Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fossil fuels are dead

Whenever the subject of climate change comes up, someone always says with little tears forming in the corner of their eyes, "but what about the economy?" The problem is that most of us don't really believe in a free market. We want to prop up dying companies run by people too stupid to know times are changing. Larry the Liquidator expressed it the best:

"This company is dead. I didn't kill it. Don't blame me. It was dead when I got here. It's too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? [...] New technologies. Obsolescence. We're dead alright. We're just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

"You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies makin' buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let's have the intelligence, let's have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

"Take the money. Invest it somewhere else. Maybe, maybe you'll get lucky and it'll be used productively. And if it is, you'll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves. "

Larry's absolutely right. General Motors is dead. Ford is dead. Western Coal is dead. BP is dead. The Saudi royal family is dead. All the companies relying on burning fossil fuels are dead. They face two problems: the stuff is finite, and once burned is gone forever, and burning it is killing us. Whether it'll run short before we toast ourselves, or whether we'll toast ourselves first, who knows? Either way, new technologies are replacing fossil fuels, making them obsolete. So companies relying on burning stuff to make money will get an increasing share of a shrinking market. 

This upsets a lot of people. Some of them have invested heavily in oil, and are so keen to keep demand high they even deny global warming, and talk fearfully of the "costs" of change. Which is like talking about the costs of earthquake-proofing homes in Japan, putting up levees in New Orleans, or drought-proofing homes in the desert. You can spend money, or you can just die. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but trouble is coming. We can prepare for it, or we can die. 

Change is coming whether we like it or not. Fossil fuels will run short, and since their burning is killing us, at some point someone will get annoyed about it and stop it. One day, we're going to have to live without fossil fuels. No choice. Driving is not a rational choice, but someday there won't be a choice at all - there'll be no fuel for that car. Maybe you're happy with factory farming of animals, maybe you're horrified but try not to think of it as you tuck into your burger - doesn't matter a bit, someday the artificial fertiliser and all the trucks will stop, and that's that, no more burgers, sorry. Maybe you think the environment is a human rights issue, maybe you care that Congolese die so we can have our mobile phones, or that ten million Bangladeshis will drown under rising sea so we can drive half a mile to the shops, or that fossil fuels won't be around for our children and grand-children to burn - it doesn't matter, things will change anyway. 

The world is changing. Fossil fuels are dead. I'll bet the last car company around makes the best damn cars you ever saw, and the last coal company makes the best damn coal-fired power stations you ever saw. You want to be a stockholder in those companies? 

We invested in the business of burning fossil fuels in every way imaginable, and that business is dead. It's just not broke yet, thanks to the billions we keep pumping into it to save it. With modern medical technology, a guycould lose his head, and we could keep his body alive without it, keep the heart pumping and the legs twitching. He's still dead, though. No matter how much we wish upon a star and click our heels and say "there's no place like burning, there's no place like burning," it's dead and gone.  

Let's have the intelligence, let's have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

Listen to Larry, unlike the car and coal and oil company CEOs or our governments, he's not a cowardly communist. He believes in a free market, just like a good greenie should. Let's invest in products with a future, create some jobs and a service for the economy, and God forbid, even make some money for ourselves. 

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