Exxon representatives made a pretty startling admission recently when meeting Washington Post editors.
"With no government action, Exxon experts told us during a visit to The Post last week, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic (my word, not theirs) 5 degrees Celsius, with rises of 6, 7 or even more quite possible."
Now let's take that piece by piece. We know that even with 2 degrees Celsius of warming, just 1C past where we stand today in 2015, we and just about every other living thing are probably screwed. How exactly we'll be screwed depends on how and where you're living when the screwing arrives. There's no end of possibilities, none of them particularly pleasant.
And so Exxon foresees 5C of heating, possibly 6 or 7, if we going along with business as usual. Germany's Potsdam Institute presented a great online course earlier this year exploring what life would be like in a 4C world with lectures by top climate scientists from Europe and North America. In one word, it would be "unlivable."
Potsdam's Hans Joachim Schellnhuber told reporters last July that avoiding runaway climate change required nothing short of an "induced implosion of the carbon economy." That is about as blunt as it gets. That's the "government action" we need.
Exxon thinks carbon taxes will do the trick but there's a bit of cognitive dissonance in the energy giant's position. Exxon's bottom line is to keep extracting fossil fuels and just raise the prices with a layer of carbon taxes.
Here's the thing. We know that to have any reasonable chance of avoiding runaway global warming we have to leave 80% of known fossil fuel reserves untouched, in the ground. Corporate and, in some jurisdictions, criminal law requires the board and executive of Big Fossil companies to disclose to shareholders and investors material change in circumstances and having to write off trillions of dollars of assets from their balance sheets is about as material as it gets. These companies have some massive liabilities that are offset by these energy reserves at market prices. Tell them they have to leave those reserves untouched and the financial viability of some of the biggest corporations on the planet falls through the collapsing floor. Havoc ensues across world markets. Institutional investors and a good chunk of the 1% take a bath.
As a vehicle to stop fossil fuel production, carbon taxes are going to have to be brutally high, well beyond a mere cost of doing business. And the money raised by those carbon taxes will be needed to speed the transition to alternative energy sources. It has to be used to drive the fossil fuelers out of business. Now what do you think a targeted plan like that would do an investor's energy stock portfolio? Can't be helped.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (if you can call Paris a "ranch"), the Trudeau government continues to surprise and delight.
Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna told a stunned crowd that she wants the Paris agreement to restrict planetary warming to just 1.5 Celsius warming —not two degrees. It was the first time she has made such a statement.
In the room was former CBC meteorologist Claire Martin, a Green Party observer at the talks. “I was freaking out,” she said. "I was writing it all down like a nut."
Reading from her notes, Martin reported the minister’s remarks like so: "'We want to send a strong political signal.’ The necessity, that she sees, is one in which we transition sustainably.”
“But she was quite clear —‘I support the goals of 1.5’— and echoed the comments of another party about human rights and indigenous peoples. Canada supports legally binding provisions, and we are committed to following through.”
Wowser, 1.5C it shall be. That doesn't leave much wiggle room for carbon taxes. It's a tall order, almost Herculean. (That should be enough to knock the hinges off every Dipper's backhouse door) Even the Greens are in awe.
To recap - Exxon seems to be coming around but they're still full of shit. We will have to put the boots to them. And the Liberal government just keeps on rolling out the hits.