Per Mortem Oleum: Death by Oil

The sun is setting on fossil fuels. Credit: @zburival on Unsplash

Latin is the language of gravitas. Here is an example:

The lead headlines from Bloomberg Green on April 30, 2020 read as follows:

  • Renewables win from an historic energy demand drop
  • Shell says changes in consumer behavior will be long-lasting
  • Green energy will help utilities survive the crisis
  • IMF chief says nations must promote a “green recovery”

The radical change implied in these signals what now must be proclaimed definitively as per mortem oleum — death by oil.

Let’s say it once and for all: the age of oil is over.

The evidence is overwhelming. Renewable energy has already replaced a substantial percentage of energy production worldwide. Some major energy companies have belatedly realized that the world has changed irrevocably and that they must adapt and re-invent a new business model to survive. The utilities, long resistant to alternatives such as solar and wind, must now redirect their strategies for supply, pricing, distribution, and demand. The major banks must withdraw financing of outmoded and destructive oil-based production and invest in an energy landscape transformed. Otherwise, the future will be compromised by failed imagination and collapse to the detriment of generations. There is no reasonable choice otherwise.

There have been other similar headlines: calling for the withdrawal of subsidies that enable oil-based energy production (drilling and fracking); re-evaluation of oil-based plastic in all its polluting iterations; applied disincentives for oil-based fertilizers; reinstatement of strict emission standards and controls for oil-based power generation; transition from oil-fueled cars and public transport; withdrawal of oil-based exploration and production licenses off-shore in the Arctic and Antarctic, in national parks and Nature reserves; and, ultimately, recognition that the oil-based global economy is bankrupt and obsolete and no longer serves. Let’s not argue whether this is bad news or good; it is simply fact.

Those who have reaped profit from oil-based enterprise must now reap loss from their stubborn adherence to known destructive consequence. Nations that have based their economies exclusively on oil must now realize the danger of instability and social disruption. The glut of existing product stored in tanks, pipelines, and ships must be reduced in transition and future production must be limited toward ultimate depletion. The power politics of oil, the lobbyists, elected and appointed officials dependent on oil, must be curtailed, liberating governance from the tyranny of vested interest and fear of change.

The inevitable howls of outrage, rejection, and self-serving arguments must be ignored. The oil economy must be recognized as a stranded asset. The market and recalcitrant corporations must not be artificially supported by central banks and governments at the expense of shareholders, taxpayers, and citizens worldwide. Wars so dependent on oil must cease. The world must recognize that the corrupting consequence of oil dependency is at an end and must act collectively to build the new economy and social system required to avoid death by oil.

It is not naïve to recognize the obvious. Nor is it pessimistic or perverse. To ignore or falsely rationalize the evidence before us is suicide: an act of man, not God.

The only clear path open before us is to reinvent and revitalize society based on a new paradigm that manages growth in the name of sustainability and is based on the vitality and viability of Nature as source of sustenance and survival beyond ourselves for the benefit of generations to come. We have the technology, the skills, and the finance available now. The time has come. We must find and exercise the political will.

Here are the lead headlines from Bloomberg Green on May 1, 2020.

Fashion. Methane. Food supply. Efficient energy. Applied stimulus. What a telling spectrum of the facts of modern life. But each of these is an indicator, a viable seed for change. Take heart. Look beyond oil — now — to life beyond oil: vita post oleum. Seriously.

PETER NEILL is founder and director of the World Ocean Observatory, a web-based place of exchange for information and educational services about the health of the world ocean.



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