Fossil Fuel Companies Want to Drive the Renewable Revolution

I almost crashed my car a few days ago when I heard an advertisement for Exxon Mobil on one of my favorite podcasts. I shook it off, thinking it was probably a one-off. Of course, that was naïve: Exxon is a $350 billion company with plenty to spend on a coordinated advertising campaign, which is what it turned out to be. I heard a similar ad the next day, and the next, about how the company is leading the green energy revolution.

My imminent car crash was not because it had become economically unviable to extract petroleum to fuel my vehicle (although economists say that day is coming). It wasn’t because Exxon is on the hook for shareholder fraud. Rather, I was shocked that a well-respected, fact-based media outlet would allow airtime to a company that has been proven to peddle climate myths. All of this begged the question: can Exxon and other fossil fuel companies be trusted to oversee the renewable energy transition? I think not.

Exxon isn’t alone in its campaign to champion green energy. The company, along with fellow American oil giant Chevron, in September joined the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, a group of fossil fuel companies representing 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas production. The Initiative purports to reduce the emissions of its operations, promote low-carbon solutions and build the circular carbon economy.

This came just a month before the company would announce its partnership with Denmark-based Orsted, the owner of the Sage Draw Wind Farm in Texas. The farm, which will be completed in 2020, will supply 500 megawatts of power to Exxon’s drilling operations in the Permian Basin, where it is rapidly expanding production.

Powering oil extraction with renewable energy is certainly more environmentally friendly than powering it with fossil fuels. But such partnerships undermine the credibility of renewable energy producers and make clear that fossil fuel companies plan to keep drilling as long as they can under the thin veil of “greener” production.

The trend extends to the coal industry. Polish mining company Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW) became the first official sponsor of last year’s U.N. climate talks. This contradicts the fact that coal is not only one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, but the market for it is collapsing. President Trump, who withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in 2017 and has said he doesn’t believe the U.N.’s findings on the potentially disastrous impacts of climate change, will have to reckon with the fact that many of the fossil fuel producers he’s so fond of are actually in support of the agreement.

In response to JSW’s sponsorship of COP24, the Society of Environmental Journalists tweeted, “Irony is dead and buried in a shallow grave.” The question, of course, is whether the gravedigger will ever truly bury himself.

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