COP28: Beyond “Just Stop Oil” - George Nasr
“Just Stop Oil” is easy to understand, but I found it harder to comprehend till COP28.
As a simple message, it is catchy; a simple objective. It is a soundbite, and it works.
A single focus makes sense to us. An objective that is easy to visualize. Policy makers are attracted to the simplicity of the framework. Politicians find the messaging easier.
As a system, it is murky. Why do we need to get there? How do we get there?
A single focus does not make sense to Mother Nature. Earth is a complex system, with different subsystems, interactions, and feedbacks. We humans are one of those subsystems, and we are growing in importance.
Yes, we dominate the world is unprecedented. It took us 200,000 years to go from a small population in Africa, to reach 1 Billion people a century ago. In a single century, our population grew ninefold, mostly in the developing world. It reaches about 9 Billion today; 8 Billion of them outside developed countries. But we did so with great imports of energy. And most of this energy came from hydrocarbons: coal, oil, natural gas.
Today, the combined energy from petroleum is equivalent to the energy deployed by 10 workers serving every person on the planet, working 24 hours, seven days a week.
Just stop oil? You just stop work, mostly in the developing world.
Today, a single farmer who could feed 30 people in 1930, can feed more than 100 persons.
Just stop oil? You just stop food, especially in the developing world.
So why the debate?
Because of our growing carbon dioxide emissions. They are increasingly affecting the climate, and most of those emissions come from hydrocarbons. So it does make sense, for the sake of a common future, to reduce carbon emissions.
The debate at COP28 was not about this.
The debate was between objectives and systems. It was debate between people who want the same outcome: a greener, more sustainable world.
But one side started from the outcome; a green future without hydrocarbon emissions.
The other side started from the system; a mix of proven technologies that will get us to the green futures.
COP28 bridged this divide. It brought the focus on expanding the energy technology mix. This means hydrocarbons, renewables, and also nuclear.