Op-Ed: Collapseologists are warning humanity that business-as-usual will make the Earth uninhabitable
Christopher Ketcham and Jeff Gibbs January 31, 2021
Hundreds of scientists, writers and academics from 30 countries sounded a warning to humanity in an open letter published in the Guardian in December: Policymakers and the rest of us must “engage openly with the risk of disruption and even collapse of our societies.” “Damage to the climate and environment” will be the overarching cause, and “researchers in many areas” have projected widespread social collapse as “a credible scenario this century.”
It’s not hard to find the “collapseology” studies they are talking about. In a report for the sustainability group Future Earth, a survey of scientists found that extreme weather events, food insecurity, freshwater shortages and the broad degradation of life-sustaining ecosystems “have the potential to impact and amplify one another in ways that might cascade to create global systemic collapse.” A 2019 report from the Breakthrough National Center for Climate Restoration, a think tank in Australia, projected that a rapidly warming world of depleted resources and mounting pollution would lead to “a largely uninhabitable Earth” and a “breakdown of nations and the international order.” Analysts in the U.S. and British military over the past two years have issued similar warnings of climate- and environment-driven chaos.
Of course, if you are a nonhuman species, collapse is well underway. Ninety-nine percent of the tall grass prairie in North America is gone, by one estimate; 96% of the biomass of mammals — biomass is their weight on Earth — now consists of humans, our pets and our farm animals; nearly 90% of the fish stocks the U.N. monitors are either fully exploited, over exploited or depleted; a multiyear study in Germany showed a 76% decline in insect biomass.
The call for public engagement with the unthinkable is especially germane in this moment of still-uncontrolled pandemic, institutional failures and economic crises in the world’s most technologically advanced nations. Not very long ago, it was also unthinkable that a virus would shut down nations and that safety nets would be proven so disastrously lacking in resilience.
The international scholars’ warning doesn’t venture to say exactly what collapse will look like or when it might happen. Collapseology is more concerned with identifying trends and with them the dangers of everyday civilization: ever-expanding economic growth, rapacious consumption of resources and the saturation of the planet’s limited repositories for waste.
Among the signatories of the warning was William Rees, a population ecologist at the University of British Columbia best known as the originator of the “ecological footprint” concept, which measures the total amount of environmental input needed to maintain a given lifestyle. With the current footprint of humanity — most egregiously the footprint of the energy- and resource-entitled Global North — “it seems that some form of global societal collapse is inevitable, possibly within a decade, certainly within this century,” Rees said in an email.
The most pressing proximate cause of biophysical collapse is what he calls overshoot: humans exploiting natural systems faster than the systems can regenerate. The human enterprise is financing its growth and development by liquidating biophysical “capital” essential to its own existence. We are dumping waste at rates beyond nature’s assimilative capacity. Warming temperatures, plunging biodiversity, worldwide deforestation and ocean pollution, among other problems, are all important in their own right. But each is a mere symptom of overshoot, says Rees.
The message we should glean from the evidence is that all human enterprise is ultimately determined by biophysical limits. We are exceptional animals, but we are not exempt from the laws of nature.
Another of the signatories on the warning letter is Will Steffen, a retired Earth systems scientist from Australian National University. Steffen singles out the neoliberal economic growth paradigm — the pursuit of ever expanding GDP — as “incompatible with a well-functioning Earth system at the planetary level.” Collapse, he told an interviewer, “is the most likely outcome of the present trajectory of the current system, as prophetically modelled in ‘Limits to Growth. ‘ ”
“Limits to Growth” is a 150-page bombshell of a book published in 1972. The authors, a team of MIT scientists, created a computerized system-dynamics model called World3, the first of its kind, to examine worldwide growth trends from 1900 to 1970. They extrapolated from the historical data to model 12 future scenarios projected to the year 2100.
The models showed that any system based on exponential economic and population growth crashed eventually. The gloomiest model was the one in which the “present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged.” In that “business as usual” scenario, collapse would begin slowly in the 2020s and accelerate thereafter. Updates to the “Limits” study have found that its projections, so far, have been spot-on.
Only if we discuss the consequences of our biophysical limits, the December warning letter says, can we reduce their “likelihood, speed, severity and harm.” And yet messengers of the coming turmoil are likely to be ignored — crowned doomers, collapseniks, marginal and therefore discountable. We all want to hope things will turn out fine. “Man is a victim of dope/In the incurable form of hope,” as poet Ogden Nash wrote.
The hundreds of scholars who signed the letter are intent on quieting hope that ignores preparedness. Let’s look directly into the abyss of collapse, they say, and deal with the terrible possibilities of what we see there “to make the best of a turbulent future.”
Christopher Ketcham is the author, most recently, of “This Land: How Cowboys, Capitalism, and Corruption Are Ruining the American West.” Jeff Gibbs is the writer and director of the documentary “Planet of the Humans.”
Farming needs to go back to old fashioned methods to help the environment, says PM’s father as he takes on new climate change role
Helena Horton January 31, 2021
Farming needs to go back to old-fashioned methods to help the environment, the Prime Minister’s father has said, as he takes on a new climate change role.
Stanley Johnson is today announcing that he is the new International Ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network (CEN).
The author has long been a campaigner on green issues, and is a passionate advocate of “rewilding”, recently visiting some reintroduced bears in Italy.
He is expected to lobby for wilder farming at the major climate change conference COP26, scheduled to take place in Glasgow this summer.
Mr Johnson, a passionate rewilder, told The Telegraph about his vision of farming, explaining: “It’s not rewilding as such but going back to methods of farming which are very much the way things were. Rain fed agriculture, grass fed agriculture, even not ploughing up. You may gain more in carbon terms from doing that than from planting a load of trees.
“There is an absolute need for a change in the farming system in Britain and as we come out of the EU that’s an amazing way to do that. I have just agreed to be the international ambassador for the Conservative Environmental Network. We are going to be focusing on the Climate Change Conference. It’s an honourary assignment of course I’m not going to ask to be paid at my age!”
His son, Boris Johnson, currently has no plans to ban intensive farming and force farmers to go back to ancient methods, though the government is bringing in a payments scheme for farms which use their land to improve the environment.
However, Stanley said that he has tried to make his land suitable for the rewilded creatures, but it has been a struggle, and he wants to be allowed to release them on the river running through his Exmoor estate. However, this is not allowed under current rules, in place to prevent the animals running amok.
He is pushing for his son to get the government to publish its National Beaver Strategy to enable them to be let loose up and down England’s waterways.
He told The Telegraph: “Beavers have been put on hold at the moment because of coronavirus, but I need to think about how I am going to do it. You have the pen, a biggish pen covering a couple of acres and some running water, you could just make a pond. I need to be very careful because the pond could dry up or the whole place could flood and they could be washed away down the river and I’d get in trouble. Of course I have the river, but they can’t be released there until we have a National Beaver Policy!”
Why Republicans won’t agree to Biden’s big plans and why he should ignore them
Robert Reich January 31, 2021
The new president can achieve huge and vital reform and relief without the party of Trump – and they know it
Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding Marine One at the White House. Photograph: Tom Brenner/Reuters
If there were ever a time for bold government, it is now. Covid, joblessness, poverty, raging inequality and our last chance to preserve the planet are together creating an existential inflection point.
Fortunately for America and the world, Donald Trump is gone, and Joe Biden has big plans for helping Americans survive Covid and then restructuring the economy, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and creating millions of green jobs.
But Republicans in Congress don’t want to go along. Why not?
Mitch McConnell and others say America can’t afford it. “We just passed a program with over $900 bn in it,” groused Senator Mitt Romney, the most liberal of the bunch.
Rubbish. We can’t afford not to. Fighting Covid will require far more money. People are hurting.
Besides, with the economy in the doldrums it’s no time to worry about the national debt. The best way to reduce the debt as a share of the economy is to get the economy growing again.
Repairing ageing infrastructure and building a new energy-efficient one will make the economy grow even faster over the long term – further reducing the debt’s share.
No one in their right mind should worry that public spending will “crowd out” private investment. If you hadn’t noticed, borrowing is especially cheap right now. Money is sloshing around the world, in search of borrowers.
It’s hard to take Republican concerns about debt seriously when just four years ago they had zero qualms about enacting one of the largest tax cuts in history, largely for big corporations and the super-wealthy.
If they really don’t want to add to the debt, there’s another alternative. They can support a tax on super-wealthy Americans.
The total wealth of America’s 660 billionaires has grown by a staggering $1.1tn since the start of the pandemic, a 40% increase. They alone could finance almost all of Biden’s Covid relief package and still be as rich as they were before the pandemic. So why not a temporary emergency Covid wealth tax?
The real reason Republicans want to block Biden is they fear his plans will work.
It would be the Republican’s worst nightmare: all the anti-government claptrap they’ve been selling since Ronald Reagan will be revealed as nonsense.
Government isn’t the problem and never was. Bad government is the problem, and Americans have just had four years of it. Biden’s success would put into sharp relief Trump and Republicans’ utter failures on Covid, jobs, poverty, inequality and climate change, and everything else.
Biden and the Democrats would reap the political rewards in 2022 and beyond. Democrats might even capture the presidency and Congress for a generation. After FDR rescued America, the Republican party went dark for two decades.
Trumpian Republicans in Congress have an even more diabolical motive for blocking Biden. They figure if Americans remain in perpetual crises and ever-deepening fear, they’ll lose faith in democracy itself.
This would open the way for another strongman demagogue in 2024 – if not Trump, a Trump-impersonator like Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley or Donald Trump Jr.
If Biden is successful, Americans’ faith in democracy might begin to rebound – marking the end of the nation’s flirtation with fascism. If he helps build a new economy of green jobs with good wages, even Trump’s angry white working-class base might come around.
The worst-kept secret in Washington is Biden doesn’t really need Republicans, anyway. With their razor-thin majorities in both houses of Congress, Democrats can enact Biden’s plans without a single Republican vote.
The worry is Biden wants to demonstrate “bipartisan cooperation” and may try so hard to get some Republican votes that his plans get diluted to the point where Republicans get what they want: failure.
Biden should forget bipartisanship. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans didn’t give a hoot about bipartisanship when they and Trump were in power.
If Republicans try to stonewall Biden’s Covid relief plan, Biden and the Democrats should go it alone through a maneuver called “reconciliation”, allowing a simple majority to pass budget legislation.
If Republicans try to block anything else, Biden should scrap the filibuster – which now requires 60 senators to end debate. The filibuster isn’t in the constitution. It’s anti-democratic, giving a minority of senators the power to block the majority. It was rarely used for most of the nation’s history.
The filibuster can be ended by a simple majority vote, meaning Democrats have the power to scrap it. Biden will have to twist the arms of a few recalcitrant Democrats, but that’s what presidential leadership often requires.
The multiple crises engulfing America are huge. The window of opportunity for addressing them is small. If ever there was a time for boldness, it is now.
To Help Save Bumble Bees, Plant These Flowers in Your Spring Garden
Madison Dapcevich January 30, 2020
The endangered yellow-faced bumble bee consistently chose the large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), seen above, even when others were available. vil.sandi / Flickr /CC BY-ND 2.0
In an effort to aid North American bumblebee conservation, a group of California researchers has identified which flowers certain bee species prefer.
There are nearly 20,000 known bee species in the world, 4,000 of which are native to the U.S., according to the U.S. Geological Society. Bees pollinate roughly three-quarters of all fruits, nuts and vegetables grown across the country and one of every four bites of food can be credited to bee pollination. But bees are in major decline as nearly 40 percent of honey bees have declined in the last year, according to ABC News. Populations have dropped for a number of reasons, including parasites, pesticides and a lack of flowers on the landscape — all factors that highlight a need for understanding habitat needed to sustain and recover populations.
Working with the Entomological Society of America, scientists set out to determine which flowers bumble bees prefer in an effort to aid land managers seeking to restore critical habitat.
“It’s important to consider the availability of plants when determining what’s selected for by bees,” Jerry Cole, study author and biologist with the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP), said. “Often studies will use the proportion of captures on a plant species alone to determine which plants are most important to bees. Without comparison to how available those plants are, you might think a plant is preferentially selected by bees, when it is simply very abundant.”
To come to their conclusions, researchers captured more than a dozen different species of bumblebees on more than 100 different species of flowers in the Sierra Nevada region of California. Researchers recorded what species of flower each bee was captured on and then estimated the number of plants found in each plot. The findings suggest that different bumblebee species select specific flowers even when foraging across the same landscape.
“We discovered plants that were big winners for all bumble bee species but, just as importantly, plant species that were very important for only a single bumble bee species,” said Helen Loffland, a meadow species specialist with the Institute for Bird Populations. “This study allowed us to provide a concise, scientifically based list of important plant species to use in habitat restoration that will meet the needs of multiple bumble bee species and provide blooms across the entire annual lifecycle.”
The yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) was most abundantly observed. The endangered insects preferred large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) and consistently chose the flowering plant even when others were available. Three of five bumblebee species were found to prefer A. urticifolia, a flowering plant in the mint family.
Some of other favorites? The fuzzy buzzing insects also preferred Oregon checker-mallow (Sidalcea oregana), Alpine mountainbalm (Monardella odoratissima), tall fringed bluebells (Mertensia ciliate) and cobwebby hedge nettle (Stachys albens).
It is important to note that bees likely don’t have natural preferences but instead choose flowers based on quality or quantity of nectar or pollen. People should interpret the results with caution because the researchers did not conclude whether plants were being used for pollen or nectar sources, CNN notes.
The U.S. Forest Service says that it is using the study results to identify areas where restoration efforts may make more ample bee habitat.
“This sort of knowledge can really increase the effectiveness of restoration for bumblebees in a way that is relatively easy and cost-effective to implement,” said Loffland, adding that the findings can be helpful to landowners who are restoring or managing areas that are habitat for native bees.
Climate change: 7 things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint
Yvette Killian, Producer
It’s the season for resolutions and for finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance Live, Kathryn Kellogg, founder of Going Zero Waste, a lifestyle website that provides information on living a more sustainable life, outlined the top seven things individuals can do now to mitigate climate change.
For starters Kellogg advocates reducing consumption of animal products, which in addition to meat, includes cheese and butter. According to a New York Times report, meat and dairy account for approximately 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas every year — the same amount as the combined emissions from all the cars, trucks, airplanes and ships in the world today.
“By cutting out a few of those products, adding in a little, a few more fresher products, we’ll be able to have a more positive impact on the planet and hopefully maybe even meet some other of your New Year’s resolutions like eating a little healthier,” said Kellogg.
This ties into her second tip — eating locally and seasonally. The less food has to travel to the consumer, the lower the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere and less pollution created.
The third way to be greener this year, said Kellogg, is to take a hard look at how you’re using energy. Be mindful of how much energy you’re consuming, unplug and shut off devices when not in use and use energy efficient appliances when possible.
“On average, 10% to 15% of the home’s electric bill comes from something called a phantom electricity. This is when you have something plugged in and charging, but it’s not actually charging. So for instance, you have your laptop charger plugged in, but it’s not hooked up to your laptop. You have your phone charger plugged in but it’s not hooked up to your phone. These things are still drawing power and it’s wasting energy and of course it’s costing you a lot of money,” she said.
Fourth on Kellogg’s list of climate resolutions: Reduce flying and driving, consider alternatives like mass transit and electric vehicles, but she cautions, that doesn’t mean rushing out to buy a new car.
“When it comes to looking at electric and hybrid vehicles, unless you have a very, very high emitting vehicle, one of the best things you can do is keep what you already have, because of course, a lot of emissions are made in the creation of an item,” she said, noting that driving less and carpooling are best ways to reduce emissions.
Fifth on the list is “stop before you shop.” That means buying less. According to Going Zero Waste, the average American throws out 4.4 lbs. of trash a day and Kellogg councils those looking to reduce consumption to ask themselves the following questions:
Do you really need it?
Is it really necessary?
Can something else make do?
Do you need to own it?
If the answer to these questions is still yes then at least “buy well,” which means thinking about where it came from and where it’s going after you’re through with it, Kellogg said.
This connects to the sixth step in reducing your carbon footprint this year: consider buying secondhand. The U.S. secondhand apparel market is currently valued at $379 billion according to Greenbiz. In 2019 the secondhand clothing market grew 21 times faster than traditional apparel markets and projects that the domestic secondhand clothing market will more than triple in value in the next 10 years going from $28 billion in 2019 to $80 billion in 2029, the company said.
“One of the most eco-friendly things you can buy is something that has already been bought, no new resources are needed and the creation of that item. So by buying something that’s already in the waste stream, you’re going to be able to prevent something from going to the landfill,” said Kellogg.
The final thing is composting. According to Kellogg, half of household waste can be composted which leads to a reduction in methane and greenhouse gas emissions.
“I think that the main issue is everyone views it as very all or nothing. So it’s really intimidating to start. And a lot of people think, oh, if I want to help the planet that I have to go vegan, and I can’t do that, and it’s all about just taking those first initial steps,” said Kellogg, adding that it’s easy to make small lifestyle changes. “If you don’t want to go vegan tomorrow, fine. What if you can just start participating in meatless Mondays, and just try an experiment with a few new dishes. You don’t have to be all or nothing, you just have to get started.”
GOP Strategist Predicts What Will Become Of The GOP If Donald Trump Isn’t Convicted
Lee Moran, Reporter HuffPost
Republican strategist Sarah Longwell warned Thursday that Donald Trump will control the GOP for the next decade if Senate Republicans don’t vote to convict the former president for inciting the U.S. Capitol riot.
Longwell, who founded the Republican Voters Against Trump group that before the election released ads featuring rank-and-file members explaining why they ditched the party, told CNN’s Don Lemon that GOP lawmakers should “get past” their fear of Trump because “this impeachment vote is their off-ramp.”
“This is their best chance to put a stake through Donald Trump’s political future,” she said. “If they don’t take it, Donald Trump is going to control this party for the next 10 years.”
Under Trump’s influence, Longwell warned, the GOP will become the party of the QAnon conspiracy theory-supporting Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).
It’s “not just dangerous for the Republican Party,” she cautioned, but “an existential threat to the country to have one of the two major political parties controlled by people who are out there spreading conspiracy theories.”
“And I’m not talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene,” Longwell clarified. “I’m talking about (House GOP Minority Leader) Kevin McCarthy and (Florida GOP Rep.) Matt Gaetz and so many others in Congress who voted to object to a free and fair election, who told voters that it was stolen from them, who followed Donald Trump and it led to a violent attack on the Capitol.”
Longwell said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) should be saying that “this is our chance to be done with Trump.” But she added: “I am worried that that is not the direction they are going to go.”
Trump’s Senate impeachment trial is slated to begin the week of Feb. 8.
A total of 67 votes are needed to convict the former president. On Tuesday, some 45 Senate Republicans voted to dismiss the trial, suggesting there’s not enough senators willing to convict Trump and ban him from running for office again.
How we’re holding Republicans responsible for cleaning up the Trump mess
Elizabeth Neumann and Olivia Troye January 28, 2021
Now that President Biden and Vice President Harris have been sworn in, it’s time for damage assessments and planning the recovery. We need to clean up the mess Trumpism made.
In his inaugural address, President Biden called for us to “reject the culture in which facts themselves are manipulated and even manufactured,” to return to the common values that define us as Americans, “Opportunity. Security. Liberty. Dignity. Respect. Honor. And yes, the truth.” His call for unity wasn’t an empty platitude, he acknowledged that “There is truth and there are lies, lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans… to defend the truth and defeat the lies.”
This is why we launched the Republican Accountability Project. We’re pledging to spend $50 million between now and the 2022 midterm elections to hold accountable the congressional Republicans who lied to the American people and voted to vitiate democracy by disrupting the electoral college vote count. And we’re going to protect those who spoke the truth and defended democracy.
Power ultimately resides with the people
Power in our republic ultimately resides with the people, and if the people disapprove of what the government is doing, they have the right and duty to replace those in government — not with riots or assassination plots or violence, but by voting. This elegant system has sustained republics large and small since the time of Socrates, but it has a flaw: What is a republic supposed to do if the leaders abolish free and fair elections?
This is, in essence, what many (but not all!) Republicans in Congress recently voted to do. In total, 139 Republicans in the House of Representatives and 8 Republicans in the Senate voted to throw out Electoral College votes from several states, even though the officials in those states had confirmed the free and fair results of their elections well ahead of the deadline. These supposed representatives of the people voted to nullify millions of their fellow Americans’ votes. (So much for populism.)
At the same time, Trump was inciting a violent mob of domestic terrorists to attack the U.S. Capitol with the purpose of stopping the counting of the electoral votes. Some even planned to try to force the Vice President to overturn the election (a power he obviously doesn’t have) with the threat of hanging. The mob partially succeeded — the House and Senate were ransacked, multiple people were killed, and the process of counting the electoral votes was delayed.
When the House impeached trump for trying to use a violent mob to disrupt and overturn the process of a free and fair election — for attempting to short-circuit the system of accountability elections provide — all but 10 House Republicans voted against it. Whatever their petty complaints of imagined procedural irregularities or poor draftsmanship, the message of their votes couldn’t be clearer: “The people’s votes don’t matter. If we don’t like the outcome, we’ll just choose a different one.”
Republicans leaders are suddenly preaching the importance of unity and healing. The first step toward recovery is repentance and accepting responsibility for their role. There can be no unity without truth and accountability.
The 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment know that their principled, patriotic votes might cost them reelection. Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina remarked, “If it does, it does.” The Republican Accountability Project will help them ward off primary challengers and secure their reelection. They shouldn’t be punished for upholding their oaths to the Constitution.
Republicans have to decide what side they are on
Those who encouraged and continue to encourage the insurrection against the government must be held accountable for their votes, and we will ensure that they will be in 2022.
Some Senate Republicans have already joined one or the other of these camps, and everyone knows where they stand. Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley clearly value their own power and advancement more than truth and the institutions of the republic.
But most Senate Republicans have yet to choose a side. They still have the opportunity to convict Trump and thereby disqualify him from ever holding office again. This is the only path to begin the process of repairing what they have helped to break. They should know that if they do the right thing, the Republican Accountability Project will help them. And if they don’t, we will find someone who will.
Elizabeth Neumann, former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism and Threat Reduction, and Olivia Troye, former Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor to Vice President Pence, are directors of the Republican Accountability Project.
How U.S. Crude Oil Exports Are Hastening the Demise of the Oil Industry
By Justin Mikulka January 28, 2021
When Congress lifted the export ban on U.S. crude oil in December of 2015 to allow for exports beginning in 2016, the oil industry celebrated.However, looking back at the impact of lifting the 40-year-old ban, it appears the move has helped hasten the financial demise of the U.S. oil industry — while also increasing the industry’s huge contribution to climate change.
In many ways, the U.S. oil and gas industry’s demise is self-inflicted. When historians look back upon its declines, lifting the export ban will likely mark a turning point where the industry made a huge bet on the profitability of fracking for oil in the U.S. — and subsequently began to dig its own grave.
“Opening the shale revolution to the world through the export ban lifting helped shift the global oil market psychology from supply scarcity to abundance,” Karim Fawaz, director of research and analysis for energy at IHS Markit, told Bloomberg in early 2021. “It unshackled the U.S. industry to keep growing past its domestic refining limitations.”
Graph: U.S. crude oil exports Credit: Energy Information Administration
Now, not only is the U.S. shale oil industry failing financially and facing debts it likely can’t repay, but calls are growing for the new Biden administration to reinstate the crude oil export ban — which President Biden could do immediately under a national emergency declaration.
This would effectively put a limit on the U.S. fracking industry — and be a big step in reducing the industry’s contributions to climate change. It would also restrain the industry from simply producing as much oil as fast as possible, something investors have been lobbying for the last several years. That’s because this approach has led to the loss of over $340 billion since 2010. Investors hope imposing fiscal restraint on the U.S. fracking industry will result in companies producing less oil overall but finally producing some profits.
Lifting the crude oil export ban to allow exports beginning in 2016 unleashed the U.S. fracking industry to produce as much oil as possible because it opened access to global markets with a long list of willing buyers of cheap U.S. crude oil.
It was a seismic change for the U.S. oil industry and built on the excitement of what was being called the fracking miracle; investors continued to lend large sums to the industry to produce record amounts of oil, betting on the promise of future profits to pay back the debt.
The profits never materialized despite the record amounts of oil being produced and now it appears that most of the best U.S. shale oil deposits were drained in that effort. The U.S. exported approximately 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil from January 2016 to October 2020. To put that in perspective, that is slightly less than the 4.1 billion barrels that the U.S. is expected to produce in 2021 (estimate based on EIA forecast of 11.1 million barrels per day in 2021).
Lifting the ban increased oil production
In response to the OPEC oil embargo and subsequent gasoline shortage in the U.S. in the early 1970s, the U.S. banned almost all oil exports. Unable to sell U.S. crude oil on world markets before 2016, the U.S. oil industry was limited by how much crude oil could be purchased by U.S. oil refineries. These refineries were running at full capacity and could not process another few million barrels of oil per day that frackers wanted to produce and sell. This very real limit was about to cause producers to have to restrain U.S. oil production rather than simply trying to get as many barrels of oil out of the ground as fast as possible.
To fix that, the oil industry and commodities brokers that trade oil on global markets successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to lift the ban.
A big part of the argument lobbyists made was that there was such an abundance of oil to be fracked in the U.S. that it made sense to sell it to the rest of the world.In 2015, for example, Harold Hamm, billionaire founder of Continental Resources, presented a slide at the annual Energy Information Administration (EIA) conference projecting that the U.S. could be producing 20 million barrels per day (mmbpd) of crude oil by 2025 due to the energy abundance fracking had opened up. At the time, U.S. crude oil production was less than half that — just under 10 million barrels per day.
Image: Harold Hamm’s U.S. oil production predictions Credit: DeSmog
By 2016, with the ban lifted and no domestic refining limitations shackling production, U.S. oil volumes exploded in the years that followed. The industry was producing huge amounts of oil as fast as it could — and losing huge sums of money in the process, likely hastening the industry’s currently unfolding financial collapse.
The misinformation behind the export ban’s reversal
The successful lifting of the ban was largely the result of a well-coordinated effort by the U.S. oil and gas industry — along with its partners in academia and various industry-funded think tanks — to mislead the public and government about the industry’s true motivations for lifting the crude oil export ban.
The industry’s campaign was on full display in 2014 at a conference hosted by a new academic energy strategy group, the Center on Global Energy Policy (CGEP), which was launched in April 2013 at Columbia University. New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke at the launch of CGEP where he advocated for fracking and natural gas.
Kah repeatedly referred to a study done by energy consulting groupIHS — which was instrumental in the public relations efforts to reverse the crude export ban. The IHS study touted the benefits of lifting the ban, focusing on potential economic benefits and downplaying any environmental risks. In 2014 Reuters reported that Daniel Yergin of IHS said that lifting the ban would not hurt the global environment because it would not add to total global oil production — a claim that was quickly proven wrong after the ban was lifted.
As DeSmog reported at the time, the study by IHS was “funded by Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and other industry players.”
CGEP’s work helped to support the industry’s misleading arguments that lifting the crude oil export ban would be good for Americans. At the time, CGEP and oil industry leaders like Hamm were making claims that the move would benefit U.S. foreign policy and help meet climate goals while expanding oil production. In addition, in July 2015 Hamm testified before Congress that lifting the ban would not result in U.S. oil being sold to the biggest growth market in the world, China, a concern for national security reasons. Reassurances like his that U.S. oil would only be sold to strategic allies was a big part of the argument for lifting the crude oil export ban.
Another of the main arguments industry consultants were making at the time for lifting the ban was that its removal was unlikely to have much of an impact on U.S. oil production. This claim was meant to deflect arguments from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club that lifting the ban would be bad for the climate (something that has proven to be true, especially when accounting for the U.S. fracking industry’s methane pollution).
In January 2015, Jason Bordoff, head of CGEP, co-authored a report, which stated that lifting the ban would likely only increase U.S. oil production from 0 to 1.2 million barrels per day by 2025.
Lifting the U.S. crude oil export ban effectively gave U.S. oil producers access to unlimited demand for its products. Any oil produced would be purchased by foreign buyers who especially liked the cheap oil prices, prices that were below what it cost the U.S. oil companies to produce the oil — resulting in large losses for oil producers.
In November 2020, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an analysis of the impact of lifting the crude oil export ban, noting the big increase in U.S. fracked oil production — 3.5 million barrels per day — since the ban was removed.
“According to EIA data,” the GAO wrote, “total production of U.S. crude oil rose by roughly one-third, from approximately 9.3 million barrels per day just before the repeal of the ban in December 2015 to about 12.8 million barrels per day in December 2019.”
And nearly all of that additional oil is exported — the increase in production cited by the GAO translated into the export of an average of three million barrels per day of crude oil in 2019.
This rush to produce, however, helped hastened the demise of the U.S. oil industry, a fall which was brought on by the fracking boom. Lifting the ban encouraged shale drillers to produce more and more oil, even when they were losing money on every barrel drilled. This blistering pace of drilling through the best acreage in shale fields quickly revealed that industry promises of abundance were, in fact, hollow — heady projections made to investors were likely based on estimates of oil reserves that simply are not there.
In April 2020, Scott Sheffield, CEO of shale oil producer Pioneer Natural Resources, summed up what the fracking revolution — driven in part by the export ban’s reversal — has done to the U.S. oil and gas industry. “It has been an economic disaster, especially the last 10 years,” Sheffield said in testimony before Texas’s oil regulators. “Nobody wants to give us capital because we have all destroyed capital and created economic waste.”
“Perhaps no two groups have gained from the export of America’s shale boom more than producers of U.S. oil and the giant commodities merchants who trade it,” Bloomberg reported in January.
While it is true that commodity merchants have been one of the main beneficiaries of the ban’s lifting, it isn’t quite accurate to say that producers of U.S. oil have gained as well; the executives of those companies reaped the benefits while the companies themselves actually lost money. In October 2020, the Wall Street Journal highlighted this reality with an article headlined, “Shale Companies Had Lousy Returns. Their CEOs Got Paid Anyway.”
In recent years, investors have been begging the shale industry to curb oil production itself, now that U.S. crude oil can be exported to the world. Investors hope that by limiting production,U.S. oil producers will focus instead on profitability instead of simply producing the most oil possible.
However, it took a global pandemic and U.S. oil prices going negative in 2020 to slow industry production. Meanwhile, despite all of that, exports have remained strong throughout the pandemic, only dropping in early 2021. One reason is that analysts at JP Morgan have recently downgraded forecasts for Chinese oil consumption with expectations that the pandemic will depress oil demand in China for longer than initially expected.
Reinstating the crude oil export ban would be bad for China and other countries that want access to as much cheap U.S. crude as possible. But it would be very good for the climate — a top priority of the Biden administration. While campaigning for president in 2020, Biden even made a qualified statement about banning fossil fuel exports.
While such a move would likely mean the U.S. would never again see the record levels of crude oil production that led to exporting 4 million barrels of oil a day, it also would likely force the U.S. fracking industry to learn how to produce oil at a profit — something it has not done in the past decade.
The energy world has changed dramatically since 2014 when the U.S. oil industry began lobbying to lift the crude oil export ban. The arguments made back then no longer apply — and most didn’t make sense even at the time.
While there are many reasons that the U.S. should be discussing banning exports of U.S. crude oil, the most immediate positive impact would be to address greenhouse gas emissions and tackle the climate emergency. As UN scientists have pointed out, the world doesn’t have any extra time to spare.
Main Image: VLCC Kyrakatingo seen alongside Tranmere North Oil Jetty having just been made fully fast after arrival from Houston, Texas with a part cargo of light crude oil. Credit: Darren Hillman, CCBY–ND 2.0
Hold us accountable, but please do the same for the charlatans who deceive you, use you and cheat you.
By Nicholas Kristof, Opinion Columnist January 27, 2021
YAMHILL, Ore. — This is an open letter to some of my old friends and neighbors who believe that Donald Trump won re-election, who think that face masks are for wimps and who fear that Democrats are plotting to seize their freedom.
Dear friends and neighbors,
Relax! We liberals aren’t plotting to round you up in “re-education camps.”
I was horrified when a couple of old friends here asked if they were in danger for having supported Donald Trump. I gently told them that they were in no peril — and I was stung that they felt greatly relieved to hear it.
Yes, I know that Fox News is peddling nonsense about Democrats setting up re-education camps, and that a Wall Street Journal column asked, “If you were an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter, are you ready to enter a re-education program?”
Folks, you’re being played. Again.
These are some of the same charlatans who argued last year that, as Fox News put it, the coronavirus is “just like the flu” and that mask mandates are a step toward “tyranny.” More than 400,000 coronavirus deaths later, some people are dead because they believed that drivel.
Then there’s the rubbish about the election. This month, just days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, a childhood friend told me confidently that Trump would swoop in to serve a second term. When I told him he was wrong, he was astonished that I could be so poorly informed, and he helpfully advised, “Don’t pay attention to those liars in the mainstream media.”
You’ve been hoodwinked, exploited and manipulated by con artists waving flags, casting lies and monetizing bigotry. Steve Bannon, who suggested beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci, defrauded Trump supporters into donating to build a border wall and then used some of the money for himself, according to a federal indictment.
Here on our family farm, we received a direct mail appeal warning about “Islam in Yamhill Schools” and pleading for donations to protect Christianity. No, that isn’t about conservative values, but about spreading hate and hysteria while grabbing at your wallet.
So let’s give America a chance to heal. And, as I told my worried friends, don’t hesitate to stand up for your conservative values. We need Republicans! America benefits from a loyal opposition.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week called for trying harder to keep schools open. On that issue, Republicans have been more right than many Democrats.
But half a century ago we didn’t need the racist George Wallace wing of the Democratic Party, and today we don’t need the wing of the Republican Party that embraces conspiracy theories and winks at violence.
The grand question: Without that wing of today’s G.O.P., what’s left?
One glimpse of the conundrum: The G.O.P. representation in Congress is losing Rob Portman, a widely respected senator who announced he will step down, and just gained Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an extremist who in 2019 endorsed the idea of shooting Nancy Pelosi in the head. When a party loses a statesman and gains a kook, that’s a bad omen.
Meanwhile, the Hawaii G.O.P. this week recommended the “high quality” commentary … of a Holocaust denier. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned on Fox News that Democrats are trying to “exterminate the Republicans.” Sure, Democrats sometimes say and do dumb things, too, but there’s no symmetry.
As I see it, the last, best hope is twofold. First, Republican leaders must learn that extremism is a losing strategy. Only one G.O.P. candidate for president has won the popular vote in the last three decades, and the loony Arizona Republican Party has lost about 10,000 members since the riot in the U.S. Capitol and its censure of party elders like Cindy McCain. If Trump is further discredited through prosecutions or scandals, it is possible (though far from certain) that his malign influence on the party will diminish.
Second, to dampen that extremism, advertisers should stop supporting networks that spread lies and hatred, and cable companies should drop channels that persist in doing so. As a start, don’t force people to subsidize Fox News by including it in basic packages.
Is this a slippery slope? Yes, and it makes me queasy. But we all recognize that there are red lines: Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan grand wizards have First Amendment rights, but we shouldn’t pay to give them microphones, nor should commentators on the left or the right get megaphones to promote violence. Extremists enjoy free speech but shouldn’t be buttressed by advertisers or our cable fees.
So, conservative friends, fear not: We’re not plotting to lock you up in detention camps. We need you to keep us honest. But you’ve been scammed in ways that have hurt the country we all love. Hold us accountable, but please do the same for the charlatans who deceive you, use you and cheat you.
NICHOLAS KRISTOF’S NEWSLETTER: Get a behind-the-scenes look at Nick’s gritty journalism as he travels around the United States and the world.
Republicans Greeted Joe Manchin’s Bipartisan Happy Talk By Demonstrating They Are Insane
Jack Holmes January 26, 2021
We’ll get to the diversified and wide-ranging insanity erupting from the hellspout of the Republican Party in just a tick, but first, here’s a completely nutso statement from a putative Democrat. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia said Monday there is no scenario “whatsoever” in which he will vote to get rid of the filibuster, an anti-democratic procedural gambit that has been used by Mitch McConnell over the last dozen years or so to pursue scorched-earth obstructionism in the Senate. Manchin has adopted this position based on the following belief about the current Republican Party: “They know we all have to work together,” he told Sahil Kapur of NBC News. “You just can’t basically be objectionable to everything just because you’re in the minority now.” Ah yes, the Republican Party we know and love, the one that is committed to constructive governance in the public interest over its own narrow political prerogatives.
Conveniently, some members of the Republican Senate minority provided evidence of this spirit of bipartisan cooperation the very same day. Here’s a statement from Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas explaining why he was one of 15 Republicans to vote against confirming Janet Yellen as Joe Biden’s Secretary of the Treasury, despite the fact that Yellen, as a former Federal Reserve chair who lies well within the mainstream of modern economics, is manifestly qualified. Cotton did not even really dispute Yellen’s fitness for the job.
Joe Biden pledged unity, but his top priority for our economy is to rig the system so that people are treated differently on the basis of race. The woke commissars who run the government call this ‘equity,’ but separating people into buckets based on their skin color will always be immoral. Janet Yellen has served the public for many years, but I will not support nominees who’ve indicated they will advance Joe Biden’s divisive economic vision for our country
So Tom Cotton will not support any nominee for Treasury Secretary who will advance Joe Biden’s economic vision? This is the same as saying he will not support Joe Biden having a Treasury Secretary at all. (It was broadly expected, by the way, that if Republicans had retained control of the Senate they would have ritually blocked Biden’s Cabinet nominees.) And of course the statement would not be complete without a bad-faith clause about Unity. It seems that the Republican Party now considers Joe Biden governing the country according to the vision he articulated in his successful campaign for president—the one where he got 7 million more votes from American citizens than his opponent—is an assault on National Unity. The only way to have Unity is to do what Republicans want all the time. Everything else is divisive. But Joe Manchin tells us he can work with these people.
This attitude even extends to the mythical Republican moderates, like the inexplicably re-elected Susan Collins of Maine, who had some thoughts this week on that 2020 contest: “What this campaign taught me about Chuck Schumer,” she told CNN, “is that he will say or do anything in order to win.” Sounds like the start of a beautiful friendship. They should be Coming Together to pass an immigration-reform bill any day now! We’re at the point where theoretically persuadable Republicans like Collins seem to have outright animus towards Democratic leadership. And that’s before you get into just how theoretical Collins is as a swing vote. The evidence is scant that she’ll break with McConnell unless he doesn’t need her vote. While she did help kill the Repeal and Go Fuck Yourself healthcare bill, it’s hardly representative of her tenure.
The sad fact of the matter is that the Republican Party’s membership ranges from the completely batshit people trying to smuggle firearms onto the House floor to the slightly more savvy actors operating in perpetual bad faith. The consensus position, now that Republican members of Congress have had a few weeks to marinate in the bullshit emanating from conservative media, is that the impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump for inciting an insurrection against the government of the United States is somehow unconstitutional or, worse, it violates the Unity principle. The only way to have Unity, after all, is to allow Republicans to spin insane fairy tales about how the election—nay, the country—was stolen from them and their supporters until some section of the base erupts in political violence, and then grant impunity to those responsible in the aftermath.
And then there’s Florida Man Marco Rubio.
And Florida Man Rick Scott:
Hilarious. Presumably, these people think they are going to be president in four years. (Nikki Haley, another 2024 wannabe, is now saying the following of the ex-president who tried to overturn an election and seize power through a putsch: “Give the man a break.”) Mr. Scott would not be mistaken for a comedian, but he does have some first-hand knowledge of the weak points in our Medicare billing system. Maybe he’ll put that to use going forward.
But in the shameless stakes, few can hope to match the big kahuna, Mitch McConnell, who took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to declare victory in his fight to stop the upper chamber from functioning as an actual legislative body. In short, McConnell fought to keep the filibuster in place by, you guessed it, obstructing the basic organizing resolution of the Senate, whereby the new Democratic 50+1 majority would take their seats as chairs of the various committees. Up until today, would-be committee chairs like Joe Manchin (Energy and Natural Resources) were prevented from taking up their jobs by McConnell’s scorched-earth tactics. But somehow, this was all proof to Manchin that McConnell will soon enough be Reaching Across the Aisle to do anything other than tell Chuck Schumer to stop hitting himself.
Anyway, here’s McConnell’s line, via Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post: “This victory will let us move forward with a 50-50 power sharing agreement,” McConnell said, after Democrats ran on and won both Georgia Senate seats on the notion it would give them a majority, which it has. That majority represents 40 million more people than the Republican minority, thanks to the Senate’s inherent anti-democratic features.
“McConnell delivers a warning,” DeBonis added by way of play-by-play: “If Dems touch the filibuster, GOP will pull out of power sharing agreement and cause ‘immediate chaos’ on the floor. ‘Destroying the filibuster would drain comity & consent from this body to a degree that would be unparalleled in living memory.'”
But he still has the brass balls to say this stuff because Joe Manchin—and Kyrsten Sinema, the next-most conservative Senate Democrat—have assured him up front that there will be no consequences for his appalling behavior. He can block measures that have majority support—a majority that, again, represents tens of millions more people than McConnell’s Republican caucus does—by abusing a procedural mechanism the sanctified Founders made no mention of in the Constitution. The Senate was designed as an elitist body more removed from popular whims than the House, but it was not designed for the minority to have veto power over anything that gets less than 60 votes on top of that. Republicans already exercise hugely outsized—and anti-democratic—influence without the filibuster. Add that on top, and you’ve got a genuine crisis of democracy. But you’ve also got McConnell hamstringing a Democratic government with one eye on the midterms.
None of which seems to much matter to Ol’ Joe Manchin. One curious question for the West Virginia Democrat, however, is why exactly he ran for office. What does he hope to accomplish? What does he want to do for his constituents? And what’s the Venn diagram-overlap with “things that will get 60 votes”? As it stands, his is not a policy that actually translates to governing in the real world.