Teen climate change activist Greta Thunberg plans to join other youth at the World Economic Forum later this month in Davos, Switzerland, where they will admonish world leaders for providing subsidies to the oil and gas industry, which is responsible, in part, for advancing civilization by providing abundant and affordable energy.
“Anything less than immediately ceasing these investments in the fossil fuel industry would be a betrayal of life itself,” Thunberg wrote in the Guardian, including the youth’s demands:
We demand that at this year’s Forum, participants from all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.
We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021, we want this done now – as in right now.
The world of finance has a responsibility to the planet, the people and all other species living on it. In fact, it ought to be in every company and stakeholder’s interest to make sure the planet they live on will thrive. But history has not shown the corporate world’s willingness to hold themselves accountable. So it falls on us, the children, to do that. We call upon the world’s leaders to stop investing in the fossil fuel economy that is at the very heart of this planetary crisis. Instead, they should invest their money in existing sustainable technologies, research and in restoring nature. Short-term profit should not trump long-term stability of life.
But despite Thunberg’s and others’ claims, experts say that not only are fossil fuels responsible for improving human conditions around the globe but activists’ call for ending subsidies to oil and gas corporations will do little to help the environment.
The Library for Economics and Liberty wrote about the idea that fossil fuels harm not help humanity:
No one exposes its sheer absurdity better than Alex Epstein in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. You cannot have modern civilization without abundant energy. And despite decades of government favoritism, alternative fuels have yet to deliver. As global wealth has skyrocketed, energy use has risen 80%, thanks almost entirely to increased production of fossil fuels:
“From the 1970s to the present, fossil fuels have overwhelmingly been the fuel of choice, particularly for developing countries. In the United States between 1980 and 2012, the consumption of oil increased 8.7 percent, the consumption of natural gas increased 28.3 percent, and the consumption of coal increased 12.6 percent. During that time period, the world overall increased fossil fuel usage far more than we did. Today the world uses 39 percent more oil, 107 percent more coal, and 131 percent more natural gas than it did in 1980.”
And the ScienceDaily website took on the subsidies debate:
Removing fossil subsidies would only slightly slow the growth of CO2 emissions, with the result that by 2030 they would only be 1-5% lower than if subsidies had been maintained, regardless of whether oil prices are low or high. This equates to 0.5-2 gigatonnes (Gt/year) of CO2 by 2030, significantly less than the voluntary climate pledges made under the Paris climate agreement, which add up to 4-8 Gt/year and are themselves not enough to limit warming to 2°C.
“The reason for this small overall effect is two-fold,” says IIASA researcher Jessica Jewell, lead author on the paper. “First, these subsidies generally apply only to oil, gas, and electricity. That means that in some cases the removal of subsidies causes a switch to more emissions-intensive coal. Second, while these subsidies add up to substantial sums of money, the rate per unit of energy is not high enough to have a big effect on global energy demand, which would decrease by only 1-7% after subsidies are removed.”
In addition, subsidy removal would not boost renewable energy use significantly, the team found. This is because it is generally cheaper to reduce energy demand than to substitute subsidized fuels with renewables.
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