By William D. Cohan
A hydraulic fracturing operation near Mead, Colorado (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
A growing and powerful Greek chorus—composed of activists, environmentalists, billionaires, former Goldman Sachs partners, former Goldman Sachs partners who are also former Treasury secretaries, and a former vice president of the United States—has been sounding an urgent message to the world: Big Oil companies cannot, and must not, sell the vast fossil-fuel reserves they have spent billions of dollars finding, digging up and refining. These voices warn that if ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell are allowed to burn all their carbon, the planet’s temperature will rise beyond the 2-degrees-Celsius threshold that, a consensus of scientists holds, is the tipping point to environmental Armageddon. In economic terms, this means we can have either a safe planet or an ExxonMobil worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but we can’t have both. Nothing less than Earth’s future is at stake.
In June, that chorus seemed to find an important ally: President Obama. In an interview on Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously, Obama told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman that Big Oil must leave two-thirds of its fossil fuel in the ground. “We’re not going to be able to burn it all,” Obama said.