—Some exclusive content; spoiler alert
Review, news, opinion by Mathew Carr
Dec. 5-6, 2022 — The corrupt-yet-crucial crude-oil market is holding us all to ransom.
Steve Waygood, Chief Responsible Investment Officer at Aviva Investors, and others spoke Thursday after a screening in London of “After the Oil Machine. Can we Break Our Addiction?”
It’s a must-see film.
It beautifully and creatively sets out the history of the oil industry and how that sector still now in 2022 has a deep and strong hold over the global economy, nature and atmosphere. It shows how everything is really at risk and that’s no exaggeration.
The filmmakers impressively got many people to say surprising, frightening things about the industry and about climate change — comments that will probably change the way you think about the crisis, including those residing (or swimming) in emerging nations who probably can’t afford to watch even at the discounted rate below.
Think you know everything about that crisis, about energy, policy and finance? This film will make you realise you don’t.
In the dot-joining movie, Waygood explains that the world will know it’s progressing in its climate fight when crude oil prices crash (I’m boiling him down a bit here).
This moment has been delayed for 30 plus years and that’s in no small way because the oil market is officially rigged. OPEC+ met on the weekend and decided to underpin its previous decisions to corrupt the market and drive prices higher.
Brent crude fell more than 2% Monday after earlier rising more than that.
I took Waygood’s bait and asked him in the Q&A after the screening when will that moment finally come, given the Russia-Ukraine war is also importantly helping to hold up oil prices.
[Waygood was not necessarily speaking on behalf of Aviva Investors, by the way. See this link for professional investors.]
He said he still didn’t know when that moment would arrive. Some of his words in answer to my question and the questions of others in the theatre, were still very informative:
“When does it need to crash? Now,” he said.
“And how can it be made to be managed into a transition? Any economist will tell you we need to internalize the externalities of the industry. And we need to internalise them at source.
“And you can do that through carbon trading…Or you can do that through fiscal measures – tax and subsidy. You can do that through demand-sided interventions to change consumer awareness.
“But until and unless the real cost of carbon is paid by the oil and gas sector, the amount of capital that flows into them [the sectors] will not reflect that true cost to society.
[In slightly less jargonistic terms, what Waygood is saying here, I think, is that markets need to reflect the true cost of the damage being done to the climate, society and nature as the world keeps consuming oil (burning it) and not only that, as it continues to explore for and produce even more of the stuff. Unless and until the markets reflect that, capital will continue to be misallocated into the dirty industries.]
” [The measures] all require government action. We need governments that get this to get in charge and then be continually re-elected.
“We are leaving it incredibly late.
“But it would be an idiot who would sit here and say ‘I forecast the collapsing oil and gas price in the next few months,’ even though that’s what we need.“
On how policy change will take place and whether it will:
“This whole thing has to be government led and every time people lay the blame at one company, whether that is one fossil fuel company or one finance company, they are missing the bigger picture and they are letting off those in charge — that is, our elected representatives.
“It’s no good blaming banks for financing something that is entirely legal and profitable, or insurance companies for underwriting it, or investors for benefitting from it. You’ve got to stop it being legal.”
[Here, I reckon Waygood is in part setting out how much environmental advocacy is misdirected because it isn’t laser-focussed on government leaders, who have the power to change market rules and make things unlawful. The “just stop oil” folks that have interrupted life in Kent, England, for months with protests on key transport routes are arguably doing a disservice because they are putting climate action into disrepute — they are arguably lowering the inclination of inconvenienced voters to push their elected officials to do more. No one can just stop oil. Oil needs to be loved as it goes into runoff mode and gradually fades away because it is unprofitable or unlawful.]
Earlier in the film, Waygood had said the massive and complex finance industry isn’t functioning as well as many people think:
“Finance is quite complicated. And because it’s been functioning by and large, reasonably well, for so long, there’s been this paternalistic culture that’s enabled people to just say, okay, don’t worry, it’s all working.
“Whereas actually, it’s not.
“We need to now rapidly raise our collective understanding of banking, insurance and investment, particularly investment, and particularly where you own companies that are undermining the future that we wish to bequeath to our children,” Waygood said.
Governments are mixed up in the oil industry because they receive so much money from it. “That level of entanglement of economic activity meant that we didn’t simply stop the thing that needed to stop. Because in stopping that, all other things would stop, too.”
The base of the world economy needs to be shifted from fossil fuels, he said.
Aviva is calling for a Bretton Woods-type plan to be put together over the next two years to create a new system of economic order and international cooperation to save the climate and nature.
A meeting of about 40 countries in 1944 at Bretton Woods in the U.S. helped create the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and it developed a plan to allow countries to recover from the devastation of World War II.
“If we don’t deliver that [for the climate crisis], then civilization itself is at risk. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it is a fact,” Waygood said.
I spoke with a former climate minister and diplomat last month who said the U.S. won’t agree such a plan, even though it’s most to blame for the climate crisis. That’s because the current multilateral system, which it more-or-less controls, serves it so well.
David King, the U.K.’s former chief scientific advisor, also didn’t mince words in the film, speaking of an economic disaster “just around the corner.”
“A series of crises that will begin unfolding after mid century is going to mean the end of the global economy,” King said.
“I believe that what we do over the next five years — and the we in that sentence refers to humanity — will determine the future of humanity for the next millennium,” he said.
Sea levels are set to rise 24 feet, or seven meters. Rice production will collapse. Near whole nations including Bangladesh and Vietnam will flood. Three quarters of the world population won’t be able to live where they do now because midday temperatures will be too high for the human body to take . There’ll be 100-300 million climate refugees.
An environmentalist says in the film: “I think people will look back on this era of oil and just think about how ridiculous it was. How can you know about such a massive issue and still worry more about profit. It feels a bit surreal, in a way.”
How to see the film today (Tuesday)
You can view the film today (Tuesday). It’s being screened for the first time online. Here are the details plus trailer. And the great thing is that unlike the almost £20 quid I paid to see it last week, you can “pay what you can.” (At least £1.89)
CarrZee’s critique: The film would have been less depressing and alarming had it spent some more time on the climate action that really is taking place, such as work to boost the ability of the world’s forests, soils and oceans to absorb more CO2.
Overly Hopeful Chart
Indeed, regular readers of CarrZee.org won’t feel as gloomy and depressed as the people watching the movie.
I guess if the movie’s aim is to shame politicians into even more urgent action, it might work at the margin.
But if the target audience is teenagers and 20 somethings, it could spur even more irrational protests, such as those that want to “just stop oil.”
Kevin Anderson Says Far From ‘Progress’
Last week’s event notice
(Added Tweet on Dec. 7, earlier added additional comments from the film, oil price moves higher, then lower, multilateral attempts to solve the climate crisis by politicians.)
(Unedited, linked above)
This program will broadcast live December 6th at 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm GMT [London (UK) time]. You will not be able to pause or rewind. You cannot access the show once the broadcast ends.
With a special introduction to the film featuring a chat with George Monbiot, Guardian columnist and author of Regenesis.
Followed by a Q&A session with the film’s director Emma Davie and the contributors Tessa Khan (climate lawyer and campaigner) and Professor Kevin Anderson (formerly a petrochemical engineer, now a climate crisis expert and one of Greta Thunberg’s collaborators). The conversation is hosted by Terry Macalister (former Energy Editor of The Guardian), with our outreach coordinator Rachel Caplan managing the live chat and relaying your questions to the panel.
Oil has been an invisible machine at the core of our economy and society. It now faces an uncertain future as activists and investors demand change. Is this the end of oil?
By highlighting the complexities of how oil is embedded in our society – from high finance to cheap consumer goods – THE OIL MACHINE brings together a wide range of voices from oil company executives, economists, young activists, workers, scientists, and pension fund managers. It considers how this machine can be tamed, dismantled, or repurposed.
We have five to ten years to control our oil addiction, and yet the licensing of new oil fields continues in direct contradiction with the Paris Climate Agreement. This documentary looks at how the drama of global climate action is playing out in the fight over North Sea oil.
Oil companies are convinced that they can continue to keep drilling while keeping to Net Zero ambitions through adopting new technologies, such as carbon capture. But climate scientists are deeply sceptical of the Net Zero concept and the time it would take for these technologies to be effective.
The film reveals the hidden infrastructure of oil from the offshore rigs and the buried pipelines to its flow through the stock markets of London. As the North Sea industry struggles to meet the need to cut carbon emissions, oil workers see their livelihoods under threat, and investors seek to protect their assets.
Meanwhile a younger generation of climate activists are catalysed by the signs of impending chaos, and the very real threat of global sea level rises. THE OIL MACHINE explores the complexities of transitioning away from oil and gas as a society and considers how quickly we can do it.
- YEAR 2022
- RUNTIME 82 minutes
- LANGUAGE English
- COUNTRY United Kingdom
- PREMIERE Sheffield Doc Fest 2022
- RATING PG
- DIRECTOR Emma Davie
- PRODUCER Sonja Henrici
- CINEMATOGRAPHER Julian Schwanitz
- EDITOR Martin Kayser Landwehr
- MUSIC Alexandra Hamilton-Ayres