Spinning the climate change

With an electric car people may wrongly think they are averting the disaster, which is a lethal ignorance


Imran Jan August 29, 2021
The writer is a political analyst. Email: [email protected] Twitter @Imran_Jan

A few readers emailed me and criticised me that I still use the air conditioning that emits carbon, that I drive an oil consuming vehicle and so forth. And then I turn around and write about climate change. Some friends in America also found it amusing that I drove a large gas guzzler SUV and still talked about climate change. They are all right but there is a nuance that gets overlooked.

When we question each other about our personal lifestyles, which have a carbon emission significance to it, we play exactly into the hands of the fossil fuel industry. The fact of the matter is that we as individuals do not have a choice and an education to avoid the massive carbon emissions. What options do we have besides using oil driven vehicles for transportation? Electric cars? Keep reading. While we all need to change our lifestyles and do whatever we can to minimise our carbon footprint, the fact is that those changes would make very tiny or no difference at all given that whatever little damage we undo, it would be offset by the emissions still happening on a massive scale.

An acquaintance of mine straddles between Saudi Arabia and Houston. He works for the Saudi-Aramco, the Saudi Arabian oil giant. I asked him how the electric cars becoming common in America would affect his employer’s bottom line. His answer should serve as a guidance for all those who think electric cars would solve the problem of climate change. He said that the use of electric cars would increase the consumption of electricity since cars would have to be charged and we would have to sell more oil for that increased demand for electricity generation. Climate change villains are cheering for electric cars.

The solution has a simple name: it is called governmental policy shift. All governments around the world must abandon the use of fossil fuel, which would mean blocking the use of vehicles that run with oil combustion engines, changing the electricity grid entirely to solar, wind and other clean generation methods. Growing trees in our backyard is great but it won’t do the magic. With an electric car people may wrongly think they are averting the disaster, which is a lethal ignorance.

This what-aboutism, finger pointing, behaviour shaming is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants. Because for as long as we remain in conflict with each other over our tiny footprint on carbon emissions, we forget about the real villain. The gun lobby in America always likes to shift the anger away from the gun manufacturer and toward the individual who commits acts of gun violence. The standard rhetoric is always the psychological problems and mental illness of the person who kills people using his gun. Gun is just a tool which, if lands in the hands of a lunatic, causes violence, goes the standard propaganda rhetoric.

For the fossil fuel industry, spinning is winning. They spin not only their drill into the earth to extract more oil but also the narrative around the issue of climate change. They don’t have to sell oil since it is a necessity, but they sell the distraction from the damage that comes from its use.

I remember soft drink ads back from the late 90s or early 2000s. Plastic bottles had been introduced and the ads showed people dropping their glass bottles, which would break and spill the drink followed by a distressed face. We didn’t have Emojis back then. Then came the smart consumer in the same ad who dropped his plastic bottle but still ended up in smiles as the bottle didn’t break. They rationalised the transition from glass to plastic by providing a distraction that plastic was good. And interestingly, what none of us had a clue about at the time was two things: plastic is harmful for the environment and plastic is made from oil. Connect the dots.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2021.

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