Behind clean energy are dirty sources

The use of fossil fuel caused climate change

Imran Jan April 21, 2024
The writer is a political analyst. Email: Twitter @Imran_Jan


I remember a conversation I had with a Saudi man inside a Pizza restaurant that my friend owned. The Saudi not only happened to live in my neighborhood but also worked for the Saudi oil giant Saudi Aramco. These were the days of the Covid pandemic. There were lockdowns and international travel had been reduced tremendously. I asked him if the oil sales had gone down because of the travel decline. He told me how people consuming more power now because of being home was actually offsetting the decline in fuel usage by the airlines. Then I brought up the topic of climate change and how the transition to clean energy and electric cars would impact the global sale of fossil fuel. I vividly remember how he told me that they were actually waiting for it to happen rather than opposing it because they had forecasted that the demand for fossil fuel would go very high.

Though, honestly speaking, at the time I didn’t fully believe him and thought he was merely bragging about being part of an empire that was not collapsing. The demand for electricity, which has remained quite flat for two decades, has abruptly surged. The increase in electricity demand created a forecast for the demand ahead, which was actually doubled by the US utility companies. And even that may not cut it.

The main reasons behind the surge in electricity demand are millions of electric cars being plugged in, solar panel manufacturing factories, and the manufacture of batteries that are used in electric vehicles and other aspects of clean energy storage. If you think about it, these are all the things required for an ambition to tackle climate change and shift to clean energy generation. Fossil fuel was consumed by the end user in the gasoline run cars but now they have shifted to where they are being consumed right at the birth of the tools necessary to undo the use of these very fossil fuels. The only difference perhaps is that the end user doesn’t get to see the gasoline as he used to when he was filling up his tank.

It is not much different than the chicken and egg dilemma. The use of fossil fuel caused climate change. In order to tackle climate change, a technology was created where the necessary tools and life sustaining comforts that humanity uses wouldn’t be run by gasoline. But somehow, now fossil fuels are right behind the creation of these climate change fighting tools. The generation that is born today may have a hard time down the road to understand what came first in the creation of climate change.

Just like when a revolution or a protest is won on the streets and then defeated at the table, the noise about the use of fossil fuel gives us electric cars and solar panels but how they are made and how they are powered defeat the very purpose, which they tend to serve.

I own a Tesla. I want to avoid gasoline cars because they are bad for the environment and the clean energy that we all need for a decent survival. Plus, I don’t have to pay for gas or so I think. However, every night I plug in my car to charge for the next day, I instantly realise that I am consuming more fossil fuel through more usage of electricity at home and thereby offsetting whatever gasoline I don’t use by having this Tesla.

The Saudi wasn’t wrong. Major corporations always think ahead of the potential threats to their survival and to their bottom line. So far, they have been a step ahead of those who want to create clean energy for a habitable planet tomorrow. Sadly, so far the winners in this game are the ones who may not think about tomorrow but are happy with the dollar today.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 21st, 2024.

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