The teenager wrote with such passion and conviction, and she was clearly worried — worried that a world racked by climate change wouldn’t be able to sustain her, or her dreams. Her letter to me, the leader of an oil and natural gas trade association, was part of a class project. It was well-researched but also sharp, accusatory and, frankly, depressing.
The young woman was a good writer and a good thinker, a wonderful combination that will carry her far into life. But, sadly, it seemed as if she couldn’t see too far into that future. Her letter spoke of “mass extinction” and “entire ecosystems crumbling,” and also spoke of her personal suffering as she watches the “destruction of the world.” The dread and fear she expressed at such a young age are troubling, as was her assertion, that no one is doing anything about climate change. Clearly, we have failed her.
The adults leading our country have unnecessarily scared her with doomsday, end-of-times prophecies to meet their short-term political objectives, and by doing so, they’ve placed limits on her visions and her dreams. A society of full of young people who don’t dream and expect big things of themselves and their world is far scarier and dangerous, to me, than a world with a warming climate.
We also haven’t done enough to explain the positive environmental changes witnessed in recent years, the new technologies, the lowering of emissions and the promise of innovation and ingenuity. I wrote back to her, to let her know that I understood and appreciated her concern about climate change, and her future.
When I was her age, I was concerned about nuclear proliferation and the idea that one man could turn a decadeslong Cold War into a hot war within seconds. It was frightening to think your future could disappear in a moment’s notice, and there was little you could do about it.
Climate change, of course, is different. I told her that I agreed with her that the climate is changing, and that carbon dioxide has contributed to that warming, about 1 degree Celsius since the beginning of the industrial revolution. However, lots of smart people are trying to do something about it, including many of the brightest minds in the oil and natural gas industry.
Today, oil and natural gas are the primary source of energy for the global economy, supplying roughly 70% of global energy demand. We will continue to need oil and natural gas for decades to come for many reasons. It is our challenge to produce it cleaner, better and safer than anywhere on the globe.
Today, we’re powering our electric grid with more natural gas, wind, and solar energy than ever before. The environmental benefits have been, and will continue to be, profound as natural gas as an energy source has a low carbon dioxide emissions profile.
But that’s just part of the story. Numerous emission reductions beyond CO2 have occurred as a result of this trend, with sulfur dioxide down 88% and ground-level ozone down 22%. The six most common pollutants (PM2.5 and PM10, SO2, NOx, VOCs, CO and Pb) are down 73%. That’s a tremendous success story for our environment and our air quality.
In Colorado, we also can be proud that methane emissions from oil and natural gas production are decreasing, and our industry’s volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions have dropped nearly 60% since 2011. Technology improvements and regulations that reduce the chance for methane and VOCs to escape into our atmosphere are working.
Our industry continues to make tremendous progress in the efficiency of energy consumption and in reducing greenhouse gases. However, more work must be done. Our world population continues to grow and we continue to demand more energy to power our iPhones, computers, TVs, cars and homes, just to name a few.
We can’t forget about the nearly 1 billion people across the globe with no access to electricity, and the more than 3 billion people who don’t have access to reliable energy. As they get access to the electricity and energy that they need — and deserve — it will increase per capita energy consumption and likely outstrip the reductions in CO2 emissions made in the developed world.
This difficult challenge must be faced: addressing global climate change while not ignoring those who suffer from energy poverty.
Clean, affordable energy is a key to the world’s future, and oil and natural gas have an important role to play.
At COGA, we are committed to doing our part to encourage industry efforts that will further reduce emissions while participating constructively in the conversation on how our state and country can best move forward.
We can agree that we need to care for our shared planet, but to do so effectively will require everybody, including oil and natural gas, to be part of the conversation.
Dan Haley is president and CEO of the Colorado Oil & Gas Association.