Why is there such a disconnect between climate reality and climate action?

 building a pipeline across Europe for Russian gas
© Sean Gallup/ Getty Images/ building a pipeline across Europe for Russian gas

How can we be moving away from fossil fuels and spending billions on building pipes for them at the same time?

In North America, they are building gas pipelines like mad. According to North American Oil & Gas Pipelines, “Continued production growth, combined with growing consumption, particularly for natural gas, will drive the need for expanded pipeline capacity to supply energy consumers in both domestic and export markets.” They estimate spending US$ 417 billion through 2035.

Meanwhile, on another planet called Ireland, the government is trying to deal with climate change by banning boilers (furnaces for heating with hot water) that are fired by natural gas within three years, and "potentially beginning a process to phase out the use of fossil fuel heating systems in all homes within six years." It won't be easy or cheap; according to the report reviewed by the Irish Times,

Introducing heat pumps and other low-carbon solutions in new residential and commercial buildings is expected to be most costly as gas is likely to remain the cheapest heating source. However, moving away from gas in new buildings is necessary.

How can there be such an incredible disconnect? How can one country be getting rid of fossil fuels and another projecting pipelines out to 2035? How can we be so confused? Why did Canadians and Australians just vote for predatory climate delayers while their countries burn?

Protests at city hall New York City© Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

TreeHugger Emeritus Sami Grover has something to say about this in his new Medium piece, Big Oil wants to talk about your carbon footprint. He describes a continuing campaign by Big Oil to confuse, obfuscate and delay, even though they have known what's happening for decades.

By denying climate change for as long as they could, and then opposing, sabotaging and delaying any meaningful action, companies like Shell have sought at every turn to frame the debate around climate change in the most favorable terms for fossil fueled business-as-usual. Yet they have known all along just how devastating their core business model really was. Just take the accuracy of Exxon scientists’ 1983 predictions of the likely atmospheric carbon concentrations and temperature rise that we’d be facing today:

Sami compares their campaigns to that of the tobacco industry and the disposable packaging issue, to avoid corporate responsibility and shift the burden to individuals. He interviewed me and credits me with saying this:

Personal responsibility is a predatory delaying tactic. It’s hard for people to give up meat or stop flying to conferences or vacations when everyone else is doing it. It feels futile. And yet if you haven’t taken action on a personal level, the dominant narrative makes you feel guilty—and it becomes hard to criticize big companies or hold politicians accountable.

Personal responsibility and actions are simply not going to do the job. And as Sami notes, we can't expect much help from the existing players.

As if to prove this point, when they are not pushing ads featuring solar panels and wind turbines, oil companies are currently promoting a carbon tax bill that would simultaneously neuter efforts to hold them accountable for climate change in the courts.

At some point, this disconnect will end, probably brutally, after voters in Alberta, Canada, connect the forest fires forcing them out of their houses with the the fossil fuels that pay for their lifestyles, or when people frying in Australia next summer stop fearing "climate policy more than climate change." Sami tells us what to do: "We must remain focused on the conversations that really matter: namely systemic, scalable solutions to the crisis that confronts us."

Why is there such a disconnect between climate reality and climate action?
How can we be moving away from fossil fuels and spending billions on building pipes for them at the same time?

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