With clear evidence that the climate crisis is happening now and is getting worse, fossil fuel corporations have shifted their marketing. Now, they talk about gradually moving to a green energy future and achieving “net zero” carbon. They claim to want to be part of the solution. But beneath the rhetoric, it’s clear that their “solutions” are just repackaged gimmicks meant to lock us into decades more of dirty energy.
It would be one thing if it was just industry pushing false solutions, but many in Congress are doing the bidding of Big Oil and Gas in advocating these plans, and even President Biden has embraced several of them as part of his platform. It’s critical that we expose these profit driven schemes, and ensure decision makers hear loud and clear – the fossil fuel industry can’t be part of our clean energy future.
Here are seven schemes and scams pushed by dirty energy corporations:
Carbon Capture: What sounds like a way to avoid greenhouse gas pollution is actually a scheme to continue burning fossil fuels. In theory, carbon capture technology can capture some greenhouse gases at the smokestack of a gas plant, or even directly from the air, but there’s more to this story the oil and gas industry isn’t sharing. Most importantly, carbon capture can actually increase greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
The carbon capture fairytale also ignores the numerous public health and environmental impacts of fracking, pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure. Investing in carbon capture is extraordinarily expensive and directly subsidizes fossil fuel production because the predominant use of CO2 is enhanced oil recovery, a form of extreme oil extraction that pumps CO2 into a well to squeeze out more oil. Subsidized carbon removal means lower costs for oil companies, while negating any miniscule benefit that carbon capture technology might cause.
Biogas: What industry calls “renewable natural gas,” is really factory farm gas. This greenwashing nightmare is the product of oil and gas companies teaming up with factory farms to monetize their waste. Factory farms load manure into digesters to maximize methane generation, leaving behind a slurry of animal waste that threatens drinking water and air quality. And nearby communities are left to deal with the constant stench of factory farms.
Despite claims that these operations reduce greenhouse gas emissions, burning biogas actually releases CO2 and other harmful pollutants. And, since it relies on the existing gas infrastructure, leaks in the system will ensure more methane pollution. It also encourages the expansion of factory farms by creating new markets for animal manure, and all the water, air pollution, and public health problems these industrial farms create.
Carbon Tax: Major fossil fuel companies like Exxon-Mobil and Chevron embrace a carbon tax because they know that a carbon tax will allow them to continue business as usual while passing added costs onto the public. Carbon taxes are ineffective and regressive, hitting lowest income people the hardest. Reasons like these and others are why the Indigenous Environmental Network and others have come out so strongly against carbon taxes.
Trading, offsets, and “net zero”: Another industry backed pricing scheme is allowing companies to continue polluting if they buy offsets to “balance out” their pollution. This would theoretically create “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by allowing someone else to reduce emissions for a polluter. This pay-to-pollute scam turns decades of environmental efforts on their head and undermines improvements in environmental health.
Fossil fuel pollution is a bigger problem than just greenhouse gases; there are significant local impacts that can’t be offset. A community inundated by pollution from a dirty power plant or oil or gas well will not be helped by someone taking some other action in some far away place.
Further, the offsets are difficult to enforce and verify. It’s impossible to know if a given project would happen in the absence of carbon offsets. Worldwide, carbon markets have led to human rights abuses, violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples and forest dwellers, land rights conflicts, and environmental devastation. Supporters of offsets inherently promote worse pollution in frontline communities and worse racial health disparities.
Green Hydrogen: Another industry scheme is the idea of a green hydrogen economy. What they are not telling you is that 95% of all hydrogen production is from fracked gas; green hydrogen from electrolysis, using solar and wind energy, is very expensive. Utilities use hydrogen to greenwash their dirty power plants, pushing the idea that injecting hydrogen into gas infrastructure will lower the carbon footprint of fossil fuels. In reality, they are just building out a new market for fracked gas and extending the life of fossil fuel infrastructure we should shut down.
For many of hydrogen’s currently proposed applications, direct electrification is the most efficient use of renewable electricity and can achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions sooner than green hydrogen. Building out hydrogen infrastructure for non-essential sectors wastes valuable time and money while continuing to promote fracking. We should only use green hydrogen in fuel production or other applications where no electrification alternatives are available.
Biomass: Biomass for power involves burning wood and other products for energy. Proponents claim that biomass is carbon-neutral because it avoids combusting fossil fuels or sending biomass to landfills, and because trees can be replanted to sequester wood-fired emissions. In reality, processing, transporting and burning wood all produce greenhouse gas emissions, which can be greater than those from coal. There are more than 200 wood-fired power plants in the U.S. that could burn up to 260 billion pounds of wood annually. These facilities are anything but clean, and they typically emit up to 60 percent more carbon emissions than modern coal plants and about three times more than natural gas plants.
Nuclear Energy: Claims about “carbon-free” nuclear energy focus solely on emissions from electricity generation and leave out the climate-destroying emissions from the full nuclear lifecycle. Even were we to set that aside, as the nuclear industry and its supporters ask us to do, new nuclear power plants take an estimated 10-19 years from planning to operation, compared to 2-5 years for utility-scale solar and wind plants. This simply cannot meet the carbon reduction timeline needed to fight climate change.
Beyond emissions, nuclear energy threatens public health and the environment. Nuclear accidents have resulted in major releases of radioactive material, fatalities, and evacuations. In addition, uranium mining has led to contamination of surrounding waters and lands. And nuclear waste is dangerous and lacks suitable disposal options.
When decision makers talk about addressing climate change, not all solutions are equal or worth trying. These seven so-called climate solutions are not solutions or even neutral — they are schemes and scams to help further entrench the fossil fuel economy and delay what must be a rapid transition to a 100% renewable energy economy. We need to reject them as part of any plan to avert climate chaos.