Food for Thought: The Tide is Turning Against Fossil Fuels


Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz

Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz

Food for Thought is a new series of blogs written by Green America President/CEO Alisa Gravitz discussing trending green economy topics, innovative ideas in the environmental sphere, and more.

Two articles I  read this summer show major shifts in the investor world against fossil fuels and for renewable energy. The first is a momentous article published in July in The Telegraph.

In brief, it says that fossil fuels are the new sub-prime threat to the global economy, comparing them to the bad real-estate investments that led to the economic crisis of 2008.

“The epicentre of irrational behaviour across global markets has moved to the fossil fuel complex of oil, gas and coal. This is where investors have been throwing the most good money after bad,” writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Evans-Pritchard asserts that fossil fuel investments are heading for mass stranding, billions of dollars of past investments are heading for write-offs, and there are significantly fewer potential future investments that will break even, much less turn a profit.

He points out that “a large chunk of US investment” is supporting “shale gas ventures,” otherwise known as fracking operations, “that are underwater or barely breaking even” because they’ve created a “supply glut.” He does note that the industry could stabilize in five years or so and then turn a profit for investors once more.

However, he goes on to say that a solar revolution is rushing up on us under the radar, harbinger of a transformative green industrial revolution that can no longer be avoided.  World leaders, including President Barack Obama, are pledging to cut their country’s greenhouse gas emissions to combat the climate crisis. Meanwhile, “staggering gains in solar power—and soon battery storage as well—threatens to undercut the oil industry with lightning speed.”

“Once the crossover point is reached—and photovoltaic energy already competes with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia without subsidies—it must surely turn into a stampede,” writes Evans-Pritchard, who predicts that “the world energy landscape will already look radically different in the early 2020s.”

Authored by the international business editor of the UK Conservative party’s newspaper of choice, this article will most definitely be read by the UK Prime Minister, the Chancellor, and many of their advisors as they consider fracking in the UK and a whole set of national energy policies. No doubt the piece will give them pause about the typical conservative view of energy policy. Hopefully it will also be a harbinger of thinking that will come “across the pond” to the conservative end of the political spectrum here in the US.

The second piece offering similar thinking is a June blog by one of Green America’s colleagues, Jeremy Leggett, who is the founder and chair of Solar City, a solar company; a founder and chair of Carbon Tracker, a carbon policy NGO; and founder and chair of Solar Aid, an NGO helping get solar into the lowest income communities in Africa.

“Those of us with a belief system tuned to a bit of science know that the global community has to get rid of most carbon fuel use, maybe all, by 2050, maybe earlier,” to avoid the worst effects of climate change, Leggett writes. “This will be some journey. Where might we take a first step? Where is there any evidence that we could eliminate an entire category of carbon fuel use?”

Leggett’s answer is that SolarAid’s breakthrough in replacing kerosene lighting with solar lighting provides a prime example of a bite-sized first step to replacing other entire categories of fossil-fuel use.

Leggett’s charity, Solar Aid, has sold a million affordable solar lights in Africa in the past four years, 650,000 in the last year alone.

“In doing so, we are wiping kerosene out, creating a cascade of social good ranging from education (kids have a lot more time to study at night), through development (deferred kerosene costs create a staggering average increase in annual household income of some 20 per cent), to global warming abatement (a kerosene lantern emits an average of fully a tonne of greenhouse gas over its lifetime),” he writes.

Leggett writes that such a process can realistically be accelerated in these days of investors beginning to wake up to the potential risk of wasting capital expenditure in an expanding carbon bubble.

“Every step carbon fuel abolitionists take forward is likely to become easier in the future,” he writes. “This is because carbon fuels, on the whole, will become more expensive to extract over time, and the increasingly enormous amounts of cash needed to access them become ever harder to justify.”

Taken together, the two articles from Evans-Pritchard and Leggett give hope that people across the whole political spectrum are getting ready to do what must be done for the future of the planet and its people.

Green America is a leading voice in promoting solar technology, green investing, and fossil-fuel divesting. It’s great to be part of a team working to turn the tide.

Alisa Gravitz

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