“Realists” argue that climate plans need to accommodate oil and gas, but that only perpetuates the climate crisis
Toward the end of 2022, I was a panelist at a session on climate change held by a major scientific society. Near the end of the session, a prominent scientist declared that we needed to be “realistic”: oil and gas weren’t going away anytime soon, and we had to accept that as we attempted to solve our climate crisis.
The oil and gas industry makes this argument all the time, of course, but lately I’ve heard it from scientists such as the person at that meeting. Even some environmentalists make it when they have accepted the idea that natural gas needs to be a “bridge fuel.” But carbon pollution from burning oil and gas (and coal)—along with deforestation and animal agriculture—is the cause of the climate crisis. Is it realistic to think you can solve a problem while continuing to do the very thing that caused it?
Some years ago I gave a college commencement address entitled “Don’t Be Realistic.” To the graduating students in front of me, I said that pleas for “realism” are often used to discourage those who think the world can be a different place. The people making them want to justify the status quo and deflate the ambitions of those among us who would be agents of change. The argument for realism in dealing with climate change is one of those calls for inaction. It is an excuse to resist change.