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Topic: Fossil Fuels

[Episode #133] – Stranded Assets

A decade ago, it was very conventional for asset managers to have exposure to the oil and gas sector as part of a diversified portfolio. Calls for them to divest from carbon assets because climate policy could render fossil fuel reserves unburnable mostly fell on deaf ears. But now the oil & gas sector has turned in a decade of underperformance, vaporizing tens of billions of dollars and becoming the worst-performing sector in the world. Now banks, asset managers, and even oil operators have now joined the ranks of those worrying aloud about the increasing risk of stranded assets. Now, the warnings about stranded assets are converging with calls for companies and investors to apply ESG filters to their activities, and investors are demanding divestment from carbon-heavy assets.

One think-tank saw all this coming: Carbon Tracker. In fact, they put the concept of stranded fossil fuel assets on the map over a decade ago. In this episode we speak with its founder, Mark Campanale, about what investors have learned from the experience of the past decade, what they still need to do going forward, and some of the more interesting efforts that are under way to encourage divestment from carbon and reorient capital toward energy transition solutions.

Geek rating: 7


[Episode #123] – Sustainable Energy Transitions

Addressing the threat of climate change means executing a successful energy transition. But as the transition proceeds, we are increasingly having to confront the impacts of transition technologies, and consider the trade-offs of choosing those technologies over the conventional technologies that they are displacing - because nothing we can do is without an impact of some kind, and everything we build requires the use of raw materials. So the question of what is truly sustainable is beginning to take a larger importance in the formation of policies designed to advance energy transition.

But energy is still being taught primarily as part of the engineering discipline, leaving students from non-engineering disciplines in need of ways to learn something about energy, in order to help them be more effective in their work. Fortunately, professor Dustin Mulvaney of San Jose State University in California has a new textbook designed to address this need, titled “Sustainable Energy Strategies: Socio-Ecological Dimensions of Decarbonization.” It’s a very ambitious effort to survey many of the complex topics that are critical for people involved in energy transition to understand. In this episode, we talk with Dustin about why he wrote it, and we take a walk through each chapter in the book to understand the complex questions around what “sustainability” really means in the context of energy transition.

Geek rating: 5


[Episode #109] – Big Oil’s Climate Denial Machine

More than forty years ago, Exxon began researching the potential effects of carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion on the climate. As far back as 1982, honest scientists doing respectable scientific work had realized that there was already a scientific consensus that a doubling of the carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere would produce average global warming of 3 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees C. And they knew it would have significant changes in the earth’s climate, including rainfall distribution and disturbances in the biosphere, accompanied by major economic consequences.

But then, after climate scientist James Hansen’s presentation to Congress in 1988, Exxon did an about-face. It spiked its own research and started working on climate denial. For the next 20 years its efforts were oriented around manufacturing doubt and lobbying to block federal action. Along with other companies in the fossil fuel lobby, Exxon spent considerable effort and money on a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public and policymakers about the risks of climate change.

Our guest in this episode is a veteran energy and environment journalist who, as part of an investigative team at Inside Climate News in 2015, pieced together the story of Exxon’s history of doing research on climate change, and then discrediting their own research in an effort to frustrate action on climate change and energy transition. If you’ve ever wondered why the public and certain elected officials continue to deny the reality of climate change, this episode is for you.

Geek rating: 2