As Margaret reported earlier today, Royal Dutch Shell just dropped a bombshell—in the face of sustained public protests and disappointing early results, they are abandoning their multi-billion dollar quest to drill for Arctic oil. Meanwhile the Keystone XL pipeline carrying tar sands from Canada—once considered by many (myself included) almost certain to be approved—has been vetoed by the President and rejected by Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton. Oh, and let's not forget that 40% of the country's coal plants have shut down since 2010 too!
Each of these victories is exciting in its own right. Taken together, however, they are a powerful sign of something much bigger: We really can shift the direction of the global economy. And we can win on issues that currently seem daunting. (Like, I dunno, maybe a 100% renewable energy-powered world by 2050, for example.)
Over at Grist, Ben Adler suggests that activists are already refocusing on their next big fights—fighting fossil fuel extraction on public lands being one of the top priorities.
While there was a time that "all of the above" Presidential candidates would boast about increasing exploration and production on public lands, a combination of low commodity prices, an increased focus on climate change and an ever clearer vision of a low carbon economy have changed the equation considerably. Do we really want to squander our precious public lands and increase our chances of blowing the "carbon budget" all for short-term economic gain. Even if the answer is yes, do we want to do so by providing energy producers with rock bottom prices that amount to an unfair subsidy on fossil fuels.
Given that a huge chunk of the economy is already committed to going renewable, and even Big Energy leaders are admitting that a low carbon economy is the way of the future, I suspect the recent spate of victories for environmental activists is only the beginning.
Even Royal Dutch Shell, knows that a change is coming. Talking to The Guardian about the decision to abandon The Arctic, Andy Norman, Shell’s VP for media relations, said that in the short- to medium-term the company remains committed to expanding its natural gas operations, as well as pushing oil exploration elsewhere. In the longer term, however, Shell is renewing its interest in a different form of energy:
“After 2050, we think that solar will be single most dominant energy source in the global energy system and we are working hard to understand where we can play a role in that transition and where opportunities might exist for us,” Norman said.
They may have to hurry up though. There are a growing number of others angling for a piece of that pie.