Although it’s been captivating, to say the least, watching the presidential primary races for both parties over the past few weeks, there has been other news that was, for all intents and purposes, simply ignored by the main stream media. It is really too bad because although Donald Trump is a serious threat and high entertainment value, and Democratic voters made history with Hillary Clinton, there was very good news from one of the world’s largest oil companies that should be of interest to every human being on Earth.
For the second time in less than six months, one of the world’s largest oil companies announced that due to the dire threat to humanity of anthropogenic climate change, it is “factoring global goals for combating climate change” into its long-term, multi-decade business plan. Back in December, another oil giant, ExxonMobil defied the Koch brothers and dispatched its scientists to warn that “with no government action, average temperatures are likely to rise by a catastrophic 5 degrees Celsius (9-degrees Fahrenheit) with rises of 6, 7 (12, 13 F) or even more quite possible.” The tipping point for “game over for the climate” is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius.
Americans are likely unfamiliar with French oil giant Total, but as the fourth largest oil company on Earth when it speaks the industry should listen. On Tuesday of this past week, Total acknowledged in a report that if the world’s nations are going to fulfill the Paris climate accord agreement and restrict global temperature increases to below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, “part of the world’s fossil fuel resources cannot be developed.”
That announcement was a huge step forward in the battle to save the climate because as Alexander Shestakov of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said, “That’s a positive sign coming from one of the world’s oil majors.” Shestakov was responding to Total’s leaders’ announced intent to begin linking all their business strategies and investment plans to climate decisions and not just short-term profits.
The French oil company is standing firm on its decision last year to cut its investment in Canadian tar sand oil production and reiterated it that is holding fast to a pledge “that we do not [plan to] conduct oil exploration or production operations in the Arctic ice pack.”
Total, an oil giant valued at about $140 billion said instead of focusing solely on extracting fossil fuels from the Earth, it would instead be expanding its renewable energy business and investments by six fold; from about 3 percent of its business operations in 2015 to 20 percent within 20 years. Total also announced it would be expanding its natural gas production to more than 60 percent of its fossil fuel production. As it is now, the company’s production is evenly split between oil and natural gas.
Although burning any fossil fuels produce carbon emissions driving climate change, natural gas produces the lowest emissions of any and all fossil fuel products. Still, climate advocates argue that producing natural gas can be as dangerous as burning coal or oil due to leaks and emission of methane, a nasty and powerful greenhouse gas.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just reported that natural gas extraction accounts for nearly a third of America’s methane emissions, a fact not lost on the French oil company. It appears that in anticipation of the climate advocates criticism of shifting from oil production to natural gas, Total committed to completely end all “methane flaring” at its natural gas operations before 2030.
Since American oil companies will not make any attempt at even slowing the emissions due to methane flaring, President Obama had to “propose new rules to clamp down on oil companies that burn off natural gas on public land.” The President argued that the effort will not only reduce waste and harmful methane emissions, it will be profitable for the industry to curb emissions and aid in combatting climate change.
A report by the Government Accountability Office said that over 40 percent of methane gas being burned and vented directly into the atmosphere could be captured economically and sold. Apparently, fossil fuel companies either “flare” or burn “vast supplies of natural gas at drilling sites” because it is not as profitable as oil. It is telling that while the French oil giant Total is taking steps of its own accord to combat climate change, America’s President has to “propose” new rules that Republicans opposed out of hand even though it would have been profitable for their fossil fuel donors.
Since it is a rarity for American fossil fuel companies to make any attempt to address climate change, various climate activists were quick to praise Total for reducing its investments in oil production voluntarily. In a joint statement by an environmental coalition led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Oil Change International (OCI)and the Indigenous Environmental Network the noted that,
“Total’s admission that development of tar sands is inconsistent with combatting climate change highlights the absurdity of continued attempts by pipeline companies like TransCanada and Enbridge to build more tar sands pipelines.” However, the Sierra Club rightly welcomed the company’s commitment with slight skepticism; particularly Total’s intent to expand natural gas production. In a statement released by the Sierra Club’s climate policy director, John Coequyt:
“Sierra Club welcomes Total’s new policy changes to meet the global climate accord and reduce its role in climate disruption. Companies like Total are key players in the world’s transition away from dirty fuels. [But] the only real strategy for effectively tackling the climate crisis is to transition off of outdated dirty fuels and move toward 100% clean, renewable energy.”
It is likely that in Total’s leaders’ minds, their commitment is a step toward “transitioning off dirty fuels,” and according to its pledge to expand its renewable energy investment by 14 percent in 14 years, it is a good first step; particularly compared America’s fossil fuel industry. Not only are this nation’s fossil fuel producers not making any significant moves or commitments to reduce emissions, they are fighting to the death to wipe out any and all attempts by President Obama to combat climate change.
Of course there is much more that Total and other every fossil fuel company in the world could do to reduce the clear and present danger of anthropogenic climate change, but any action at this point is significant. What should be reported ad nauseam by American media is that while Republicans and their fossil fuel campaign funding machine the Koch brothers are fighting any and all attempts to reduce emissions, a major oil corporation is taking steps to do right by the Earth’s population on its own. It may not be as exciting news as Donald Trump’s latest outrage, but it is good news for the Earth’s climate and its population and likely why corporate media is keeping quiet about it; good news just doesn’t sell because it doesn’t scare people enough to vote for Republicans.