By Antoin McDermott
Carbon emissions released from the fossil fuels we use are a leading cause of the global temperature rise causing climate change.
Climate change is already causing devastation across the globe, with escalating storms, floods and drought hitting the most vulnerable communities.
80% of known fossil fuels reserves must stay in the ground if we are to have a chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change.
So we need to know how we can quit these fossil fuels that we are addicted to.
Here are some of the main myths surrounding fossil fuels that are slowing our transition away from them...
Myth 1: We need fossil fuels or civilization will collapse. We all use them and we can’t just stop using them.
Although we can transition to a world of 100% renewables and zero carbon, we do need fossil fuels today for society to function and to fuel the transition; however, our reliance on them needs to decrease dramatically and soon.
This is not happening. Fossil fuel consumption is increasing. The increase in consumption of fossil fuels was 2.6 times the increase in renewables in 2015.
Even though we know we can only burn one fifth of fossil fuel reserves, fossil fuel companies are still exploring for more.
One of the best ways to stop this is to cease investing in the companies that want to increase fossil fuel use in order to make money.
When massive investments are made in fossil fuel companies, they receive large subsidies from governments, and they have powerful lobbyers, it makes it difficult for alternatives to become more widely available and competitive.
A world free from fossil fuel use will only come about when fossil fuel companies have less power.
‘Divestment’ is one way to take that power away.
Myth 2. Moving my investments out of fossil fuels won’t really have any effect. Others will invest in the fossil fuels if I don’t.
It’s true that others could invest in the fossil fuels shares you divest from, but, if divestment spreads, less will do so.
More than 500 institutions, with a value of over $3 trillion, have already committed to divest from fossil fuels within five years.
As more and more people and institutions divest it creates a stigma around fossil fuel companies.
It undermines their influence and makes it more difficult for governments to justify their subsidies.
It also highlights the fact that fossil fuels are increasingly a bad and risky investment.
Both, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, and the head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, have recently both warned of this.
Divestment is therefore a very effective way of fighting climate change and reducing risk in investments.
Myth 3. It's better to use the power of being a shareholder to change the fossil fuel companies.
It would be very difficult to convince a fossil fuel company to effectively put itself out of business by not selling its product.
The renowned British environmentalist, Jonathan Porritt, tried to engage with fossil fuels companies for years and found that it was a waste of time.
Anything that helps fossil fuel companies reduce their sale of fossil fuels is worth attempting, but divestment from the companies themselves is much more effective.
Myth 4. There are a lot of jobs in fossil fuels, it wouldn’t be fair to get rid of these.
Transitioning to renewable energy will create a large number of new jobs.
The trade union Sustainlabour predicts that Europe alone could gain 6.1 million new jobs by 2050 from going 100% renewable.
8 million people were employed in the renewable sector across the globe last year.
While research claims we could create 100,000 jobs in Ireland by transitioning to 100% renewables.
There has also been considerable employment in developing countries. This is not to say that jobs in the fossil fuel industries would not be lost.
Therefore, it is vital that the right approach is taken to ensure the transition is as smooth and as just as possible.
Much of the technical and managerial work that is needed for the fossil fuel industries are similar to that needed for renewables.
Reskilling and retraining programmes are also essential. The key would be to start making this transition now so that the right time is given for this to happen. There also needs to be more jobs made available in renewables. Investing in renewables and not fossil fuel companies can allow this to happen.
Myth 5. Fossil fuels are needed by developing countries to develop.
The transition away from fossil fuels must be a just transition domestically and globally and there cannot be unintended impacts on the rights and resilience of vulnerable communities.
Allowing developing countries as much of the remaining ‘carbon budget’ as possible and the means to transition to renewables, in order to enable their development, is central to climate justice.
The citizens of developing countries with fossil fuel reserves seldom benefit from the extraction and sales of these fossil fuels. Fossil fuel investments have not delivered access to energy for the people living with extreme poverty.
The impact that climate change is having on the rights and dignity of women and men living in poverty is what has brought Trócaire to the issue of fossil fuels.
You can also talk to your financial provider to see what fossil-free investment options are available for you. If there are no options available, ask them to make sensible fossil-free investments available now.