Going Green and Still Pumping Oil? The Challenges of Climate Change and Potential “Solutions” For Fossil Fuel Producers

October 19, 2022
by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist, G&A Institute

We were thinking the other day about the enormous challenges posed by climate change to our global society — and therein of the challenges of meeting the ambitious goals being set by governments, the private sector, and investors to achieve “a net zero economy” by mid-century. That’s not so far away.

And so the pumping of tens of millions of gallons of crude oil every day by OPEC countries and other nations (like the U.S.A.) to meet the insatiable demands of society is not helping in the short term.  But we need the oil!

Not so far back the United States was a very different country (meaning, at the end of the 19th Century). Not so dependent on “oil” from below the ground (yes, we did rely on kerosene lamps and before that whale oil!)

The majority of people lived outside of cities, mostly on farmlands and ranches and wilderness places. Horses and boats provided the main means for transport of people and goods. (Remember stage coaches and canal boats towed by mules?) Homes were heated by wood and coal fuels.

Coming into their own in the early 20th Century: miracle developments like electric power, telephony, radio, gasoline-powered cars & trucks, powered flight, modern chemicals, modern medicines. And people were moving en masse to rapidly-expanding cities and the newly-identified “sub-urban” communities.

One such place was Queens County, New York, where some of the G&A team live and work or grew up in (today home of JFK International).  After World War One ended, 100,000 people a year (!) moved in to the new suburbs, rapidly replacing farms that dated back to Dutch settlement in the 1600s.

After World War Two ended, neighboring Nassau County (where some of us live and work today) saw the same growth pattern – in just four years “Levittown” replaced the sprawling farmlands of the former Island Trees (NY) on the largest prairie in the Eastern U.S.. (That was the Hempstead Plains.)

Which required more railroads and roads for autos & trucks to move commuters to city-center offices and factories. And so, more more more drilling for oil & gas and mining of coal.

All of this dramatically changed how Americans today live, work, and play, and s0 many aspects of our family and business lives. The same things were happening in Europe, the British Isles, Japan, and many other places.

And here we are in the 21st Century enjoying the fruits of all of this progress and at the same time trying to undo the negative sides of the sweeping progress made over the past 125 years or so.

To put some of this change and resulting challenges in perspective: TIME magazine had an essay recently about Saudi Arabia, its state-owned oil company (Saudi Aramco) and the ambitions of the world’s leading oil exporting sovereignty to lean toward green while still pumping 12 or more millions of gallons of oil per day (to help meet global demand of 100 million BBLs a day!).

Today, Saudis talk of the dreams of carbon capture, of moving to hydrogen power for autos, of building a new “green” city (NOEM) from scratch.  The Saudi goal is Net Zero emissions) by 2060!

The dreams include the desert blooming with new green (cities)…and yet that Saudi oil keeps moving to distant points on Earth through pipelines and on oil tankers. Missing: the plan to reduce oil & gas production by 2030.

To help companies around the globe to meet ambitious 2030, 2040, and 2050 (net zero!) goals. Challenging. 

To contrast the astonishing changes of the recent decades: The Saudi Arabia we know today as a top oil & gas producer was a desert kingdom populated by Bedouin tribes and often shown on maps as “the Empty Quarter”.

Discovery of oil reservoirs changed all of that – today the kingdom has a Sovereign Wealth Fund (the SWF is the Public Investment Fund) with US$600+ billion and more in treasury thanks to oil & gas pumping and invests in many publicly -traded companies like Netflix (so dependent on fossil fuels to ever more power servers!).

About the impacts of climate change and the inherent challenges of our present society to achieve solutions – we see the story-telling of this everyday now in our favorite media!

Our editors and G&A team members carefully track and curate the coverage for you in the issues of our Highlights newsletter and here in our G&A Institute Sustainability Updates blog.

In our newsletter we regularly feature many news and feature stories about the efforts of public and private sector organizations taking actions to protect the planet and help the global society achieve a sustainable (and livable) planet in the decades ahead.

That’s the good news we try to share.  At the same time, as we think about the world’s progress from wilderness1800s to dramatic changes of the 1900s and into challenges of the 2000s and the negative aspects of progress…we cheer on the strategies, policies, actions, actions of leaders of organizations in the capital markets, corporate community, activist organizations, multilateral organizations, and more to address climate change challenges.. 

Ah, to save the planet while still making progress – that’s the ambitious goal of so many now.  After all, there is no Planet B for we, the billions on Earth (at least not yet).  

Top Story:

We bring you the fascinating story of Saudi Arabia and its plan to go green while remaining the world’s number one oil exporter over the coming years: https://time.com/6210210/saudi-arabia-aramco-climate-oil/

And a personal note:  A  durable book that has been around telling the story of the first half of the 20th Century (since 1952) may be of interest to you. This is “The Big Change, American Transforms Itself, 1900-1950” by Frederick Lewis Allen. He was the long time editor of Harper’s Magazine and authored such books as “The Lords of Creation” (about key capitalists like the Rockefellers, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and other of the Gilded Age wealthy). 

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