A rapid end to burning fossil fuel is possible

By | July 16, 2023

Bill McKibben writes:

In the list of ill-timed corporate announcements, historians may someday give pride of place to one made by Wael Sawan, the new C.E.O. of Shell, the largest energy company in Europe. In 2021, Shell said that it would reduce oil and gas production by one to two per cent a year up to 2030—a modest gesture in the direction of an energy transition. But Sawan, who assumed command of the company in January, signalled a different direction. The rise in oil and natural-gas prices, following the invasion of Ukraine, had doubled Shell’s annual profits, to a record forty billion dollars. That windfall had an effect. While Shell remains committed to fighting climate change, Sawan told the BBC, cutting fossil-fuel production would actually be “dangerous and irresponsible,” because doing so could cause the “cost of living” to start to “shoot up.” (The company has also said that it already met the target it set in 2021 through asset sales, which would include the sale of various drilling sites to ConocoPhillips—a step that seems unlikely to fool the atmosphere.)

The BBC aired the interview on July 6th—the day that many scientists believe was the hottest so far in human history. Since 1979, a global network of satellites, ocean buoys, and land stations has been recording average daily temperatures, measured two metres above the ground, around the world. We’re at the very start of what seems likely to be a major El Niño warming event; the previous global high temperature came at the height of the El Niño in 2016, when the average hit 16.92 degrees Celsius, or 62.45 degrees Fahrenheit. Estimates vary somewhat, but on July 3rd the average temperature reached 17.01 C, and three days later it hit 17.23 C, or 63.01 F. Scientists who calculate historic temperatures by examining proxy records, such as lake sediments or ice cores, believe that this may well be the hottest it’s been on Earth since at least the peak of an era known as the Eemian, a hundred and twenty-five thousand years ago, when rising temperatures pushed mastodons north from present-day Texas to the Yukon. This would mean that nothing even remotely resembling a human civilization has ever known a world this hot. [Continue reading…]

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