The Carbon Bubble Is Bursting: What Happens Now?

The world is changing, but it’s not changing the way people think it is. The surge of populism across the West, for many people, is a sign that something is going terribly wrong. It is, but not for the reasons we think. Some of this is caused by the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his last desperate grasps to bring down the world with him. But that’s just a symptom of what’s happening. What really is happening is the energy the world lives on is changing, and for the better. We are a snake shedding its skin and in the throngs of it right now. The Carbon Bubble is bursting.

If we want to remain under two degrees warming (the level at which scientists essentially project the demise of humanity as we know it), we need to prevent at least 60 percent of the world’s coal, oil and natural gas from being burned. However, investors and fossil fuel companies have been going along with the idea that this won’t happen. This is the reason why the fossil fuel divestment movement to have companies, universities, churches and other organizations divest is so important. It helps prevent rapid collapse of the economy and encourages us to move to the new system. As of this writing, about 5.5 trillion dollars have been moved, which is incredible.

This wouldn’t be much of a victory though, except there’s a few things to consider. For the sake of the people reading this, I’ll start with the good stuff. Since about 2006, renewable power from solar and wind has become the cheapest form of power, being installed at an incredible rate around the world, roughly doubling every two years and sometimes every year. At the rate this it is going, the world will be entirely powered by renewable energy by 2030. We can now build and operate industry without coal, gas or oil should we choose to. Electric vehicles are expected to halt demand for oil around the globe in 2020. New farming techniques and technologies, ranging from vertical farming which requires almost no water, to cloned meat to seaweed, will reduce farming emissions to practically zero. This is all incredibly exciting; the biggest economic development possibly ever, and that’s even if you don’t account for my theory that the next big industry will be taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Now here’s where things get into the scary territory. The fossil fuel industry knows this is happening, and they’re terrified. The problems began to be noticeable in about 2005, when David J. O’Reilly, the CEO of Chevron (the second largest oil company in the world) announced in an advertisement that the era of easy oil was over. They had taken everything from Texas and California and now they had entered the era where it was going to cost significantly more money to produce more oil.

Some recognized the signs early. Robert Horton, CEO of BP in the ‘90s, was one of the key investors in solar power R&D before he was forced out and the program was scuttled. Instead, they chose projects such as going into the Gulf of Mexico with their Deepwater Horizon project. Every year the big four of Exxon, BP, Chevron,and Shell have been doubling their debts. Forty-one oil and gas companies went bankrupt in 2015. Coal, which has been eaten alive with the greater focus on natural gas, leaves both workers and once-powerful men reduced to nothing. Even the Mideast isn’t sure of what will happen. Saudi Arabia is in almost $100 billion in debt and they have to be constantly pumping crude oil to make a profit. Even though fossil fuels are still in abundance, these things are becoming less and less true every day. The assumption of our world is dying.

Civilization’s values are dependent on its source of energy. The age of fossil fuels is one of capitalism, imperialism, war, environmental destruction and greed. We are now, ever so slightly every day, stepping forward into a society of an unlimited energy source. Destruction to survive and expand is an idea that will die in our lifetimes, whether we are forced to because of climate change or if we simply recognize that solar and wind are better. We have the potential to create and restore the planet. We will become, by our own need to survive, ecologists. It is up to us to decide this new society. We must work to make the right decisions.