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On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Jarmo, when you mention "CCS" I'm assuming you mean Carbon Capture and Storage. In my opinion, injecting CO2 into salt caverns, sequestering it in building materials, etc. is not practical for various reasons, not the least of which is the potential for fraud. Redirecting CO2 back to the atmosphere and collecting environmental funds to do so would be virtually impossible to detect.

Carbon capture is practical, and the possibility of using ambient air as a carbon source has been examined by several studies, see

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es702607w

and

http://goo.gl/yDXjxk

They suggest the process is potentially feasible, but I agree with you that capture from coal/natural gas generation facilities would be more productive and a necessary first step.

The technological positive, as I'm sure you're aware, is the energy potential contained in existing uranium and thorium deposits is for practical purposes limitless. The main obstacles are societal ones based on misperceptions not only about the safety of nuclear power but how bad things really are on the climate front. They're huge obstacles. But I find cynicism to be non-constructive, and instead prefer to believe the human race is capable of forsaking short-term gain to face this problem head-on.

April 20, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Robert, are you denying the existence of a Global Climate Science Communications Plan, and that Randy Randol of Exxon-Mobil helped to craft messaging "to confuse the public about the state of the science of global warming"?

Are you denying the following is true:

The oil industry, through its major lobby group the Western States Petroleum Association, is brought to task for financing campaigns to kill utility efforts to build public car charging stations. Through astroturfing groups like "Californians Against Utility Abuse" they posed as consumers instead of the industry interests they actually represented. Mobil and other oil companies are also shown to be advertising directly against electric cars in national publications, even when electric cars seem little to do with their core business.

If not, do you agree this might stifle innovation?

Both of these are relevant to the credibility of oil companies' public communications.

April 19, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Jarmo, that's a lot of nuclear, isn't it? Yet in the 1980s, nuclear plants were being built at the rate of one per week, so we could theoretically construct the requisite generation in 15-20 years. This is assuming standardized designs won't facilitate faster construction. Of all the options we have, in my opinion, it's the most likely to allow us to gain control of climate change.

You misinterpreted my comment - nuclear-to-fuels would be most beneficial by capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere, levels of which are already too high. We can't afford to burn more fossil fuels, and we're probably in agreement that CCS is impractical for a number of reasons.

April 19, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Robert, transgressions of the oil industry are well-documented and many. Yet instead of responding to the examples I've provided, you dismiss them as "cartoon versions" - while your version of "how they really think" is at odds with their actions. Perhaps working at one has inspired you with blinding devotion. But the knowledge that they've been spending $millions trying to suppress scientific truths about climate change should give anyone pause as to the sincerity of their motives.

I would not be stunned at learning oil companies work on non-oil related stuff. In fact, it rather confirms my point: they're realizing that the Age of Oil is coming to an end and they need to change course to maintain profitability. Based on their actions - not their public relations - they've adopted a two-pronged strategy:

1) Find another profit model which requires the least investment while yielding maximum results. Investing in biofuels or hydrogen, for example, both keep their significant dispensing infrastructure intact. While they result in even more atmospheric carbon than burning gasoline, a coordinated and deceptive marketing campaign can be orchestrated to make them appear "green".

2) Allocate $millions toward lobbying against carbon taxes, throwing stones at climate science and electric cars, etc.; in essence, "kill the messenger". It's not "all they do", it's a significant part of what they do. It's also abhorrent, anti-competitive, and should be illegal (if it's not already).

I can lay the facts before you; if you refuse to acknowledge them the value of further discussion on this topic is limited.

April 19, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Robert, more accurately I think oil companies figure there is a near-100% chance they can use $billions in resources to stifle innovation of anything competitive, through varied means of varying legality.

They have a long history of doing so, from the National City Lines streetcar scandal of the 1930s, to anti-EV ads in the 1990s, to patent encumbrance of large-format EV batteries. People are getting a bit wise to - and fed up with - this M.O., which is perhaps what's motivating Exxon-Mobil to bolster their image with silly commercials about gasoline-powered cellphones.

Most tellingly, in the last decade the corporation has donated more than $20 million to climate change skeptic organizations in an attempt to sow doubt - which ended up as a complete waste of money. After antics like this, what gives you confidence their assessment of stranded reserves is a genuine one?

April 18, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Jarmo, Exxon-Mobil's public relations department would be fired en masse if "low-carbon future" messaging appeared in their brochures. It's advertising. Would you expect something like, "Our core business might be in jeopardy, it's been a nice ride?"

You assume that without fossil fuels transportation is optionless save for electricity and electrochemical storage, ignoring the immense potential of nuclear-to-fuels. The process synthesizes hydrocarbons from water and atmospheric CO2 - in effect, "reverse engineering" gasoline and other fuels.  It could eliminate - entirely - the need for fossil fuels and the deleterious effects on the climate they produce, and dominate energy in coming decades.

Stranded oil will be the least concern for the company which takes a lead in this promising technology.

April 18, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Jarmo, 3% may not seem like a lot, but there are a lot of oil companies. At 5.3 million bbl/day, Exxon-Mobil is the world's fourth-largest oil company.

April 17, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Robert, use whatever label you like, but when you write

So just keep in mind that if you want to press ExxonMobil to leave their oil in the ground, you are on thin ice when it comes to arguing why it’s then OK for you to use the oil they produce.

you're clearly calling out hypocrisy.

To lay all of the fault at feet of consumers is equally fallacious; drug dealers are given sentences in excess of users because as a society we've judged that the existence of a market for a good or service does not provide equal moral justification for selling it.

Of course, both buying and selling petroleum products are legal. But that leads to the assumption that legal justification equates to moral, with our moral compass defined by whatever country we're in. Based on actions of Chevron in Ecuador, Shell in Nigeria, etc. one might be tempted to think oil companies have adopted this philosophy, but what's more likely is they've simply adopted the most expedient route to making money - abiding by local laws when not doing so would be problematic.

Exxon-Mobil may be right that there's a reasonable likelihood that their reserves won't be stranded. They're betting on their profit margin against the environment, which is a fairly gruesome way to make a living (fortunately, it's not mine). I believe - and hope - they're wrong.

April 17, 2014    View Comment    

On How Do You Justify Consuming ExxonMobil's Oil?

Robert, I'm not sure I can bring myself to accept the guilt the title your article implies I should. I say this without for a moment denying that I use oil and the thousands of other products which are derived from it. But blame - from all quarters - is a distraction in how we must go about resolving the quandary in which climate change has put us. Blame assumes a helpless dependency on both the part of individuals and corporations:

So just keep in mind that if you want to press ExxonMobil to leave their oil in the ground, you are on thin ice when it comes to arguing why it’s then OK for you to use the oil they produce. If you use oil, you are part of the reason ExxonMobil continues to profit from producing the oil. If you really want them to leave their oil in the ground, convince everyone to stop using it, and do so yourself. Then the asset will be stranded. But you aren’t going to have much luck stranding the asset when demand continues to grow. Every time you justify your oil consumption, ExxonMobil justifies producing more oil.

All individuals and organizations act in their own best interests. Who can blame them? Individuals typically want to improve their standard of living; corporations are concerned with profit, on which "stranded" assets can have a considerable impact. In the last thirty years we've nonetheless been forced to reëxamine the scope of those interests - whether we're going to elevate concerns about long-lasting and significant harm to the environment above those about our careers, about our retirements, our balance sheets, the next election cycle.

The fundamental difference is that while individuals are capable of surviving without oil, corporations cannot survive without profit. Exxon-Mobil is invested in oil to the extent that to forsake it for concerns about the environment would be suicidal. It's not that Exxon-Mobil doesn't care about the environment, it's that it can't care about the environment. That's why we must look to government to prescribe us the bitter pills which ultimately improve the quality of life for us and future generations.

So I'll politely excuse myself from any charges of hypocrisy by admitting my share of culpability with Exxon-Mobil - while vigorously supporting public policy which makes fossil fuels for energy expensive enough to put an end to the entire dirty business.

April 17, 2014    View Comment    

On Facing the Climate Crisis Without Hysteria

Steven, your first-world viewpoint is an interesting one. You claim the issue "we" face is not one of survival, when 150,000 deaths annually are already attributable to the effects of climate change. You bemoan possible effects on sunbathing and skiing, activities which are unknown to all but a tiny percentage of the planet's occupants.  You attempt to enlist the IPCC in support of your view that

What the media reports fail to mention is that deliberately slowing down the rate of economic growth to avert climate change could have similar, if not greater, negative health, displacement and other violent impacts.

by quoting a section of the report which never acknowledges that point. And ultimately, you put your faith in free-market capitalism to clean up after itself - blissfully indifferent to the fact it would be the first time in history that's actually happened.

The theory that all of the Earth's inhabitants are faced with an immense environmental tragedy, with ramifications on a geologic time scale, is supported by 97% of the world's science community. If you choose to join the outlier 3% who don't, that's certainly your prerogative. But the notion that

They [1,729 expert and government reviewers] know they cannot predict the future. No one can.

is nonsense. The future is predicted in countless ways and disciplines every day, with varying degrees of accuracy, and doing so is invaluable. This is especially true with climate change, given the lead time required for any prescriptive changes to bear fruit.

It's unfortunate you make your readers wait to the end of your article for this ridiculous pronouncement; leading with it might warn them of the ideological trash which follows.

April 16, 2014    View Comment    

On Can Nuclear Power and Renewable Energy Learn to Get Along?

Engineeer- Poet, your analysis appears to be sound, but I doubt that grid-scale storage will be economical before the engineering and materials aspects of durable, quick-ramping nuclear are worked out.

Even if storage is comparably-priced, it's another system and another level of complexity which is best avoided.

April 16, 2014    View Comment    

On How Big Is The World's Biggest Solar Farm?

Clayton, the quantity of neodymium isn't at issue; ironically, it's the radioactive thorium which usually accompanies it and ends up in water supplies (the thorium contains far more energy than the neodymium will ever deliver via wind, but that's another discussion). But the fact is that wind energy uses Chinese neodymium exclusively because it's cheap. How much would responsible mining practices, now standard in the uranium industry, raise the price of wind energy?

With regards to solar I've posted elsewhere in this thread how a uranium mine roughly the same size will deliver as much power as Ivanpah for almost 6,000 years, or about 5,950 years after Ivanpah's panels have crumbled to cadmium-laced dust (which you have yet to respond to). So yes, I am quite certain, and I can't say for sure why no one has performed a rigorous study on the matter. Perhaps it's because variables can be freely gamed to generate desired results, so it's pointless.

For example, I can't tell if  the study you're referring to even takes into account neodymium mining or the lax Chinese processes used to extract it, with have resulted in huge toxic waste dumps like Baotou. Has it?

April 15, 2014    View Comment