Confronting BP with a different approach

| 18th November 2019
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Can we reframe our arguments against fossil fuel giants and be led by creative visions for just and sustainable communities?

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Fatima-Zahra Ibrahim from the Green New Deal UK group showed the film A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at a Sheffield Greens workshop last weekend. 

The film looks back from a world in which everyone has access to the resources for a decent life and is treated with respect and ensured dignity, and argues that our current economic, social and environmental crises can be resolved through democracy and greater equality. It is, as you might expect, an America-specific picture, and Fatima said she hoped there’d soon be a comparable British work.

I echoed this in my talk, and also stressed that we desperately need more creative imaginings - more pictures painted, more movies made, more novels written that envisage not disaster, collapse or apocalypse, but a society that works out, a society with equality, security, respect for all, a society in which humans live within the physical limits of the planet.

Rethinking

At the moment we just get occasional glimpses and snippets of the way things could be. At a Tortoise CEOs meeting in London last week one contributor noted that what he’d learnt from the Extinction Rebellion occupation was 'we should pedestrianise central London', that life was better when it was actively changed or disrupted. 

We need a lot more of this kind of rethinking. Recently, also with Tortoise Media, I was debating BP on the possibility of ending all fossil fuel use.

BP’s position was predictable - championing gas and pointing to the company's (scant) investment in renewables. On the gas issue, its claims were based on the possible option of carbon capture and storage (CCS) - which has come under serious questioning. 

My more foundational response is that carbon storage is something nature’s already done to us, by trapping gas and laying down oil and coal. “Leave it in the ground,” is the obvious, free, form of CCS..

As for gas use, there’s one simple phrase: “Fugitive methane”. Gas leaks - both catastrophic and chronic - are increasingly being documented as potentially making gas as bad as coal in terms of the climate emergency.

But I didn’t choose on this occasion to confront BP head on. That ends up with an argument of competing experts and statistics and leaves an audience often little moved from where they started.

Different approach

Instead I took a different approach, reframing the question as: “Isn’t it great that we no longer have to use the fossil fuels that have been disastrous global contributors to ill health and death, poverty, inequality and human rights abuses, and environmental destruction?”

Our transport system is a natural place to start. A reliance on fossil-fuelled private vehicles has contributed massively to obesity and subsequent ill-health and, combined with electricity generation from fossil fuels, to air pollution that claims 4.6 million lives a year around the world.

What a disastrous product - how great when we can eliminate it from our lives, by focusing on walking and cycling and public transport that improves health and frees people to spend travel time productively.

Fossil fuel and car companies have conspired to spend massive sums on advertising trying to tell us the “wonders” of the open road in their latest vehicle, but we all know that is not the reality of car use.

Rather it is being stuck in a jam, breathing air twice as toxic as that on the pavement beside us, going nowhere slowly and unhealthily. We can now have a world free of such frustration.

Then there’s the damage oil companies do around the world - bringing their “resource curse” to nations like Nigeria, with its accompanying poverty, inequality, human rights abuse and environmental destruction. In respectful memory, we might call it the Ken Saro-Wiwa effect.

New economy

We think of this as an impact in the Global South, but it has spread far and wide. Just ask the people of Mayflower, Arkansas, subjected six years ago to a torrent of toxicity from an oil sands oil pipeline that burst beneath their community.

Then there’s the boom-bust impact of fossil fuels. Just ask northern coal communities in England, and the South of Wales. Big fossil fuel companies, driven by economic winds or government policies, come and go, leaving devastation in their wake.

By contrast, we must envision an economy built on long-term investment in renewables, decentralised community-owned projects and investment in energy efficiency; an economy that is spread around the country, centred on small businesses and cooperatives, and provides stability rather than boom or bust.

And, of course, there is the climate emergency. Extinction Rebellion and the climate strikers have done such a great job of driving home the urgency of action on that - the urgency of ending fossil fuel use, or the acidification of the oceans, and the impact of rising temperatures on sea levels that threatens many of the world’s major cities.

We can’t afford to keep destroying nature’s long-term carbon capture and storage system. Instead we must build and support more stable, secure and healthy communities. 

This Author 

Natalie Bennett is a Green Party peer. 

Image: National Renewable Energy Lab, Flickr. 

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