Oil's last gasp

11 March 2017, 20:44 | Updated: 11 March 2017, 20:52


The Chief Executive of the oil company Shell, Ben van Beurden, said there will be falling oil use as soon as the 2020s.

He's talking about a peak in our oil consumption, and it can't come soon enough.

He went further - the boss of Shell said those who trivialise the threat of climate change will exhaust public tolerance for fossil fuel companies if they are not careful.

Is he talking about the Screaming MeMe in the Whitehouse?

He said  "Social acceptance is just disappearing. I do think trust has been eroded to the point that it is becoming a serious issue for our long term future,"

That is because in the long term, the best customers don't tend to be dead, and you can't fill your car up with petrol if it is covered in water.

He said, "It is not a rational discussion any more, it's emotional", which is exactly what the world thinks every time Trump opens his mouth or goes into a tantrum on the internet - it's not a rational discussion any more, it's emotional.


Trump is emotionally wedded to the idea that fossil fuel companies should be able to do whatever they want to the environment to maximise their short-term profitability, as long as it allows him to Tweet something self-aggrandising about "jaaabs".


Almost all of the world's climate scientists think the fossil fuel industries are contributing to catastrophic climate change, but 100% of the owners of oil and coal companies think those industries are causing them to earn a ton of money, so no wonder they don't want to stop, or go to the expense of cleaning up their act.


I know we are no longer interested in science, or facts, but allow me this one: the 12  hottest years in history have all been in the last 20 years.


In the parts of the world that Donald Trump is not currently running, individuals and regulators are starting to demand that fossil fuel companies account for the financial risks from climate change.


This is huge. There was a law suit in Germany about German coal company RWE which was being sued by a farmer in Peru for the potential disaster that could be wrought by a flood caused by climate change melting glaciers.


He claimed that the company would be at least partly responsible because pollution and harmful emissions know no boundaries. What is emitted in Germany does not stay in Germany.


The case was dismissed, but then so were many cases against the evil tobacco companies before they were defeated for the first time.


The Peruvian farmer only wanted  €17,000 from RWE towards a dam to protect up to 50,000 people at risk, due in part because of the utility’s historic contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.


But the judge ruled that while there was “scientific causality”, the farmer's lawyer had not demonstrated “legal causality”.

In other words, the court was not convinced RWE was legally responsible for protecting this farmer, despite evidence that its activities had contributed to the town’s predicament.

The ruling was important to RWE, not because they saved €17,000, they could afford that in the spare change they've got in their car ashtrays, but because it would set a precedent by which the polluters would be deemed responsible for their mess, just as you would be sued by the council if you just threw your rubbish into the road.


It seems fair that the polluter should pay. Air pollution in this country costs the UK economy £54bn a year, according the World Health Organisation - that's almost 4% of GDP, which is a measure of all the money we make.


They got to that number by allocating a value to each death and disease caused by pollution.


If we forget about the disease and the lower life expectancy and the lower IQ scores and the lower job prospects, and just concentrate on the deaths, pollution kills 40,000 people in this country every year.


If you ran a business that was in some way responsible for killing 40,000 people in Britain every year, you would expect the government to do something about it.


At the very least you would have to pay a fine and clean up your act and you should prepare to go to jail.


But like the cigarette companies before them, the fossil fuel giants get a pass because they have a wall of money to throw at any impediment that gets in the way of doing whatever they want, and successive governments have just gone along with it.


Just remember that when they slap another tax on alcohol or maintain the ban on marijuana and tell you it is for the good of your health.