With Increasing Risk From Fossil Fuel Industry, Sustainability Train Has Definitely Left The Station

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Two new journal articles published this month have served to not only document the increasing climate-related risks facing the fossil fuel industry, but to point out the obvious, that the sustainability train has well and truly left the station, and is never coming back.

Earlier this week, two articles were published in the latest issue of the journal MRS Energy and Sustainability (MRS E&S) examining the climate-related risks that the fossil fuel industry is dealing with, and will continue to deal with in the future. Specifically, the first of the two articles concludes that while the oil industry is relatively insulated at the moment due to its unique role in the transportation sector and a nearly complete lack of viable alternatives, the gas and coal industries face a much different proposition. The author, former Associated Press Gulf-commentator Jim Krane cites statistics which shows that oil reserves are the least exposed of the three primary fossil fuels, with only a third of the current conventional crude oil reserves likely to be abandoned in an effort to meet climate change targets. On the other hand, however, half of gas reserves and 82% of coal reserves are likely to be abandoned, creating massive financial risk for the fossil fuel industry and anyone still investing in it.

The coal industry was always going to be the first to face massive losses, and in 2010 in the United States the coal industry lost a combined 31,000 jobs and $30 billion in share value. Krane concludes that the future of coal now rests with developing countries, but as we have seen, developing countries from the behemoths of China and India, all the way down to third-world countries in Africa, are looking to alternative sources of energy generation to meet their burgeoning population needs.

For gas, however, it sits in a middle-ground which is a non-viable long term proposition, but in the near- to medium-term serves to benefit the gas industry. The reduced carbon emissions that come from low-carbon natural gas make it a valuable means in the next decade or so, but it will still be vulnerable to renewable energy technologies and other lower-carbon substitutes in the long run.

In the end, Krane believes that some businesses, and even some governments, may not survive the increasing pressures that face the energy industry as a result of climate change actions. “Unless a technological breakthrough can restrict carbon releases, the fortunes of the fossil fuel industry and the stability of Earth’s climate will be locked in a zero-sum game,” Kane concludes. “Climate’s gain is the industry’s loss and vice versa.”

“It is clear that carbon-based businesses and economies face increasing impediments to the consumption of their products. Whether through taxes, legal restrictions, moral arguments, favoritism for competitors, or hampered access to financial markets, the industry faces a future that is less accepting of current practice.”

The second article in question is a commentary on Krane’s article, written by Ritchie D. Priddy, an energy industry veteran who has published more than 200 papers on clean energy and sustainability issues. Priddy concludes the “sustainability movement” has already had a significant impact on the energy industry and the role of governments, and the impact will only continue to grow — even in the face of countries reacting negatively to the Paris Agreement. His analogy is the titular one, that the sustainability train has left the station, and though the train may slow in places, it is not returning to the station, and will eventually continue to gather steam and continue around the world.

“As [sustainability efforts] become more ingrained in the daily operations of all companies–primarily through peer pressure–they will, collectively, become more powerful than any international treaty, and something that cannot easily be removed,” Priddy concludes.

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Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at about.me for more.

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