The fossil fuel industry looks worried, here's why
Last week, the fossil fuel industry released some well-timed attacks on the divestment movement. Coinciding with Global Divestment Day, a series of videos and reports made the case that divestment is nothing less than turning our backs on progress.
This feels like nonsense.
The growing pressure to rethink our energy habits is not about going back. It is the result of a huge, world-altering shift in how we generate, use and conserve energy. A transition that is already underway.
Here are just a few recent manifestations of this transition:
—Latin American solar grew 370% last year, expected to triple in 2015.
—Energy demand and carbon emissions are dropping in the UK, Australia and Germany (and energy demand dropped to 1990-levels European Union-wide too).
—Solar prices have plummeted, and are expected to fall 40% more in the next two years.
—From heat pump driers to Zer0 Energy Lighting, incremental energy and fuel efficiency improvements appear to be giving way to more radical savings—many of which amount to something resembling demand destruction.
—Apple is investing massively in solar, Google is buying wind, and Ikea is selling over a billion euros worth of efficiency- and green-related products.
—The Governor of the Bank of England thinks we can't burn most of the fossil fuels we have available to us.
—World class cities are embracing bike infrastructure like never before.
—Chinese coal production is falling.
—Wind and solar are now the cheapest option for China's energy growth.
—India is investing huge amounts in solar power.
—Norway just abandoned many of its coal and tar-sands investments
. —Grid-scale energy storage is becoming competitive. —Electric car sales are growing dramatically in many markets (comparing January 2014 with January 2015, plug-in hybrid sales jumped 1000% in the UK).
—And perhaps, most importantly of all, from the US-China climate pact to a joint, cross-party pledge signed by UK party leaders, an unprecedented number of world leaders are making a serious commitment to tackling climate change.
I apologize for the rambling list of stories, but you get the idea.
It is beginning to feel like there is something fundamentally different about the current clean energy climate, and the old guard has good reason to be spooked. It might be tempting to laugh at the corny anti-divestment videos, or the biased analyses suggesting divestment would be an economic disaster.
But that would be a mistake.
There is still an awful lot of money still tied up in fossil fuels, and those who stand to profit from that money will not go down without a fight. Just last week, Shell CEO Ben van Beurden called divestment advocates "naive," and argued for a "more assertive" fossil fuel industry voice when it comes to matters of climate. Meanwhile veteran environmentalist Jonathan Porritt, famous for his hopeful collaborations with big oil, finally threw up his hands in despair: Engaging with oil companies on climate is futile, he argued, we just have to get on with building an alternative.
I am more hopeful than I ever have been before that we really can transition to a predominantly, maybe even 100 percent clean energy economy, and quite possibly faster than any of us had suspected. But as that reality becomes ever more tangible, we must also prepare ourselves for a fight.
Because some people will be none-too-happy to see this day coming.