When the Left Hates Green Energy
Combating climate change has become the most significant issue in the progressive movement, as evidenced by the $555 billion earmarked for "clean energy" in the so-called "Build Back Better Act." John Kerry, the Biden administration climate czar, has demanded bold action on carbon emissions, claiming that "the scientists told us three years ago we had 12 years to avert the worst consequences of climate crisis. We are now three years gone, so we have nine years left." At an August 2019 rally, Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) labeled climate change as "the major national security issue we face." A lengthy roster of A-list celebrities wrote an open letter to the heads of major entertainment platforms demanding that they support Biden's multi-billion-dollar environmental policies, moaning that "if we fail to act now, every single one of us will feel the impacts, a billion people will be displaced, and low-income people and communities of color will continue to be hit first and worst."
Progressives Reject Market-Ready Solutions
Despite their dire warnings, however, leftists have been oddly reluctant to fully embrace policies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although progressives have advocated for renewables such as solar and wind power, they often oppose any increase in nuclear power, a carbon-neutral and readily accessible energy source. The far-left also disparages natural gas usage, despite the fact that the transition from coal to natural gas has lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 13% since 2005. One would expect, at least in the short term, environmentalists to embrace nuclear and natural gas as part of a greener energy portfolio, with a corresponding reduction in coal consumption.
Although renewables have exhibited tremendous growth over the past year, a quick look at Germany's energy policy indicates that renewables are not sufficiently mature to power the entire globe. The country's heralded transition to carbon-neutral energy has suffered from a lack of reliability, high costs, and general ineffectiveness. Similar problems have arisen domestically, where ultra-liberal states such as California have struggled with reliability as they transition to renewables. Even in deep-red Texas, a lack of reliability from the state's heavily subsidized wind power contributed in part to the deadly blackout that plagued residents last February. Indeed, countries that have shut down nuclear plants have typically encountered both higher emissions and higher energy costs.
Opponents of nuclear power argue that nuclear waste and safety concerns make nuclear a non-starter. Yet that argument doesn't withstand logical scrutiny: if the left truly believes that climate change will bring about Armageddon over the next decade, it would seem that nuclear power would be worth the risks to mitigate greenhouse gas emission. The reality is that the progressive movement's distaste for nuclear and natural gas is driven by something far simpler: their hatred of corporate greed. Editorials from publications such as The Hill, Bloomberg, and the Chicago Tribune have decried subsidies for nuclear energy, despite the fact that as of 2016, nuclear energy was subsidized significantly less ($365 million) at the federal level than renewables ($6.682 billion), coal ($1.26 billion) and natural gas ($773 million). Natural gas corporations, too, incur wrath from both progressive politicians and the mainstream media. In other words, nuclear power and natural gas are viewed by the left as "Big Energy," and, although they could be a boon in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, progressives cannot bring themselves to embrace corporations.
When Big Oil Absorbs Big Solar
As renewable energy sources continue to expand globally, so-called "Big Energy" corporations are taking notice...and investing big. Just last month, oil giant Shell announced that it was purchasing 100% of Savion, a U.S.-based solar and energy storage company. Just a few months prior, in July 2021, Shell purchased Inspire Energy Capital, another renewables firm, followed by the addition of a 51% stake in an Irish offshore wind project in November. ExxonMobil is also becoming active in the renewables space: this past month, the company purchased the materials technology company Materia, Inc., which is developing technologies for wind power and electric vehicles. Not to be outdone, BP acquired renewables technology company Blueprint Power in October, invested $220 million in U.S. solar projects in July (while also buying Open Energi, another renewables tech company), and has made a slew of other investments in "green energy." Ditto for Chevron.
Each example is indicative of a broader trend of fossil fuel giants diversifying their energy portfolio to accommodate (and profit from) the expansion of carbon-neutral energy production. Thus, declaring the "beginning of the end for Big Oil" is a mischaracterization; Big Oil is simply rebranding itself as Big Solar. Given the tremendous financial resources, energy infrastructure, and technical expertise of our major oil corporations, it seems almost inevitable that any transition to renewables will ultimately go through them, whether the activist left likes it or not.
Progress Dismissed as "Greenwashing"
Indeed, Big Energy has already begun to face blowback for its green investments, as evidenced by Powershop Australia, a green energy provider that was purchased by Shell as part of its Meridian acquisition. Within weeks, Powershop lost over 6,000 customers, while advocacy group Environment Victoria severed its relationship with the company. Their crime? Having the audacity to allow themselves to be bought by a fossil energy company. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil is facing lawsuits for advertising its research on biofuel production using algae. The plaintiffs claim that the ad is misleading because ExxonMobil still produces fossil fuels. Chevron, similarly, is the target of a complaint issued before the Federal Trade Commission.
In fact, the left has created a blanket term to dismiss any efforts from large corporations to reduce their carbon footprint: "greenwashing." As such, fossil energy companies are between a rock and a hard place, facing scorn for producing oil and gas while being criticized as insincere when they attempt to reduce emissions.
The message is clear: climate activists will never support renewable energy investments from fossil fuel companies, even if it is a clear step forward in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Once again, when it comes to the left, the ends don't justify the means...even in the face of so-called Armageddon.
J. Allen Cartwright is a chemical researcher in the energy sector. His interest is in the interplay of politics with cultural and scientific institutions, and he can be followed on Parler at @jallencartwright.
Image via Pxhere.