The green revolution is inevitable

Nicholas Tucker, Columnist

As the fight against climate change continues, it gets easy to view the issue as a direct two-sided conflict. It seems to be the idea of many that fossil fuel companies are trying to keep oil, coal and other nonrenewable resources, which have been the mainstay of the American power network, firmly in place at the top of energy production. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The real fight isn’t over whether or not the world goes green, it’s about when it does and who gets to hold or gain power in the revolutionized world that is fast-approaching. The green revolution is inevitable.

Now, when I say that oil and coal executives aren’t fighting to keep oil and coal on top, I only mean that in the long term. When I say that a new, green world is inevitable, I don’t mean that the environmentalists are going to win their fight against big oil. What I mean is that over the past decade, energy companies which have historically relied on fossil fuels have been sneakily investing billions in renewable energy. A Greentech Media interview with Maarten Wetselaar, director of Shell’s integrated gas and new energies division, gives a clue why.

“Most of our customers, private individuals and companies, will in the coming decades only be using electricity…so if we’re not in that business, we’ll become marginalized,” Wetselaar said. “So to an extent, it’s about survival, but it’s also about, of course, playing a positive role in energy transition…we see the two as equally powerful.”

Sure. They definitely see their own survival and playing a positive role as equally important matters.

What he’s getting at is that market forces are pushing these companies to be more renewable for a bunch of reasons. First off, consumers not only want the companies to be better, but they also are demanding more and more green products. Every major car company is putting a lot of work towards electric vehicles, both because people want them and because they don’t want to be the ones who miss out on Tesla-level profits.

It’s not just about consumers either. According to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, renewable power plants are now cheaper to build and operate than those running off of fossil fuels.  According to the Medical College of Wisconsin, they’re also safer for workers and have far lower chances of causing an environmental disaster. That last point may seem like it’s about the environment, but it’s not. The fact is that absolutely no company wants to be the one that is associated with a disaster. British Petroleum still hasn’t recovered from what the general public calls the “BP Oil Spill.” It’s horrible PR for everyone to associate your company with photos of animals choking to death in black goo.

So, if these companies actually want to switch to green energy and are actively moving in that direction, why do many of them still fight for oil? What the rhetorical fight is really over are stranded assets. Stranded assets are the resources and equipment that will be left over after the industry transition happens, and no company wants them to be simply left to waste. Say the U.S. government bans oil drilling. That would still leave millions of barrels of oil in the ground, and the companies want that oil. They may be all in for a green revolution, but they still want to get what last bits of profits they can before the world moves forward. So, they dig their heels in and fight for oil as loudly as they can for as long as they can while preparing to move forward behind the scenes.

This is why China and the European Union, places that never were massive producers of fossil energy, are moving forward cleanly. What people in the U.S. seem to be unaware of when discussing proposals like the Green New Deal is that this legislation was already put in place years ago somewhere else. Chinese President Xi Jinping is by no means a bleeding-heart environmentalist. He is, however, an incredibly smart man when it comes to running a country’s economy, and he was more than delighted when U.S. President Trump announced that we would be sticking with oil and coal. If the U.S. doesn’t want to be number one in energy production anymore, China will gladly do it for us.