The oil industry and geoengineering

The oil industry and geoengineering

The fossil fuel industry (oil, gas, coal) has always been at the forefront of the denial of climate change: they are its main culprits and thus try to divert attention from their responsibility.

A remarkable research report,Fuel on fire ( Fuel to fire), published this week by the International Center for Environmental Law (CIEL, for its acronym in English), also shows that for decades they have been promoting the technological manipulation of the climate, that is, geoengineering. This is not, as suggested by its scientific promoters, an emergency measure in the face of the climate crisis, but rather a way to ensure the permanence of fossil fuels and, with it, to worsen climate change (https://tinyurl.com/ y4gjzbys).

Oil companies are known to drive and control carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. In addition, they have also studied many other forms of geoengineering, including modifying solar radiation, in order to protect their profits and continue their activities with high carbon dioxide emissions, arguing that global warming can be counteracted by lowering the temperature and withdrawing excess carbon from the atmosphere, which is also additional business for the same industry, which created the problem.

The CIEL report reveals that ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, Chevron and others have interests, patents, and research in all forms of geoengineering and some have even pioneered research. Exxon, for example, had been investigating ways of modifying the weather since the 1940s, such as covering areas with asphalt to increase heat absorption with the idea of ​​causing rain in other areas.

James F. Black, one of the Exxon researchers involved in that project, also played a key role in the company's research on climate change and carbon dioxide in the decades that followed.

Since the 1940s, the major oil companies have done climate research - both to protect their investments and to understand its impacts. When the debate on climate change began to spread, they had ample information to construct ways to deny the phenomenon and evade responsibility.

In addition, they have investigated, promoted and lobbied the development of a wide range of climate manipulation techniques, both carbon dioxide removal techniques, for example, plantations for bioenergy, direct air capture (both combined with CCS), alkalization of the sea ​​and oceanic fertilization, as geoengineering techniques to alter the solar radiation that reaches the Earth. Among the latter, creating and bleaching marine clouds to reflect the sun or injecting sulfates into the stratosphere to block the sun's rays, imitating the effect of volcanic clouds, all with the intention of lowering the temperature.

The report provides numerous data and names of scientists and lobbyists in the oil industry who have had enormous influence on US policies on energy and climate change to impede the development of renewable energy policies and to promote geoengineering, both under the administration of Barack Obama as in the current one. Exxon's own chief executive, Rex Tillerson, went from that position to secretary of state with Trump until 2017. The existence of geoengineering options justifies, according to them, that it is not necessary to make cuts in emissions.

One of the most active proponentsscientists of geoengineering is David Keith of Harvard University. He argues that they are measures that must be prepared in the face of climate inaction. In 2017 he presented the ScoPex project, an experiment to spread reflective particles from the Sun, to be carried out in Arizona or New Mexico, probably in indigenous territory. It would be the first open-air experiment in the management of solar radiation. More than a scientific experiment, ScoPex is the spearhead to start with solar geoengineering experiments and later its development on a large scale.

Keith introduces himself as a scientist, but is simultaneously the founder and shareholder of Carbon Engineering, a commercial company for the removal of carbon dioxide with the technique of direct air capture. Carbon is used to make synthetic fuels. The CIEL report shows that this does not remove carbon from the atmosphere, but even, due to its high energy demand, it could emit more. In January 2019, the oil companies Chevron and Occidental Petroleum joined that company as investors, which was initially financed by Bill Gates, among others.

It is a sample of what the report raises: there is a line of continuity between the fossil fuel industry, its excuses to continue extracting oil, gas and coal and all forms of geoengineering.

The increasing consideration of geoengineering in international reports and negotiations on climate change must be radically questioned, in light of the fact that instead of alleviating the symptoms, geoengineering is an argument to postpone the necessary reduction of emissions.

By Silvia Ribeiro

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