We need more than politicians’ promises to stop catastrophic drilling projects
One of the most jarring aspects of being an environmental journalist is the inordinate time you spend covering what governments are pledging to do to help the world retain a liveable climate, only to be reminded of the bleak reality of what is actually being allowed to happen.
The climate crisis is a sprawling, messy, morphing disaster and we have no precise idea how bad it will get. Formalised agreements by countries to cut planet-heating emissions, therefore, feel like a welcome sense of control over our fate. Promises are, after all,
“the uniquely human way of ordering the future”,
as Hannah Arendt put it.
But even as the world’s leaders reaffirm, as they did at Cop26 in Glasgow last year, the desire to avoid 1.5C of global heating beyond pre-industrial times, the situation is spinning dangerously in the opposite direction.
As the Guardian’s new ‘climate bombs’ series shows, there are 195 gigantic oil and gas projects underway around the world that would each result in at least one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions over their lifetimes, in total equivalent to around 18 years of current global emissions. More than half have already started drilling and pumping.
The scale of these projects is immense and will, by themselves, propel the world beyond the agreed 1.5C threshold into the catastrophic wildfires, floods, drought and unrest that scientists are increasingly frantic over. If we are going to keep to a ‘safe’ global climate, not only will these nascent projects have to be scrapped, nearly half of existing fossil fuel production will have to be shut down.
“the greatest existential threat we face”
and immediately shut down drilling on public lands when he took office. Little more than a year later, the drilling is not only back, it is set to reach record levels in 2022 in the Permian basin, a vast geological formation found under western Texas.
Biden has even taken to exhorting other countries to drill for more oil, to help lower a global oil price that has pushed up the cost of gasoline for American drivers. This about-turn is a microcosm of much of our response to climate change to date, which has resembled a person promising to quit drinking while heading to the supermarket to buy all of its Special Brew.
It’s little wonder, then, that many younger people are not only anxious about the future of the planet, but consider it to be doomed. If we want order and control over our futures, we are going to need more than promises. We are going to have to defuse all of the carbon bombs, everywhere, all at once.
Editor’s note: The link to last week’s Story of the Week – ‘Revealed: the carbon bombs set to trigger climate breakdown’ – was incorrect. You can read the story here
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