WHY CAN’T WE GIVE UP FOSSIL FUELS?- ASK A SMOKER!
George Marshall- August 2001
1. Climate change is a direct result of our addiction to fossil fuels. We cannot imagine life without fossil fuels. If our supply is cut off we "brown out" or even "black out"
2. We suspend all moral standards to get a fix. We are prepared to carve up conservation areas, overrule all basic human rights, and even carpet bomb countries to maintain the flow of fuel.
3. And, like all addicts, we have to keep increasing the dose. We used to need a few watts but now we buy it by the kilo, the mega, the giga. Every year we need more just to get the same hit.
4. Now the doctors tell us that our addiction will kill us- we've got to stop. Every year the amount and strength of the scientific data increases to prove that continued use of fossil fuels will be fatal.
5. Sounds incredibly stupid- doesn't it? Who would be so stupid as to keep doing something that they know will kill them? An addict of course! In real life, there are millions of people, including many of us who, every day, ignore the research of thousands of scientists and do something that will destroy us. We're called smokers
6. So, if you can imagine a bunch of typical nico-addicts realising that they had a problem but refusing to admit to their addiction you get a pretty close approximation of what happened when the rich countries came together, starting the late 1980's, to face up to climate change.
7. First of all they refused to believe it, and eagerly held onto any argument that climate change didn’t exist. These arguments were fed to them by fake scientists paid by the "dealers"- oil companies mostly. Similarly for years tobacco companies hired bogus scientists to argue that cigarettes weren't addictive or dangerous.
8. They also said that they needed more information before they could believe that something so "enjoyable" and "necessary" was really bad for them.
9. Finally they were forced to admit that they had a problem. Their solution to climate change was that old smoker's fall back- "cutting down a bit". The 1997 Kyoto Protocol called on the rich countries to "cut back" their emissions by an average of 5.3%. That's like a 20 a day smoker cutting out one cigarette a day.
10. And, as all smokers know, that last cigarette doesn't just sit in the box until tomorrow- it positively calls out to be smoked- which is exactly what has happened since Kyoto. Not one country has truly dealt with its underlying demand/addiction.
11. The UK is one of the few countries to meet its Kyoto agreement- but only because electricity generation has been switched from coal to gas. This is exactly like smokers who refuse to smoke less and simply switch to low tar brands.
12. When cutting down fails, the other classic tactic all smokers adopt to avoid giving up is.... scrounging off their mates. That way they can believe that because they aren't buying the cigarettes they are actually cutting down.
13. The Kyoto protocol contains numerous "flexible mechanisms" designed specifically for "scrounging off your mates" by transferring carbon credits between countries. "Joint Implementation" allows rich countries to transfer carbon credits. In particular this means buying credits off Russia, whose economy has collapsed since 1990 and is therefore way under its 1990 emissions.
14. The "Clean Development Mechanism" allows countries to claim carbon credits from investing in emissions reductions in developing countries. There is no real smoking analogy to this- it's like helping someone to cut down and then smoking the cigarettes they don't need any more.
15. Of course even the best mates won't let you scrounge cigarettes for long for free. Smokers fall back on the bizarre practice of buying their mates the tobacco in return for helping them smoke it. The reasoning gets confused here, but the basic logic is that they aren't really smoking because they're not buying the tobacco for themselves (only for their mate, who, by this argument, is the one who really has the problem!) I know, I've done it loads of times. An alternative version is going up to strangers in pubs and asing if you can buy a cigarette.
15. Just so in the Kyoto agreement- which argues for a trade in carbon credits, buying the carbon rights off other countries. It all comes to the same thing- paying someone else to avoid doing something yourself.
16. And then there's Clause 3.4. This allows countries to offset changes in their domestic forests and soils against their emission reductions. The argument is that countries with lots of growing forests shouldn't need to cut back so much as their forests are already soaking up so much carbon.
17. I used to have a mate who argued that he could smoke more than me with no additional health risk because he had bigger lungs. This is a literal analogy to Clause 3.4. But the spirit of Clause 3.4 is closer to the kind of denial that argues "I'm OK because I'm not the type who gets the lung cancer- that’s the fat ones, the lazy ones, the unfit ones- nothing like me". All lies, of course.
18. And then there's old Uncle Jack who smoked 90 a day and never had a sick day all his life and lived to 100. All smokers have these kinds of role models. There's a lot of this attitude around the climate negotiations- the bogus science that argues that there's no relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and climate (you see- it's all in your genes) and the US which bullishly announces that high energy consumption is part of the US's way of life, that that's what's made the US the strong and vibrant leader of the free world and it sees no reason for changing that now (smoking’s never done me any harm - made me the man I am today!)
12. As if in proof of its immortality, last year in the US Sports Utility Vehicles outsold all other types and sizes of car combined. The entire US population is upgrading to driving tanks which get 12 miles to the gallon. It's like upgrading to Capstan Full Strength for the extra flavour. Smells like addiction to me.
13. So that's the Kyoto Protocol: cut down a bit, persude the Chinese to cut back a bit and burn theirs for them, and scrounge remourselessly off the Russians. And people with big forests can burn more than anyone else.
14. And then in March 2001, George W Bush almost comes clean - cutting back is unworkable, unfair and impossibly expensive. Not quite a full admission of addiction but something very close to it- like those sad old blokes one meets who are dying of emphysema but still can’t give up.
15. The solutions, then, are the same as we apply to smoking- no cutting down, no evasion, just stop! Grit your teeth and get on with it. And let’s not have any of those evasive ways of getting those fossil fuels by another means- pumping CO2 underground, splitting hydrogen from gas-they are the nicotine patches of the carbon addiction.
16. We need people to renounce their addiction, cut out the fossil from their lives, and work for a future where we can knock angrily on the window of a car and say "excuse me, you can’t smoke here- this is a fossil free zone!"