Humans have never lived in a world blanketed with so much carbon dioxide. Levels of the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming — produced largely by burning fossil fuels — reached a record 415 parts per million this month, 48% over preindustrial levels.
At the same time, the United States has never seen a president so keen on promoting fossil fuels as Donald Trump. He’s working to pull America out of the Paris climate accord; dismantle Obama-era regulations for promoting clean power; and open vast tracts of public land for coal, oil and gas exploitation. He acts without concern about a scientific consensus that blames human activity — like the burning of fossil fuels — for rising global temperatures. (An Arctic heat wave hit 84 degrees this month.)
So with a president as patron, why are oil, gas and coal investors worried about the future?
A Bloomberg analysis showed scores of companies and energy funds devoted to fossil fuels losing stock value since Trump took office. Exxon Mobil Corp. gained 1% while the overall stock market hit record highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up nearly 20%.
Boston Consulting Group, a major business strategy firm, last month cautioned fossil fuel interests to rethink “their social license to operate head-on” as the public and investors grow increasingly worried about the planet. Investors are demanding more information about greenhouse gas pollution from hydrocarbon companies they buy into.
AMERICAN PETROLEUM INSTITUTE: Natural gas and oil industry is a solid, long-term investment
Meanwhile, since Trump took office, companies producing or installing renewable energy or efficiency products have seen stock values soar. The industry is growing at a clip of 20% a year. More people work in clean energy than in fossil fuels as solar and wind companies create jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the American economy.
In America, five states and more than 100 cities have committed to 100% renewable or carbon-free energy goals. Nations such as Germany and Britain now rely on half or more of their energy from renewable sources. Major car manufactures expect electric vehicles to dominate within the next decade or so as China, France, Ireland, Israel, Taiwan and other nations move toward drastically reducing or banning internal combustion engines.
This isn’t to say the era of Big Oil is anywhere near over. Global energy demand rises every year, and 70% still comes from fossil fuels. Emission-producing hydrocarbon energy will stay a part of our world for decades to come.
Even so, Americans already suffering through record floods, storms and wildfires worsened by climate change are starting to understand the simple math behind greenhouse gas pollution. The planet can only absorb so much more carbon dioxide this century before rising temperatures wreak widespread havoc on food production, render areas of the world uninhabitable and cause incalculable suffering. To limit the impact of climate change, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are going to have to start declining instead of rising year after year.
Analysts say oil and gas companies have enough reserves — never mind finding new wells, thanks to Trump’s energy plan — to make sure that doesn’t happen for a long time.
If the era of Big Oil isn’t yet over, the era of “drill, baby drill” has to be.
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