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Defending Italian Beaches From Oil Drilling Is Not Enough

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On April 17 we Italians will vote on a referendum which aims to hinder oil drilling near our coasts. The Italian government instead forces new domestic drilling for reducing oil imports. Simply opposing oil rigs before our door is short-sighted if we keep on burning more and more oil, provided that it comes from distant countries.

This is why a group of environmental, economic, and religious association calls to protest against the large international conference of oil companies for developing ocean drilling, which will take place in the southwest of France, in Pau, April 5 to 7 (MCEE - Marine, Construction and Engineering Deepwater Development).

According to the major world's organizations for the climate and for energy, 80 per cent of the known reserves of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) should be left in the ground if we want to reduce the chance that the average global temperature rises more than two degrees Celsius, well knowing that just the 0.8-degree increase in the last century probably did much damage).

Yet hundred billions dollars flow into investments -- which The Economist called "non-sense" (May 4, 2013), -- for developing and multiplying ocean drills, betting on the inefficacy of public policy climate.

Offshore rigs and drilling ships are a marvel of engineering. The most impressive reaches the seabed 3,000 metres deep.

Its cost is a few billion dollars, its revenue is predicted in the tens of billions -- or it could be the value of its local damage, in the event of an accident. This is called "venture capital," particularly attractive when revenues are private, and damage public.

This already happened in 2010 with the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Indeed, no one knows how to prevent an oil catastrophe 3,000 metres underwater.

Oil accidents are only one of the four damages caused by the fossil fuel business. However serious, this damage is local, relatively rare and often remediable. The three other damages instead are global and almost certain.

Damage number two, the worst, is the acceleration of global warming, with catastrophic consequences for the environment, billions of people and the economy itself. Damage number three is the threat to the global economy.

"Either governments are not serious about climate change or fossil fuel firms are overvalued," wrote The Economist.

According to some analysts, the world economy is threatened by a huge carbon bubble. If this eventually bursts, fossil fuel industries could rapidly lose value or risk bankruptcy, with dramatic consequences for investors who have entrusted to them trillions of dollars.

Carbon Tracker, a London financial think-tank, studies precisely the risk of this "carbon bubble" and advises institutional, ethical and other investors on how to divest from fossil fuels, before it's too late.

James Leaton of Carbon Tracker said: "The reason you get bubbles, is that everyone thinks they're the best analyst -- that they'll go to the edge of the cliff and then jump back when everyone else goes over."

The withdrawal from the fossil business of investors such as the Rockefeller Foundation (former oil barons) and the Gates Foundation indicates that the fossil fuel divestment movement is taken seriously.

Indeed, the carbon bubble could burst if the international community put in place what the COP 21 in Paris decided last year: acting to limit global warming to less thantwo degrees Celsius, and ideally to 1.5 degrees. But this would mean emitting into the atmosphere less than 570 Gt (gigatons, i.e. billion tonnes) of CO2.

This is what climatologists call carbon budget, the amount of CO2 that we can still spend while avoiding the worst climatic consequences.

If all the fossil fuel in the of fields of the mining companies (that is what determines their financial value) would be burned, they would emit about 2800 Gt of CO2.

More than three-quarters of these hydrocarbons are therefore "unburnable carbon," to be considered as stranded assets.

Finally the fourth damage related to the use of fossil fuels is societal: corruption and crime emerging in these days from certain Italian oil affairs are slight if compared to corruption, wars, coups, dictatorships, massacres, targeted assassinations (think of Enrico Mattei, founder of the state-owned oil company ENI) and other crimes related to part of the fossil business.

Yes, winning the Italian referendum on April 17 could hinder coastal drills around Italy. But we Italians should be aware that giving up our domestic fossil fuels means consuming more oil to move the ships that bring it from other continents.

Furthermore, some of this distant oil triggers wars and coups, such as in the Middle East and elsewhere, and causes environmental disaster and human devastation, as in Nigeria, Ecuador and elsewhere.

The best way to prevent these disasters is drastically reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, accelerating the transition to renewable energy, boosting energy efficiency and reducing (those who can) the material level of our lifestyles.

About 80 per cent of our commercial energy comes in fact from fossil fuels. Virtually every product and service we use (and some more intensely than others) depends on the direct or indirect use and waste of coal, oil and gas. Yes, we Italians cherish our beaches. But defending them from the oil drills definitely is not enough.

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