Even though Biden pushes clean energy, he seeks more oil production
GLASGOW – President Biden said at a global climate summit on Monday that “we have only a brief window ahead” to reduce emissions from the combustion of oil, gas and coal which constitute a “existential threat” to humanity. But days earlier, he urged the world’s largest oil producers to pump more fossil fuels that are warming the planet.
Incongruity was center stage both at the current World Climate Summit in Scotland and in Rome last weekend at a rally of leaders from the 20 largest economies. The president’s comments highlighted the political and economic realities facing politicians dealing with climate change. And they highlighted the complexity of moving away from the fossil fuels that have underpinned global economic activity since the industrial age.
“On the surface this seems like an irony,” Mr. Biden said at a press conference on Sunday. “But the truth is… you all knew that; everyone knows – that the idea that we’re going to be able to switch to renewables overnight, ”he said, was“ just not rational ”.
Mr Biden’s remarks have caught the attention of energy experts and climate activists, who say the world cannot afford to increase production of oil and natural gas if it is to avoid catastrophic levels warming. Environmental groups are watching intensely to see how the president intends to meet his ambitious goal of halving the country’s emissions, from 2005 levels, by the end of this decade.
A recent report by the International Energy Agency found that countries must immediately halt oil, gas and coal development if they hope to prevent the average global temperature from rising above 1.5 Celsius pre-industrial levels, the threshold beyond which scientists say the Earth faces irreversible damage. The planet has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius.
“We are in a climate crisis. There is no place for the left hand and the right hand to do different things, ”said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International. “It is not credible to say that you are fighting for 1.5 degrees when you call for an increase in oil production.”
With gasoline prices topping $ 3.30 a gallon nationwide, Biden this weekend urged major energy-producing countries with slack capacity to step up production, as part of ‘a broader effort to pressure OPEC countries and Russia to increase oil supplies. He was joined by Emmanuel Macron from France, whose country hosted the 2015 meeting in Paris where 200 countries agreed to collectively fight against global warming.
At the conclusion of a Group of 20 summit on Sunday that ended with high climate rhetoric but less concrete action than activists had hoped, Mr Biden addressed the irony head-on. The transition to low-emission energy sources would take years, and in the meantime, it was important to ensure that people could afford to drive their cars and heat their homes, he said at the meeting. ‘a press conference.
“It seems, on the surface, inconsistent,” the president said, “but it’s not at all inconsistent as no one predicted that this year we would be able – or even next year – that we are not going to use more oil or gas; that we are not going to engage in fossil fuels. We are going to stop subsidizing these fossil fuels. We are going to make significant changes. And that just argues that we should switch more quickly to renewables – to wind and solar and other forms of energy. “
Mr. Biden’s climate and social spending plan pending in Congress does not eliminate government subsidies for fossil fuels, which are estimated at around $ 20 billion a year.
His comments came as the president and his aides struggle to ward off Republican attacks tying his economic agenda to rising inflation, including rising gasoline prices, which are helping to lower its rate. ‘approval.
Mr. Biden has shown great sensitivity to the politics of the pump. He has repeatedly pushed back efforts by Republican senators earlier this year to raise federal taxes on gasoline – a move economists say broadly would discourage demand for oil – over fears they would impose a burden. unfairly to middle-class Americans and violates its pledge not to raise personal taxes. earn less than $ 400,000 per year.
Middle-class Americans “have to get to their jobs. They have to get in an automobile, turn on the key, bring their children to school, ”Biden said at the press conference. “School buses must run. He said that the idea “that there is an alternative to avoid being able to get into your automobile is just not realistic; It’s not going to happen. “
Higher gas and oil prices can have a ripple effect on the entire economy, increasing costs for transportation-related industries such as trucking. This in turn increases the costs of anything that needs to be shipped, driving up the prices of the goods. And if consumers are spending more of their income on fueling their cars and heating their homes, they have less money to spend on these products.
The president’s responses echoed in some respects to executives of several major oil and gas companies, who last week testified before a House panel investigating their industry’s role in disinformation aimed at slowing the transition to China. wind, solar and other clean energies. As Democrats on the committee tried to get leaders to pledge to phase out oil and gas development, Republicans noted that Biden was calling on companies to increase production.
“Oil and gas will continue to be needed for the foreseeable future,” Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, told the committee. “Currently, we do not have adequate alternative energy sources. “
Mr Biden’s legislative agenda seeks to accelerate migration out of oil in several ways. The massive spending bill pending in Congress includes $ 550 billion in climate initiatives, mostly concentrated in tax credits to encourage solar power, electric cars and other technologies to reduce emissions. A separate bill, a bipartisan infrastructure bill, includes a down payment on Mr Biden’s goal of creating a nationwide network of electric vehicle charging stations.
But these initiatives have not yet been adopted. And even if they do, it could take years to start diverting American consumer preferences from gasoline-powered vehicles, a mismatch that administration officials repeatedly cite to explain its drive to increase production of gasoline. short term oil.
“If he asked them to increase their production over five years, I would resign,” John Kerry, President Biden’s special climate envoy, told reporters on Sunday. “But he’s not. He asks them to increase production immediately.
Mr Kerry argued that as the world develops wind and solar power and invests in new transmission networks to bring this renewable electricity to homes and businesses, it will “free” countries from dependence on fossil fuels. .
“But you can’t just shut down everybody’s economy across the planet and say, ‘OK, we’re not going to use oil’ or whatever,” Mr. Kerry said.
Some energy analysts agree, saying that while the timing of Mr. Biden’s request to increase oil production may be awkward, it reflects economic reality. “There is a difference between the world we have today and the world we want in the future,” said Jason Bordoff of Columbia Climate School at Columbia University.
“It makes perfect sense that the Biden administration simultaneously seeks to ensure that there is adequate and affordable energy for households today and at the same time take the most aggressive measures in US history. to boost vehicle electrification and go beyond oil in the future, ”he said. noted.
In its roadmap detailing how to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century, the International Energy Agency urged to end sales of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035; the elimination by 2040 of power stations that burn coal, oil and gas without capturing their emissions; and the creation of a global energy sector based largely on renewable energies by 2050.
The IEA also warned that emissions continued to rise and the world was still headed in the wrong direction, failing to grasp the massive transformation of the global energy system needed to keep the planet safe.
The World Meteorological Organization reported last month that the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached an all-time high in 2020, despite an economic slowdown caused by the pandemic, and is increasing again this year. Meanwhile, China is increasing its production and imports of coal in response to power shortages of recent months.
Justin Guay, director of global strategy for the Sunrise Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for a global transition away from oil, gas and coal, said the United States and other countries must immediately stop the production of new fossil fuels.
“Net zero lives or dies if we move beyond fossil fuels,” said Guay, whose group is not affiliated with the Sunrise movement militant group. “It starts with an immediate halt to the expansion of coal, oil and gas. Not next year or the next decade. Right now. “