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Dumping the pump

Fully Charged’s Dan Caesar explores why the energy transition away from dirty combustion technologies is our best hope for reinvention
Petrol pump filling fuel nozzle in gas station. Fuel dispenser machine. Refuel fill up with petrol gasoline. Petrol industry and service. Red petrol fuel nozzle. Petroleum oil industry. Oil crisis.

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 08 March 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

We are firmly in the era of cleaner energy and transportation and the next few years will see a paradigm shift towards cleaner technologies.

This switch will have a profound effect, not only on how we live, work and travel, but on the fabric of society itself. 

The irony of these technologies – like wind, solar, batteries and electric vehicles – is that they were all invented in the 1800s, but humanity chose a different path.

Combustion has had societal benefits of course, but it has also had some serious side-effects, and air pollution and global warming have been known problems for decades.

Against that backdrop, now that we have indisputably better technologies they must be deployed as fast as possible – but fossil fuels are profoundly interwoven into our lives.

The spider’s web

This scene from Danny Boyle’s Trust, starring Donald Sutherland as petroleum magnate J. Paul Getty (talking to his grandson), sticks with me; the (imagined) dialogue puts into stark perspective precisely how we have constructed a world around fossil fuels.

J.P.G.: They still think oil is just stuff that makes their cars go.
Oil is everything. Everything.
You got up this morning and washed your hair.
The shampoo was derived from oil.
Your toothbrush is made entirely of oil-based plastic.
This jacket’s polyester. Made from ethylene.
Your sneakers: plastic tops, synthetic rubber soles.
All stuck together with an oil-based adhesive.
Cotton underpants? And they got to the store, how?
By donkey or diesel truck?
P.G. Jr: Damn.
J.P.G.: You try doing anything, or being anything, young man, without oil. It’s impossible.
P.G. Jr: Granddad?
J.P.G.: So, Sarah Getty, your great-grandmother.
This is her trust. I buy oil fields. The money from which I invest in shipping. 
Why pay someone else to transport your own oil?
The money from which I invest in refineries.
Why pay someone else to process your own oil?
The money from which I invest in gas stations.
Why pay someone else to pump your own gas?
The money from which I invest in hotels, to house my workforce. 
The money from which I invest back into the trust.
The money from which I invest in… Buying more oil fields. 
You see the beauty of it?
P.G. Jr: It’s like a spider’s web.
J.P.G.: Exactly. For the money spider that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. It’s a self-sustaining system that never pays a cent in tax because it never goes a cent into profit.
For the purposes of accounting, Getty Oil runs at a loss, my boy. At a loss. We’re so poor, we could get milk tokens from the goddamn British government.

Improved technologies

A decisive shift away from oil and gas will likely be the biggest single transfer of wealth in human history.

As such it’s easy to see why Big Oil would have us drill and burn indefinitely, and explains the dirty tactics that this incalculably large industrial complex will employ to delay, delay, delay.

So what benefits can we expect to see if we deploy, deploy, deploy instead?

Well, we might still be able to slow down the looming climate crisis, and we would certainly see the huge health benefits that come with ‘clearing the air’, but there’s much more to it than that.

Firstly, this is progress. These technologies are much better. Electric cars are a vast improvement on what has come before. Don’t believe me? Just try one.

Secondly, these technologies ‘connect’. There are efficiency and cost benefits of course – but imagine when your home can become a resilient and smart virtual power plant (VPP).

Energy generation, storage and shifting are here-and-now technologies, while most electric cars over the coming years will come equipped with vehicle-to-grid capability.

If the opportunity to ‘dump the petrol pump’ appeals, then think how liberating it will be to be on the grid, but no longer reliant on it.

But if tech doesn’t turn you on, there are other benefits, too.

Democratising energy

A huge percentage of the world’s wealth is concentrated in a vanishingly small number of people.

In fact, many of those who have profited from petroleum are so obscenely wealthy, the value of their estates are opaque or even undisclosed.

The digitisation of the world offers us the opportunity to literally break down the existing systems that society is built around into ‘smaller bits’.

Generating energy locally on your property, with solar photovoltaics (electricity) or solar thermal (heat), moves value away from institutions and towards individuals.

And then there’s the small matter of equity; it is true that new technologies normally come at a premium, and it takes a little time for mass adoption to drive costs down.

However, these technologies needn’t necessarily be for those who are lucky enough to have larger disposable incomes.

Electric car sharing, micro-mobility, heat-as-a-service and community power are but a few of the app-enabled benefits that will make these technologies increasingly accessible.

But imagine the transformative effect that solar and batteries could have for settlements in the sub-continent that use kerosene, for example. 

These communities can leapfrog oil and gas entirely. Simply stated, these technologies are much better, more democratic and more inclusive, too.

It could certainly be argued that the world has seemed a little darker of late, but if we can unhook ourselves from our unholy alliance with fossil fuels, it’s pretty clear that a brighter future is still entirely possible – and in fact very much within our reach.

The Fully Charged SHOW has a global audience on YouTube and in 2023 will also have a second channel dedicated to Home Energy, six LIVE events around the world and an international Awards event. Click here to discover more.

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