Can’t Abandon Fossil Fuels Just Yet – Conservative Article
In the past decade, combustion engines and fossil fuels have become associated as inherently evil and harmful. This stigma has led to environmentalists (not necessarily academics) calling for the end of their use and switching to their ‘green’ counterparts. I am going to explain why these conceptions are not as black and white as they initially seem.
The use of fossil fuels has been essential to the progression of human societies throughout history, but is it time for us as a species to move on? Can we even move on? I would argue we cannot, or at least not with current technologies. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when considering that the technologies of combustion have never been so clean and sophisticated as they are currently.
Firstly, ‘combustion’ is a misleadingly simple word for what has become a perpetually more complex process. Environmentalists often read ‘fossil fuels’ and prematurely decide to demonise, whilst refusing to acknowledge practicality and pragmatism with regards to their beliefs. It is easy for people to disregard the significance of fossil fuels in our lives. This explains the obvious hypocrisy of all environmentalists, who are only able to criticise fossil fuels whilst using the structures put in place from the use of fossil fuels. Alongside this, we as a species have benefitted, socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally to varying degrees.
With Boris Johnson announcing his goal of banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 in the hope of a carbon-neutral UK by 2050, the position of the humble combustion engine has become more topical than ever. This issue has become over politicised, with many ignoring pragmatisms for unrealistic idealized beliefs that we can completely abandon fossil fuels in a small time frame.
The Prime Minister reiterated his environmental manifesto promises at the Conservative Party Conference 2020, with a large emphasis that Britain’s future rests in wind power and the aim of making renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuels. Boris Johnson has stated he is hoping to turn the pandemic into a catalyst for green growth in the UK. Arguably an admirable goal, although idealistic.
Something both the PM and environmentalists alike need to realise is that this continuous push towards sustainability is itself not being done sustainably. People need to realise that traditional fossil fuels need to be gradually phased out, not removed through hard cut-offs. The 2030 goal of banning the sale of cars with combustion engines not only includes petrol and diesel engines, but also hybrids and plug-in hybrids.
At what point can we start claiming eco-fascism, as the removal of all combustion engines is really to the detriment of the average UK citizen. Not only are all-electric vehicles not as reliable and practical as their combustion counterparts, but the banning of hybrids is also dumbfounding as they provide a reasonable middle ground. Hybrids are environmentally friendly without sacrificing the practicalities (such as travel range) of combustion engine vehicles.
Furthermore, the use of a combustion engine is not exclusively harmful to the environment. A paper discussed at the 2003 PowerGen conference (largest global energy event) included an experiment which displayed a gas turbine engine so efficient that the fumes expelled were actually cleaner than the ambient air. This research is seventeen years old and now in 2020, there are a plethora of examples of combustion technology with neutral environmental impacts. This includes experimentation with synthetic fuels, which are not only renewable, but also do not pollute like fossil fuels.
Alongside this, there are many large transnational corporations such as Mitsubishi, Siemens, Wärtsilä, Volkswagen, British Gas working towards not only incredibly efficient combustion but also incredibly efficient fuel usage. With a global attitudinal shift towards sustainability, virtually all companies are working towards ever ‘greener’ technologies, which does include the improvement of combustion. Companies need more time before the all-electric cut-off.
To achieve long-term sustainability without sacrifices to quality of life, governments around the globe need to appreciate that a hard switch to electric cars and renewable energies is not the solution. Setting a timeframe to achieve a goal is generally beneficial in achieving said goal, but only if the time frame is realistic and carefully measured. Traditional combustion engines are capable of tasks that electric counterparts are not, combustion engines are still considerably cheaper, even with so government subsidies.
Environmentalists are quick to force policy changes which are not practical and do not benefit people. They prioritise the environment over humanity. Climate change is a major issue, but it can be overcome through gradual actions. Using science is the way forward, not ignorance. I wonder how many Extinction Rebellion members could talk to me about combustion engines which make air cleaner? Probably not many as it does not fit their rhetoric. To achieve long-term sustainability, we as a species must embrace new ingenuities whilst not forgetting that which came before.
A mixture of both old and new technologies alongside constant improvement and innovation is the way to combat climate change. Recklessly abandoning fossil fuel at the cost of quality of life is not a solution. If anything, it is creating many issues at the expense of trying to solve one.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
Point of Information
The 10 Things Wrong with this Article – A Labour Response
I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty astounded at the ignorant arrogance radiating from this article. So, rather than do a rambly counterargument about how the prioritisation of the environment is prioritisation the health and safety of humanity, I’m just gonna go through the article and correct each false claim made.
- The drive against fossil fuels comes from “environmentalists (not necessarily academics)” – When it comes to the future of the planet it is generally quite difficult to have sound data to prove your way forward is best, simply because we haven’t mastered the art of time travel and so predictions are all we can go on. For that reason, many climate scientists differ in their opinion on the way forward. Some argue for mitigation, others for adaption; however, all agree that fossil fuels are a massive problem. That is undeniable.
- “We cannot [move on], or at least with our current technologies” – More renewable and sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels are available. Across the world, there’s been a rise in the implementation of biofuels, hydrogen combustion, nuclear energy. In fact, New Zealand’s aluminium smelter uses electricity generated by its largest hydro-power station and a steel mill in Sweden uses ‘green hydrogen‘ as a source of energy. Admittedly, these options aren’t perfect. But as we’ve established, neither is fossil fuels. What Peter actually does correctly note is how little investment is put into renewable energy. I, personally, am happy with paying a little more for energy if that means we can negate the climate crisis.
- “Prematurely demonise” fossil fuels – When it comes to fossil fuels, there is not premature. Fossil fuels were slowly introduced into the mainstream market in the early 1900s. What is more, ExxonMobil (then Exxon) has known about its company’s impact on the climate for the last 40 years, being warned of their impact in 1977. Not only that, 11 years later, when climate change became a more public issue, Exxon actively campaigned to undermine climate science and sew doubt in the public’s mind. The fossil fuel industry has had plenty of time to demonise itself
- ‘Hypocrisy of environmentalist’ – yep, environmentalists are hypocritical (primarily in the West though). How can one not be? To live in a developed nation is to contribute to the climate crisis. One cannot avoid using these structures. Unless I completely opt out of society, I will always be contributing to the climate crisis. That’s environmentalists point; unless we see systemic change, our society will be the end of the world as we know it. Funnily enough, I’ve actually written an article on the inevitability of hypocrisy within eco-activism, so you can always find out more there if you want.
- “We have benefited from fossil fuels” – Yup, we have. Peter’s just summed up the problem of climate justice. No one can deny fossil fuels’ crucial role in the development of our society. However, this has not been the case for the majority of the world. Having spent the last 100 years causing the climate crisis, we now cannot turn around and prevent the development of poorer nations because of it. For a fair and just world, developed nations need to help fund sustainable development and negation of climate change. However, we are not seeing this money. Agreements such as Kyoto or Paris have yet to produce nearly enough money for such a feat.
- Johnson’s 2030 car ban will include hybrids – This is just plain wrong, hybrids will not be blanketly banned under his policies. And you don’t have to worry too much about this scary policy. Only £4 billion – 1/25 of what has been spent on HS2 –has been allocated for the project. Large scale change is impossible with such small funding, so luckily for Peter, eco fascism’ has been thwarted.
- This mystery 2003 engine that produces clean air – Well, I’m not a member of Extinction Rebellion, but I hope that doesn’t count me out of this discussion surrounding this engine! To be honest, I couldn’t find any evidence of this engine and its benefits, so I’m just going off what was outlined in the article. But cleaner air, whilst lovely, is not actually the problem. If gasoline-based, this engine’s combustion will release carbon into the atmosphere. If this engine doesn’t release carbon, then it’ll be the first to do so and revolutionise the transport industry (I wonder why they’ve kept it hidden for 17 years).
- “To achieve long-term sustainability without sacrifices to quality of life” – oof. This basically sums it up, doesn’t it? What Peter actually means is “sacrifices to the quality of my life”. Thing is though, for the majority of the world, they have. Kiribati is literally sinking, agricultural seasons are becoming too unpredictable to feed communities, and climate change is expected to cause roughly 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, diarrhoea and heat stress. The Paris Agreement aimed to limit warming to 2°C, but even this pretty optimistic goal was a declaration of the Western world sacrificing poorer nations to maintain their luxuries. The tragedy of the climate crisis is that those who contribute the most are the least vulnerable to its perils.
- “Combustion engines are significantly cheaper” – indeed they are. I mean, we’ve been doing the cheap option all this time and look where it’s got us. However, combustion is only cheaper because the industry has about 50 year’s worth of government subsidies behind them. Coal, oil, and gas benefit from about $5 trillion a year in subsidies (that’s $10 million a minute). Even direct consumption subsidies for fossil fuels are double those for renewables. But, if you do want to talk in economic terms, combatting climate change now is the cheapest option. According to the Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy (DICE), keeping warming to a minimum of 2°C is the cheapest option of the world economy. Fossil fuels may be cheaper now, but this is because their prices do not factor in their pollution costs.
- “Environmentalists are quick to force policy changes” – I think Peter is massively overestimating the power of environmentalists’ clout. Majority of politicians, and all corporations, are loath to listen to, let alone enact, green policies. Within our neoliberal system, the free market and economy are prioritised above all else. As a result, I have yet to see any green policy that is not ridiculously diluted and practically ineffectual. Last year, the New York Times summed it up by asking, if “any climate policy is both big enough to matter and popular enough to happen”. Sustainable climate policies require politicians, businesses, and civil society to all buy-in. A gradual transition between fossil fuels and renewable energies would have been a great solution, 40 years ago. But it is too late for any slow options. If we were to altogether stop using fossil fuels tomorrow, warming would be only kept at 1.5°C. Such a low number would still wreak havoc on the environment, but it is manageable. But as Peter points out, we are nowhere near close to phasing out fossil fuels, they still generate 64% of global electricity. The cumulative nature of climate change means that the longer we wait, the more stringent measures will need to be to ensure the survival of the human race.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Smuts
Too Conservative in Fossil Fuels, Too Conservative in the Fight Against Climate Change – a Liberal Response
‘Gradual action’ neatly sums up Peter’s approach to climate change. But when it comes to global warming, time is not on our side. We need to act now!
We are much too far down the line to gradually phase out fossil fuels. This approach doesn’t take the threat of global warming seriously enough. The damage global warming poses to the most vulnerable individuals in society and key global ecosystems is clear. Action must be taken and we cannot wait.
The government has taken a tentative step forward by banning petrol and diesel cars by 2030. Peter is right to point out that banning combustion engines in favour of electric cars presents problems. But if money is invested in research and development then the problems posed by electric vehicles can be mitigated alongside other issues presented by greener gasses.
It is a mammoth task – 85% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuels. But it is not impossible.
The Economist reports that only 4% of the global total spent on research and development goes to climate change. This is nowhere near enough for one of the world’s most critical problems.
Governments must get involved to ensure the planet does not suffer disastrous consequences from global warming. They need to foot the bill for new nuclear power plants; new charging grids for electric vehicles; or thorough investigations of new, greener technologies.
Peter’s approach to the climate crisis has come from the last century. It does not stress the urgency of the situation. We cannot sit by and wait for companies to move towards more eco-friendly technologies. The market will never do enough on its own to move away from fossil fuels. We need hard cut-offs to ensure that global warming is slowed now.
Mr Pearce writes that policy changes imposed by environmental groups ‘prioritise the environment over humanity’. But this totally ignores the fundamental link between humanity and the environment. The two cannot be thought of separately, instead, we must find solutions that work to sustain both.
Fossil fuels are not the answer. Research and development now into greener solutions is the only way to save humanity and the environment in the future.
Written by Guest Liberal Writer, Hannah Rashbass
I am going into my second year at the University of Exeter studying a flexible combined honour in Geography and Politics. My interest in politics and geography stems from an interest in current events and the wider world, with geography being the study of all world processes.
Hi, I’m Abi, a final year at Uni of Exeter studying International Relations and English. To me, it was only in A Levels that I realised how important politics was, when I was stuck in my male-only, extremely conservative Politics class having to constantly justify and defend my opinions to them.