On America, Russia and the carbon bubble

oil platforms
via Abandoned oil platforms, Caspian Sea

Every decade or so, Alex Steffen writes something really important. I say that tongue in cheek; he writes stuff that is important a lot more often than that, but sometimes his ideas are so profound that they change the way you think about things. A decade or so ago he wrote My other car is a bright green city for Worldchanging; it is not even online anymore but influences my thinking about the role of the car in our cities to this day.

Now, Alex has done it again, with an article that will resonate for quite a while because it takes a different view of critical issues of our times, including climate change, carbon and politics. In Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere, he explains that even though nobody really talked much about climate much, behind the scenes the fossil fuel industry and the people and politicians on their payroll now dominate the scene.

He first tries to explain the issue of climate change (again) and notes that we actually have the tools to deal with it, including solar, wind, electric vehicles and green buildings, but in fact we do not do much about it. Consequently change is coming, it is inevitable, but Americans don't believe or understand this.

But some people totally understand: the ones who stand to lose money from these changes.

This is where Alex covers new ground. Our economy runs on fossil fuels, our cars, our buildings, our agriculture, everything. Given our diet, we are essentially made of fossil fuels. There is a lot of money in them. But Alex calls it a carbon bubble:

Here’s the blunt reality: the pressure to cut emissions and respond to a changing climate are going to alter what we do and don’t see as valuable. Climate action will trigger an enormous shift in the way we value things.

If we can’t burn oil, it’s not worth very much. If we can’t defend coastal real estate from rising seas (or even insure it, for that matter), it’s not worth very much. If the industrial process a company owns exposes them to future climate litigation, it’s not worth very much. The value of those assets is going to plummet, inevitably… and likely, soon.

This explains why the fossil fuel companies and the politicians they support do what they do: to maintain the value of their assets. To maintain consumer confidence in the status quo. It explains why they dispute climate science, attack climate agreements, attack competitors (look at what they are saying about Elon Musk these days) and even why they keep investing in new infrastructure and supply.

Alex then gets into politics, local and global. The proposed American cabinet is full of oil people and climate deniers, and their BFF is Vladmir Putin, who happens to run a petrostate with exactly the same interest: keep the oil and gas flowing as long as possible. Alex concludes that we are missing the bigger picture, when we think of climate change as just an environmental issue:

Journalists are unused to thinking about climate change as being an economic and financial issue — much less the core political issue of our day — so for a lot of us this whole problem is invisible, despite the credibility of everyone pointing it out. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, frankly, because we are so cognitively unprepared to see the Bubble in front of us. That we are so blind to these risks is a tragedy.

We need to focus: The most serious political fight on the planet — the need to end use of coal, oil and gas — is at the center of America’s current political crisis.

Everyone has known for years, at least back to the Sykes–Picot agreement in 1916, that oil is politics and politics is oil. But never have we seen anything like this before. Read it all: Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere

On America, Russia and the carbon bubble
You think climate change didn't play a big role in this election? Alex Steffen explains how it was all about climate change.

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