Fossil Fuel Gridlock

Exxon Mobil made more money each of the last three years than any company in history. In our political system, that buys them power to prevent change.
  • Transcript


Question: Are other countries adapting their energy use better than we are? 

Bill McKibbon: I mean almost every country is doing it better than the United States right now. We’re leading in nothing in this way. If you go to Germany you’ll find the largest installed solar capacity in the world even though it’s a pretty cloudy Wagnerian place. If you go to Denmark you’ll see a quarter of the power coming from the wind. You’ll see almost everybody hooked up to these combined heat and power plants that are very highly efficient. You know there is a lot of places across northern Europe and central Europe that are doing quite remarkable things. If you go to China you’ll see the largest installed renewable base in the world. You’ll see cities of millions of people where essentially everyone gets their hot water from solarthermal panels up on the roof. You’ll see the largest wind farm in the world. If you go to Abu Dhabi, where they’ve making lots of money on oil for a long time but realized that oil isn’t there forever, you’ll see the largest solar array on the planet. They’d like to make money in the future as well. 

Question: Why are we so behind? 

Bill McKibbon: We’re so behind for two reasons. One, we’re the most addicted to fossil fuel of any country and hence it’s hard for us to kind of imagine change. It seems too scary. For some reason the Europeans and others are just bolder in this way or more rational or something. But we’re also behind because this is the headquarters of the fossil fuel industry and they’ve used their enormous power to keep change from happening. ExxonMobil made more money each of the last three years than any company in the history of money. In our political system that buys them a lot of power to prevent change from happening and they’ve done it effectively. 

Question: Do you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? 

Bill McKibbon: In some ways I’ve sort of given up trying to figure out whether I’m an optimist or a pessimist. I just get in the morning and do my work and see what we can. Scientifically, one has to be more pessimistic. These changes are happening enormously quickly. That’s what this new book of mine I’m afraid is kind of first to really catalog. It’s a much darker scene even than we thought 20 years ago. Politically, though we haven’t yet accomplished anything, the last year has been good. This huge upswing of support for really means that for the first time we have a movement going to kind of press for the political change that we need. If we can make the movement large enough and powerful enough then I think we have some chance of changing the politics. But it’s going to be a close call at best whether we get the change we need in the time we need. Clearly it won’t come fast enough to prevent an enormous problem, that’s already underway. Hopefully it will come fast enough to prevent sort of ultimate trouble. 

Recorded on April 13, 2010