Bill McKibben Interviews Antonia Juhasz
Bill McKibben interviews Antonia Juhasz in this EXCERPT – for the full article, visit the New Yorker
The New Yorker, Annals of a Warming Planet
By Bill McKibben, August 26, 2020
Passing the Mic
Antonia Juhasz is a freelance journalist who has covered the oil industry for years—she wrote the cover story for the current issue of Sierra Magazine, titled “The End of Oil is Near,” with a powerful sidebar on the Trump Administration’s efforts to bail out the industry. She’s a 2020-2021 Bertha investigative-journalism fellow, working with an international cohort of journalists on fossil fuels, the climate crisis, and corporate power, and is the author of three books, most recently, “Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.”
BP announced that it’s going to cut oil and natural-gas production by forty per cent in a decade. Is this a capitulation to reality that will spread or an outlier that has them scoffing at ExxonMobil H.Q.? Are we really at an inflection point?
We are, and BP’s announcement is significant. It reflects reality: a public and its policymakers fed up with fossil fuels, making a whole lot of it simply unprofitable to produce—same for the companies that produce it. This was true before COVID-19, which has accelerated a process well underway. It could be the beginning of the end of the oil industry, but that’s largely up to us. BP’s announcement reveals important regulatory weaknesses. European oil companies are forced to report and reconcile these losses in ways that Exxon and Chevron are not. So as BP reported this month a whopping $16.8 billion losses, it also unveiled a new business model, [more focussed on low-carbon technology] that’s supposed to turn a profit. That’s good. But BP isn’t keeping its fossil fuels in the ground. Rather, it’s selling off oil and gas assets to other companies that continue to produce the fuels. That’s bad. If we want fossil fuels to remain undeveloped, we can’t rely on fossil-fuel companies. Left to its own devices, in 2030, BP still plans to devote two-thirds of its business to oil and gas.
BP also announced that it plans to transition from an “international oil company” to an “integrated energy company,” significantly increasing its renewable-energy business. Is that good news, and should it be followed by other companies?
BP, like every major oil company, has a long track record that must be taken into account as we build the new green economy. We’re subsidizing these companies to the tune of nearly five trillion dollars a year globally, so we’ve earned the right to evaluate their work. Fossil fuels are not renewable, but they are natural resources with which humans have cohabited for millennia. The devastation wrought by BP, Exxon, Chevron, Shell and others in just the last hundred and fifty years, through their control of oil, natural gas, and coal, profoundly undermines the notion that the answer to our problems is to entrust these same companies today with the sun, wind, and waves. The problem is not just the fossil fuels, but behavior and a business model that runs contrary to just about every basic tenant of equitable and just transition policy. Perhaps most importantly, theirs is a model built on ever-expanding demand. Yet if we’re going to survive the wealthiest among us—including the largest corporations—must embrace far healthier and sustainable consumption patterns that reduce our over-all usage of both energy and transportation systems.
You’ve been enthusiastic online about Kamala Harris as a climate champion. Do you know her from California? What gives you the most faith in her?
As attorney general, Kamala Harris was the rare California state official to stand not only with Richmond, a hard-hit low-income community of color, but against Chevron—the most dominant oil company in the state [which has a big refinery in Richmond]. And in the wake of the devastating Santa Barbara oil spill she took aggressive action against Plains All American Pipeline. As you’ve noted, California is an oil state, yet throughout her political career, Harris has taken just $170,865 from the “Energy & Natural Resources” industry. She’s not beholden to the oil industry, and both her policies and platform reflect that independence. As a Presidential candidate, she went further than most to embrace keep-it-in-the-ground policy, stating her unequivocal support for a full fracking ban and, most profoundly, pledging to initiate a first-of-its-kind international coalition to implement the managed decline in fossil-fuel production and the phaseout of industry subsidies worldwide. I cannot emphasize enough what a game-changer this is. She’ll push Biden to be more aggressive on environmental, climate and fossil-fuel justice, especially if the public pushes her, as well.
Article continues at the New Yorker