How We Can Stop Big Oil in Its Tracks and Keep Dirty Energy in the Ground

Here's a way to stop the global reach of Big Oil, hasten the transition to clean energy, and keep coal and tar sands deposits where they belong - in the ground.

October 24, 2013 | Source: Alternet | by James Hansen

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NEW YORK – I could not help thinking of David versus Goliath earlier this week as I was working on a letter to Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

I was writing about the tax that Europe applies to unconventional fossil fuels in its Fuel Quality Directive: Will it account for all the emissions during the mining and processing of such fuels or will they pretend that energy from tar sands and oil shale is the same as conventional oil?

It matters – a lot. If total emissions are counted, the fees tacked to oil from tar sands or tar shale will make that carbon-intensive fuel less competitive in the market. Add a rising fee on carbon, and these dirtiest of fuels will be the first to be eliminated and replaced by clean energy and energy efficiency.

Tar sands production today is moderate, but there are plans to quintuple the rate of extraction over the next decade. Tar sands operations today are ugly enough, but if that expansion happens and infrastructure is put in place to carry the products to market, we surely will see a monstrous pillage of the land.

Massive carbon load

From the climate standpoint, we cannot accept the massive carbon load associated with unconventional fossil fuels without guaranteeing climate disasters. Conventional oil and gas should be the transition fuel to a clean energy future, and they could be that, if we put a rising fee on carbon.

And this brings me to the biblical tale. “David” in this case is the  Friends of the Earth Europe contingent, led by Elizabeth Drury, a small, determined middle-aged woman I met during a trip overseas last month. She’s supported by a few young people, and they’re making gains. Maybe.