Ignorance is bliss when you’re a resource baron

Mary Wardell

Former Shell Oil CEO John Hofmeister spoke on campus Tuesday, Jan. 21, about the urgent need to make a plan for “affordable and sustainable” energy solutions.

Mary Wardell: Features Editor
Mary Wardell: Features Editor

CEO from 2005 to 2008, he has “participated in the inner workings of multiple industries for over 35 years,” is author of the book “Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider” and founder of the non-profit organization Citizens for Affordable Energy (CAE).

In his lecture, Hofmeister criticized Washington for “kicking the can down the road,” saying the last eight presidents have all made promises and all failed to keep them. Given the industry’s fervent denial about the burgeoning energy crisis, it would seem refreshing to hear this call to action from a former oil man.

CAE’s website prominently displays images of wind turbines and solar panels, and their mission is to “educate citizens and government officials about pragmatic, non-partisan affordable energy solutions, environmental protection, energy alternatives, efficiency, infrastructure, public policy, competitiveness, social cohesion and quality of life.”

But don’t be fooled. Hofmeister’s plan is not pragmatic, sustainable or environmentally-friendly.

In an interview with America’s Radio News, Hofmeister did not try to veil his “five-point-plan” for affordable energy in phony concern for the environment.

“No. 1,” he said, “we used to drill 10 million barrels a day of oil in this country and produce it, let’s go back to 10. We’re down below seven. Let’s go back to 10 and let’s stay there.”

He went on to describe the next two points as though they are different.

“No. 2, we have so much natural gas that’s going underutilized in this country, we could convert natural gas to compressed natural gas for trucking,” he said. “No. 3, we could convert additional natural gas into what’s called methanol, and in flex-fuel engines, put it in our cars and pick-up trucks.”

Last month in “The Guardian,” Nafeez Ahmed, executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, reported on a conference in December 2013 called the “Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue.” It was co-sponsored by U.S. Army official, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, along with former petroleum geologist Jeremy Leggett, convener of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Davis said the purpose of the conference was to address the “selective appraisal of data” which has led to the prevalent myth that increased oil production can sustain our way of life indefinitely.

“When you only look at certain things, like the very real resurgence of U.S. oil and gas production, the picture looks fine,” Davis said. “But when you dig deeper into the data, it becomes clear that this is only part of the picture. And the big picture proves that our current course cannot continue without significant risks.”

According to Janet Larsen, research director at the Earth Policy Institute, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million in 2013. The last time carbon concentration was this high was over 3 million years ago, she said, when there was far less ice on the planet and the seas were much higher.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2013 report found that the average global temperature has gone up more than a full degree Celsius since 1880. The best projected estimate for the low scenario for 2090-2099 is an increase of 1.8 degrees Celsius, and the best estimate for the high scenario is four degrees Celsius.

The IPCC along with experts from around the world have agreed that a rise in average global temperature exceeding two degrees Celsius will lead to weather events that would drastically alter human civilization.

The American Meteorological Society’s Statement on Climate Change states, “There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic Sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities.”

In his lecture, Hofmeister described energy as the “ubiquitous bread of life,” upon which we’ve built our modern lives. And that’s true—we need energy to stay warm, to drive cars, to cook, to go to school, etc. But if we want to face this issue pragmatically, we may need to re-evaluate our definition of “need.” The plan for sustainable anything should address the reality of the problem, which, according to an overwhelming body of evidence, requires lowering emissions. To call for greater extraction of oil and natural gas (already environmentally destructive), just because we feel entitled to enormous quantities of cheap fuel, is madness.