30 April 2018

Zero hour for fossils

Global demand for fossil oil continues to rise despite heightened awareness of the consequences. What should we make of this? One thing is clear – we should not wait for oil consumption to stop by itself.

Over a decade ago, The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Former Vice President of the United States, Al Gore "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change".

The world carbon budget is the allocated amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted before the Earth’s atmosphere rises by 2 degrees Celsius. Despite clear evidence of climate change accelerating and significant losses in biodiversity all around the world, globally the consumption of oil products rose by a tremendous rate in 2017 in comparison to previous years.

Will we ever be free of oil?

By the time the carbon budget is reached, it will be difficult to actually do anything about it. I believe we will not run out of oil. Instead, we must choose to stop using it. That is the simple answer. In different forms, hydrocarbons will be available to use for potentially several hundreds of years. Oil will continue to be extracted from the reserves until the price of oil becomes so high that people are forced to find alternatives.

Crude oil, not just gas and diesel, will continue to be used for a long time. Transportation is expected to remain dependent on these fuels for decades. The transportation of large quantities of goods over great distances using electricity is still far away and for example cargo flights, the shipping industry, and heavy trucks will need liquid fuels for a long time still. Crude oil is of course also used as raw material for many products which are not burned, for example plastics.

Working together is key

It is not enough that one industry or one operator, a single nation, or one family makes a change. We all have to make a change. We cannot use electricity to pave roads or create oil-based products, such as mobile phones from it. Instead, we need to consider alternatives. For example, is there enough biomass on the planet to create an alternative to asphalt? Humankind is currently not yet able to understand the scale of just how much change is needed to combat climate change.

Spending our carbon budget

According to a recent article in the Guardian, at the current rate of consumption and production, we will spend the world's carbon budget in just 18 years. To be honest, this seems somewhat pessimistic. But at least if we don’t do anything we really might spend our carbon budget in just 18 years. 

As our consumption continues to grow, we are also producing more oil from the ground and that will increase our carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, we must focus on solutions that lower carbon emissions. Ethanol and renewable diesel, especially when produced from molecules outside the food chain like waste and residues, provide us with one solution.

It is difficult for people to accept that they have to change their own behavior and make different choices to those that they have made in the past. This is about human nature. Whether we reach the carbon budget in 18 or 108 years, reaching this limit will have caused the Earth’s atmosphere to rise by 2 degrees Celsius. We already know what this will mean; for example, extreme weather phenomena will become even more commonplace than we see today.

Shifting gears for sustainability

It is important for all of us to see what we could be doing differently to reduce our personal carbon footprint and make more sustainable decisions in our own lives.

The most effective way to make a change is to make informed decisions about our purchases, from plastic bags at the grocery store to flying long distances. If nothing changes, we will have to face the consequences. Taking long flights to tropical destinations is more affordable than ever, but few people stop to think about what this really means.

Airplanes emit hazardous particles and gases including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides. As air travel is growing at a massive rate, so have emissions from the sector skyrocketed.

The time to act is now

At Neste, we believe the time to take action is now. We must take a proactive approach towards building a more sustainable future for ourselves and our children by reducing humankind’s dependence on crude oil-based products and solutions.

It is our responsibility to secure a functional society, also during times of transition that may take a long time. Politicians, the EU, and decision-makers around the world are responsible for enabling the transition to a lower carbon future. Neste supports the change by proudly offering low-carbon solutions, such as renewable diesel.

For example, people driving diesel cars could help the environment simply by using products like Neste MY Renewable Diesel™ in their cars. This is something I do myself, significantly reducing the emissions of my vehicle. But that is just me. We need everyone onboard.

Lauri Kärnä
Lauri Kärnä
Lauri Kärnä, Senior Advisor