Theater of Cruelty

Challenging climate sobriety

Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Not Zero Is Not Enough
Forfatter: Holly Jean
Forlag: Buck Verso (USA)
ECOLOGY / We need such voices as Holly Jean Buck, who criticizes wishful thinking – precisely to help bring forward a hopeful, serious and long-lasting climate fight, beyond all easy optimism.


Holly Jean Buck is known for the book After Geoengineering (2019), also published by Verso, where she takes a stand against the wishful thinking that a soft climateconversion will solve the problems. Some afforestation here, some electric cars there – and then solar and wind power do the rest? The message of this first book was that we will hardly be able to maintain sound climate targets of a 1,5-2 degree rise in the global average temperature – and that we will have to resort to both geoengineering and regenerative strategies on an enormous scale. Getting the excess carbon in the atmosphere back to land is a titanic task that can only be solved if the carbon accounting becomes a large part of the culture and everyday life of all people.

Oil, coal and gas still provide 87 percent of the world's energy, while renewable energy is at 5 percent, hydropower at 6,4 percent and nuclear power at 4,3 percent.

In the new book Ending Fossil Fuels: Why Net Zero is Not Enough she continues a sober critique, where she lets the numbers speak for themselves: We must cut emissions by 4 gigatons per year, but in practice plan to increase emissions by another 2 gigatons annually. We are here the humans on planet earth. Not bad multinational companies, first and foremost, but national oil companies like Equinor, which together with for most unknown companies like Petrobas, Sinopec and Pemex account for over half of oil productionone on the globe. Like Equinor, these have national economic interests and jobs to take into account, which also affects the democratic election results. So "we" in a concrete sense, at least from a Norwegian perspective.

The world's energy

Buck starts by describing the demolition of the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona. Anyone who has visited the famous underground Antelope canyon with its photogenic formations has also driven past this brutally ugly coal power plant. When it was demolished last year, it was celebrated worldwide as a turning point, also because it was seen as a victory for the indigenous population. The power plant supplied electricity to Los Angeles, while many navajo-people didn't have electricity. But coal minene that supplied the power plant is still not secured and cleaned, points out Buck – and the power plant was only decommissioned when it became unprofitable. The videos of the pipes collapsing were seen as the beginning of the end for the coal age, as China and Australia build giant new power stations.

So there are good approaches, but the feeling of a change in mood, an idea that the world is changing for the better, can simply be deceptive when they are not accompanied by material changes. Hopeful stories are painful to torpedo, but it is necessary for those who want to know where the country lies. That's why we need sober environmentalists like Buck. A look at the most basic numbers reveals that olje, coal and gas still provide 87 percent of the world's Energy solutions, while renewable energy is at 5 per cent, hydropower at 6,4 per cent and nuclear power at 4,3 per cent. We are extremely far from the goal of zero emissions. And we're running out of time. So what do we do now?

Renewable energy

Since the politicians and the professional climate experts only prepare irresponsible moderate plans, the activists must make the responsible plans. Buck highlights, among other things Lofoten Declaration for a Managed Decline of Fossil Fuel Production from 2017, which is an extremely solid and targeted treaty to drastically scale down fossil fuel extraction.

Poor planning can lead to disillusionment with renewable energy, especially if the energy also becomes extremely expensive and unreliable. Such plans must take into account not only financial losses for the national economy and energy shortages, but also a highly understandable popular resistance where wind power and solar power take over entire landscapes.

New illusions are also being promoted by the oil, gas and coal sector, namely that we can make fossil fuels "clean" or "cleaner" in various ways: that we can turn fossil fuels into a cycle, where we first release carbon and then capture that, or where we can make the emissions minimal. Such seductive plans will make it far more difficult to argue for alternative energy, phasing out and zero emissions.

To liberate civilization

If Buck has so far played devil's advocate, and if she seems to invite a kind of laissez-faire resignation, she makes it clear that the goal is the opposite: We must sharpen the arguments and know the details if we are to be able to argue against sneaky lobbyists and soft- deniers, pale green professional optimists and political self-delusions.

To be able to argue against sneaky lobbyists and soft-deniers, light-green professional optimists and political self-delusions.

The process of freeing civilization from fossil fuels and salvaging what can be salvaged from climatic stability will not happen by itself through a form of economic self-regulation. It presupposes a collective will to make an effort that can only be mobilized by an environmental movement that has clear vision and a deep understanding of practical politics.

Strictly speaking, Net Zero does not mean zero emissions, but that there is a balance between emissionsene and the carbon the earth systems can extract from the atmosphere through forests, oceans and possible human effort. We can apparently "decarbonise" and cut emissions where it seems easier, or at least possible, and compensate with carbon capture for those sectors where it is difficult, such as agriculture and transport, aviation and shipping included. But Buck points out a number of dangerous reefs in the sea, which makes the book useful reading for activists and politicians alike.

We must make room for a form of society beyond exploitation and irresponsible overproduction and corresponding overconsumption: a settlement with ideals of endless expansion, total mobility, maximum comfort and eternal growth.

Buck's balancing of realism and participatory involvement feels like meeting a serious doctor who kindly but seriously tells us that we need to change our lifestyles: The ability to let things go is liberating, is her closing and therapeutic comment.

Anders Dunk
Anders Dunker
Philosopher. Regular literary critic in Ny Tid. Translator.

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