Pouring cold water on climate change pronouncements

Big, aspirational statements are a hallmark of climate conferences, mostly because these events exist partly so countries can send out the right signals, to their own people and everyone else, that they are doing their bit for the planet.

The Republic made a few at Cop26 this week, including joining the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance. Other members include the renewables-friendly Denmark and the nuclear energy-dependent France. The organisation aims to set an end date for oil and gas exploration and extraction. That seems like a good thing, until you make a cup of tea.

The chances are your kettle is made of plastic, which is manufactured from polymers, a byproduct of crude oil. When you plug it in, gas is more than likely responsible for the electricity heating the water. (Quite recently it could have been coal.) Diesel was almost certainly used to transport the tea.

In fact, you are surrounded by oil, gas and their offshoots. Oil is in the plastic piping in your home, along with the insulation, paints, varnishes and various other materials. If you discover you’ve run out of milk and cycle to the shop, it’s in the tyres and the road surface.

Big oil has always been climate change’s lead pantomime villain. Beef and sun holidays may get increased attention these days, but they’re only sidekicks, oil remains the ultimate bad guy.

But this ignores the reality that oil only got big because we need it. Not just for transport, it’s woven into the fabric of our lives. So that end date is a long way away.

The same applies to gas. Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan, who announced our membership of the alliance, recently acknowledged that gas would continue to play a key role in electricity generation, even as we switch to more renewables.

In fact, gas will remain critical to the Republic’s efforts to share the climate change burden, as much of our energy policy hinges on increasing the use of electricity for heating and transport.

So the alliance, and our membership, are no more than an aspiration. We are going to continue extracting and using fossil fuels, unless, of course, we start making tea with cold water.

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