electricity.” (IAGC Energy). All three, among other smaller oil and gas companies, have played a huge role in the development of society since the Industrial Revolution began, but at a steep price. Reliance on fossil fuels not only kills millions of people annually, but also continuously causes irreversible effects to our planet’s environment, ecosystem, and atmosphere. The effects are becoming more prominent and intense than ever during the past few decades, and humans will soon reach peak use of fossil fuels during the 2020s. This trend has really begun to cause grave concern across the scientific community, as the clock has begun to tick down to save our planet from pollution-induced global warming. Their deep integration in society and politics leads to a varied opinion throughout society.
Relation to Media and Society
In How Cultures Shape the Climate Debate by Andrew Hoffman, Chapter One discusses the cultural schism in society and how it is not simply a yes or no discussion. “Looking beyond the partisan split, we see that positions on climate change are not binary but rather on a continuum; some people are open to discussion and evidence, while for others no amount of evidence will sway their opinion.”(Hoffman 11). Many factors affect the individual opinion, including social, educational, and economic background, along with chosen news sources and how biased they are towards them. In the book Critical Media Studies by Ott and Mack, chapter 11 discusses “reception analysis” and how it impedes society. “Reception theory refers to a diverse body of work that nevertheless commonly stresses audience interpretation as a primary source of meaning in the media. Proponents in this vein argue that the meaning of a text is never inherent; meaning only arises in the interaction between text and audience members.” (Ott and Mack 246). This inherently creates implicit bias, which is inside of every single person. But what can be statistically proven, outside of politics, socio-economic background, and agendas, is that we are really starting to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of local and worldwide effects that fossil fuels are having on our environment. This trend has really begun to cause grave concern across the scientific community, as the clock has begun to tick down to save our planet from pollution-induced global warming. But progress is being made, and it is local efforts like those in Boulder County, Colorado that can set examples and impact the international crisis.
The Issues on a Local Scale
David Hatchimonji, who currently serves as the Residential Energy Efficiency Program Manager for the Boulder County Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience, works on the many different aspects of transitioning to renewables and electrifying the county. One of Hatchimonji’s main roles in Boulder County is overseeing the residential renewable programs, where he focuses on lowering the energy burden of citizens, including the low-income residents, or on larger scale residential plans for long-term sustainable electrification. In one part of the discussion David mentioned “One of the big things I’ve been focused on is electrification … How do we get or assist people in field switching (moving from natural gas to electricity). We don’t know how to completely clean up natural gas. The task throughout the country is the field switching shift towards electrification. One of the things we’ve worked on a lot is instead of having a gas furnace, we are trying to promote the electrical alternative that is highly efficient.” (D. Hatchimonji, residential energy manager, July 20, 2020). One specific plan Hatchimonji and the county are implementing is adding a solar energy farm that will be dedicated solely to serving the low-income residents of Boulder, free of charge, which will in turn allow these energy burdened households more financial control over their lives. The county’s goal is to be finished by the end of 2020 or early 2021, but specific timing is up in the air due to the impact of Covid-19.
One other plan Boulder County has put into action is setting up a large solar garden near the recently shut down Coal Power Plant. “The electricity generated goes into the grid and people subscribe to it and invest in the grid. And they will get a utility bill credit for the energy generated through their subscription (say 8 panels) while reaping the electricity generated from those.” (D. Hatchimonji, residential energy manager, July 20, 2020). Not only will this route a portion of the county’s power towards renewables, it will also incentivise and persuade citizens to choose this route, making it a win-win. And while renewables will most likely not be the only source of power for Boulder County within the next few years, the long term trend is looking more renewable than ever.
Our reliance on fossil fuels…
Worldwide, reliance on fossil fuels has put a chokehold on the possible transition to 100% renewables, from powering the cars we drive, to even powering the stoves we use to cook food. Use of such fuels are not simply removable with the snap of a finger. The transition will take time, effort, intervention, and immense planning. Again, a local effort seeks to make a difference. A lawsuit was filed in September 2019 by the Board of County Commissioners of Boulder County against Suncor Energy, and Exxon Mobil Corp, for the “injuries occurring to their property and citizens of their jurisdictions, allegedly resulting from the effects of climate change. Plaintiffs sue Defendants in the Amended Complaint (“Complaint”) for the substantial role they played and continue to play in causing, contributing to and exacerbating climate change.” This trial could set an incredibly important precedent for the future of environmental and human health effects, societal beliefs, and political agendas about climate change. For centuries, the blatant abuse of climate by these international corporations such as Exxon, Suncor, Shell, and many other fossil fuel organizations has taken a toll on society. Communities, populations, and ecosystems are beginning to feel the effects. “It’s not just third world countries being affected, it’s our country and vulnerable populations being directly impacted. Having to contend with hotter days, drier seasons” (David).
Looking past the economical and societal benefits derived from fossil fuels lies incredibly damning statistical trends on our environment and human well-being. More scientific data is showing that air pollution through fossil fuels strips life away at an incredible rate, while simultaneously contributing to the destruction of the environment we live in. According to Medical News Today; “The study found that air pollution is one of the major global causes of death. The researchers estimate that during 2015, around 8.8 million people died as a consequence of air pollution. This represents the shortening of global life expectancy by almost 3 years, on average.” (Huzar 1). These 8.8 million deaths beat out annual death totals from tobacco smoking and AIDS combined. Those numbers alone would technically classify air pollution as a global pandemic, and an incredibly deadly one at that. And while death totals are trackable, the non-deadly effects of it may not be so easy to comprehend.
The future of renewables and fossil fuels…
The alarming climate trends have caught the eyes of some large-scale companies, who are embracing the future, rather than fighting it. Major companies like BP Oil, Apple, Amazon, and many other international powerhouses are leading the charge in transitioning to renewables, whether through recycling products, investing and promoting in renewable energy sources, or cutting out large portions of their global footprint. Positive change is coming. On July 21, 2020, Apple “unveiled its plan to become carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030.” Apple will become the first business to go completely carbon neutral, from their production to corporate offices. This is a huge step forward for not only our climate, but a huge step towards setting an example for other large businesses as well. BP Oil has begun to add solar and wind to their business model as a way to transition into the new era. “ The energy landscape is evolving quickly and no single solution is emerging as yet. But we will be ready to scale up the most promising innovations into viable new businesses as the future becomes clearer.” And while BP Oil is not as progressive in the energy transition as Apple or Amazon, they admit to the clear need for a green future.
The year 2030 has been globally set as the next deadline for reductions in fossil fuels with goals for a higher percentage of electric cars on the market, along with carbon taxes and renewable tax breaks, the pathway to renewables is set up for success.
But the success lies in the hands of governments, large corporations, and powerful elites to find and execute the plans using their power and influence for good, rather than for short-term economic gains through fossil fuels. The 2020s will forever be one of the most important decades in our future trajectory, because of the approaching tipping point our planet faces. We must not sit idle in the transition, and must continue to pressure our local and national governments, corporations, and elite influencers to look toward a green future. No longer is this about just this generation’s livelihood, but about the future for generations to come.
Apple Inc. (2020, July 21). Apple commits to be 100 percent carbon neutral for its supply chain and products by 2030. Apple.Com. https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2020/07/apple-commits-to-be-100-percent-carbon-neutral-for-its-supply-chain-and-products-by-2030/
BP Oil. (2018). Advancing the energy transition. Bp.Com. https://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/sustainability/group-reports/bp-advancing-the-energy-transition.pdf
Forbes. (2020, May 13). GLOBAL 2000 The World’s Largest Public Companies. https://www.forbes.com/global2000/#5f4f0ce3335d
Hoffman. (2015). How Cultures Shape Society. stanford briefs.
Huzar. (2020, March 30). Air pollution may be a leading global cause of death. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/air-pollution-may-be-a-leading-global-cause-of-death#8.8-million-predicted-deaths
Investopedia. (2020, February 15). What Percentage of the Global Economy Is the Oil and Gas Drilling Sector? https://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/030915/what-percentage-global-economy-comprised-oil-gas-drilling-sector.asp
Ott, Mack. (2014). Critical Media Studies: An Introduction, 2nd Edition (2nd ed.) [E-book]. Wiley-Blackwell. https://www.amazon.com/Critical-Media-Studies-Introduction-Brian/dp/1118553977
Todd. (2019, September 20). Oil and gas companies earn most revenue in Forbes 2019 largest firms list. NS Energy Business. https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/news/oil-gas-revenue-forbes-2019/
WHO. (2019, May 2). Ambient (outdoor) air pollution. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ambient-(outdoor)-air-quality-and-health