I recently became aware that we need to keep around two thirds of existing fossil fuels in the ground (based on reserves in operation), in order to stand any chance of meeting the 1.5C climate change target agreed in Paris. We know that burning fossil fuels is a major threat to our climate, and causes a whole raft of related issues like localised air pollution, which is leading to increased mortality rates.
Today I watch the new Deepwater Horizon movie, which if anything reinforced the need to move away from fossil fuels as fast as practically possible (and I mean FAST). Mark Wahlberg plays the lead role in the film, which is about the worst oil spill in US history that took place in April 2010. I won’t go in the plot, as I don’t want to give away spoilers for anyone intending to watch the movie (although if you followed the disaster in 2010, you probably know what to expect). Click here to watch the Deepwater Horizon film trailer.
For me, the film cleverly captures human nature in all it’s positive and negative capacities. We have the heroes like Mark Wahlberg, who are just doing a job and end up forced to go above and beyond in this situation. We also see the greedy BP hierarchy (portrayed by John Malkovich) who only care about making money and have no regard for the safety of the people onboard the rig, or the wildlife which live in the Gulf’s waters. It’s all too easy to stereotype companies like BP as immoral, greedy and selfish. But you watch a film like this and you can see exactly why they deserve those labels. Add in the fact that they are holding up any kind of meaningful action on climate change and you can see why they are detested so widely. A better articulated view on fossil fuel companies can be seen here, in the form of Leonardo Di Caprio’s Oscar acceptance speech.
I was mildly surprised that Halliburton and Transocean escaped so lightly in this movie, but ultimately there were many failings and a lot of them fell squarely on BPs shoulders. This film is definitely one for the cinemas, try see it on as big a screen as you can. I hope this can be used as a lesson and an additional incentive to move away from fossil fuels to cleaner, greener and SAFER renewable technologies.
Bill McKibben recently published a sobering article on our remaining carbon budget, based on a new Oil Change International Report.
Bill explains that if we want to meet the target of a maximum 2°C rise in temperatures, then we can release/burn 800 gigatons of CO2. However, if we want to limit the temperature increase to the 1.5°C target agreed in Paris in 2015, then we can only emit 353 gigatons of CO2 (this is a conservative estimate, which will only give us a 50% chance of meeting the target). Our problem arises because the existing coal fields, oil wells and gas fields in operation will produce 942 gigatons of CO2 assuming all of the fossil fuels are extracted and used.
We are therefore left in a situation where we can only afford to use approximately one third of fossil fuels from all fields and wells in operation, if we want to try and stave of the worst impacts of climate change and limit the global average rise in temperatures to 1.5°C. In addition, no government anywhere on the planet can allow a new coal field, oil well or gas field to be approved. This poses a monumental challenge, as fossil fuel companies want to extract every last unit of fossil fuel they can get their hands on. But supposing our political leaders stick to their word (please keep your laughter down) and enforce the 1.5°C, then our leaders are going to have to be brave (sigh) and tell the fossil fuel companies, who just happen to be some of the wealthiest and most powerful companies in the world, that they can only extract and sell around one third of existing fossil fuels from fields and wells that are in operation. This brings me neatly on to my next point – the carbon bubble.
Broadly speaking, the share value of fossil fuel companies are based on the assumption that all coal, oil and gas in existing fields and wells will be extracted and burned. However, as we have seen if we are to stand any chance of meeting the 1.5°C target, then we can only extract and burn one third of existing reserves. As such, there is a significant amount of ‘unburnable carbon’, which some experts refer to as ‘stranded assets’.
Assuming that there is no uptake in carbon capture and storage technology, then the true value of shares at fossil fuels companies could be as low as one third of their current valuations. The current estimates of share value are therefore unrealistic and assume ‘business as usual’ scenarios, with little to no assumptions for future climate policies – this is what is known as the ‘carbon bubble’.
From an economics perspective, there is a fear that this could lead to a similar situation as the ‘housing bubble’, which contributed to the global recession in 2008. This is because a large number of private and public bodies have invested their funds in big oil and gas companies, as they have traditionally been seen as a safe bet. The type of organisations who have invested in fossil fuel company shares, include:
Government organisations (including local authorities)
Faith based groups (i.e. churches)
Universities and colleges
Pension funds (this is a massive worry – if share values plummet to reflect their true value in light of climate change policies, then what happens to people’s pension pots?)
A whole new movement has started up to encourage ‘divestment’ from fossil fuel companies, which is based on a moral imperative to act on climate change, but also a financial imperative to protect pension funds and university funds, from potentially massive losses should the ‘carbon bubble’ burst and share values tumble.
The excellent US based NGO founded by Bill McKibben, 350.org, has put together a fantastic resource called ‘Go Fossil Free’. On this website, you can join or start your own divestment group, and you can also view some of the 630 organisations who have divested $3.4 trillion from fossil fuel companies so far, which include:
We have 942 gigatons of CO2 that we intend to emit from current fields and wells.
We can only emit 353 gigatons of CO2 at the very most to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Regardless of what you believe about climate change and even if you were to ignore the moral imperative to take action, there is still a strong financial argument to move your money away from fossil fuels. Should you feel so inclined, you might want to look at where your pension provider has invested their funds and if you’re unhappy with their choice – let them know!
We appear to have a tiny amount of leeway with our remaining carbon budget, but we need to commence a ‘Managed Decline’ of fossil fuels starting now, transitioning to a cleaner and greener future.
I am often asked about why I chose creative writing and why in particular I want to write about climate fiction (CliFi). How and why could writing about climate change through fiction, be more effective than non-fiction?
I recently came across the twelve points below from Dan Bloom (the journalist who coined the term Cli-Fi), who kindly agreed to let me share these points on my blog, and they provide an excellent answer to the above question.
“12 ways that cli-fi novels and movies can encourage action on climate change” by staff writers at cli-fi.net
They can “show” the story with powerful storytelling and characters rather than just tell it with scientific charts and statistics.
The publication of cli-fi novels and the release of cli-fi feature movies to the global media can influence international leaders and public opinion.
They can highlight the emotional side of the climate change story, with well-drawn characters and compelling story arc to bring the story home.
Cli-fi novels and movies can encourage empathy for the future.
Cli-fi novels and movies resonate in any language, be it English, French, Italian, Chinese, or dozens of other world languages.
By leading by example, and getting their books read and movies seen, cli-fi authors and screenwriters can reach people on a local and on a national and international level.
Cli-fi novels and movies pose an important question, which only individual artists can answer with their stories: Is the future to be hopeful or full of hurt?
Make sure that cli-fi novels and movies are part of the cultural spaces we inhabit now in the 21st century.
Cli-fi novels and movies might offer solutions; on the other hand they might picture a dystopian future without real solutions. In that case, or in both cases, readers and viewers will need to come up with personal solutions and understandings of their own.
Cli fi novels and movies will reach the young generations now in their teens and 20s.
Cli-fi novel and movies will stand out from the noise of a distracted culture.
The stories that cli fi novels and movies tell will be pivotal and important. This is the power of art and culture.
Thank you to Dan, for letting me share these points.
On Tuesday 13th September, I finished my last day of work and commenced my MA in Creative Writing. If you know me, this degree may sound random given that I completed my undergraduate degree in climate change; but there is method to this madness.
My beliefs are firmly in line with the 97% of climate scientists who acknowledge that climate change is happening, caused by humans and that we need to act fast. As an individual, I therefore asked myself what I could do to help bring about the change we need and I have decided to focus on engaging a wider audience about the impacts of climate change, through various forms of creative writing (including the newly emerging climate fiction or ‘clifi’ genre). Various articles have pointed out that this type of writing could reach people who wouldn’t usually choose to read non-fiction books/articles about climate change.
To put this in context, climate change largely became a public issue in 1988, when Dr James Hansen spoke before a US Congressional Committee, confirming that humans were increasing the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the intervening 28 years, we have taken very little action to avoid a ‘worst case climate change scenario’ from occuring. There are many reasons for this. One of which is that climate science is extremely complex and difficult to convey to lay people. Media sensationalism and special interests have also played a role in ‘muddying the waters’ around climate science and as a result, large swathes of the public are unaware of the future impacts we face and the current events taking place around the world which have been exacerbated by climate change. Yes you read that right, we are already seeing some of the early effects of climate change – it isn’t just a ‘future issue’.
In an auspicious turn of events, it just so happened that the 13th September 2016 was the warmest September day on record for the past 105 years in the UK. In addition, the date also marked the 100th birthday of Roald Dahl, one of the main authors who inspired my love of reading and writing at an early age. Perhaps it was a sign.
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to sum up what I hope to achieve, than with the following quote from Roald Dahl himself:
I think we can all do well to remember that – now more than ever we need a concerted effort to tackle a plethora of pressing global issues, including the ‘planetary emergency’ that is climate change.