The moral case for destroying fossil fuel infrastructure

Good News Notes:

Take France, whose president poses as the most enlightened climate diplomat. The largest private company headquartered in that nation, Total, will this year commence construction of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, slated to be the longest in the world, cross 230 rivers, bisect 12 forest reserves and drive 100,000 people from their land: all to carry even more crude oil to the world-economy for burning. Macron backs the pipeline as an amazing opportunity to increase ‘French economic presence’ in the region.

Or take the US, where Biden is surpassing his predecessor in generosity to fossil fuel companies, showering them with drilling licensesat a pace not seen since George W Bush. Two dozen fossil fuel projects – new pipelines, new gas terminals – underway in that country would alone cause emissions equal to 404 coal-fired power-plants.

As for the UK government, it remains committed to ‘maximising economic recovery’ of oil and gas in the North Sea – pumping out as much of it as possible, that is. Germany expands its autobahn and coal mines. ExxonMobil barrels on with a high-risk off-shore drilling project in a very delicate marine ecosystem in Guyana. Between 2020 and 2022, Shell will have put 21 new major oil and gas projects online.

Overall, the production of fossil fuels needs to be brought down to zero as fast as humanely possible, but in the real world, producers are planning to increase extractionas if there is no tomorrow. One recent papershows that the bulk of all known reserves must be left in the ground for there to be at least a slim chance of avoiding more than 1.5C degrees of warming; to be more exact, by 2050, some 90% of all the coal would have to remain untouched, 60% of the oil, 60% of the gas, 99% of the unconventional oil.

But these are, the researchers stress, likely to be underestimates, since the modelling is based on a 50% chance of meeting the 1.5C degrees target and does not include feedback mechanisms. If the chance is raised to 70 or 80% and the recursive loops of a climate system breakdown – notably forest fires – were accounted for, even more would have to stay underground: nearly all fossil fuels, starting about tomorrow. By its very nature, fossil capital cannot countenance such a limit. Compulsively, uninhibitedly, it instead digs around for more and more to extract and then some more.

For every day that passes, this conclusion receives further confirmation: the ruling classes of this world are constitutionally incapable of responding to the catastrophe in any other way than by expediting it. Unfortunately, COP26 did not produce any compelling reasons to revise that conclusion. Less than a week after the end of the summit, the Biden administration held thelargest federal offshore drilling auction in US history.

There is little to suggest that any other government signing the Glasgow Pact will behave differently.

So what do we do?

We could destroy the machines that destroy this planet. If someone has planted a time bomb in your home, you are entitled to dismantle it. More to the point, if someone has placed an incendiary device inside the high-rise building where you live, and if the foundations are already on fire and people are dying in the cellars, then many would believe that you have an obligation to put the device out of action.

This is the moral case which, I would argue, justifies destroying fossil fuel property. That is completely separate from harming human bodies, for which there is no moral case.

And this particular moral case for direct action is, I believe, overwhelmingly strong, if the realities of the climate catastrophe are recognised. On that premise, how could the physical integrity of fossil fuel property possibly be given precedence? Boris Johnson recently made what might generously be interpreted as an attempt to do so, when he defended the Cambo oilfield, one in the endless series of fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructure of the kind we just can’t live with:“we can’t just tear up contracts”, he said.

In this view, a contract with an entrepreneur for augmenting the device sending the flames ever higher must be honoured. It takes priority over any other concern. Just why it should have that sanctity, however, seems to me exceedingly difficult to tell….”

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