Simple answers to some basic questions.
1- What is fossil fuel?
Around 250-360 million years ago, there was 20 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (~7000 ppm) than today. When giant plants died at the end of this period, they formed a thick residue layer. This layer underwent transformations under high temperature and pressure in an anaerobic environment and fossilized. Similarly, algae and plankton residue also fossilized at the seabed. These fossils became an energy source due to the carbon in the bodies of these photosynthesizing living-beings. Dug up and burned, “hydrocarbons”, as we hear in the news, are the “innocent” name of these fossils. The most common types of them are coal, oil and fossil (un)natural gas. And these have become the main energy source of the capitalist system after the industrial revolution in the 19th century.
2- Can’t we use fossil fuels until they run out?
No. Our knowledge of how much fossil fuel remains underground changes after each new reserve discovery. It can be calculated how long the known reserves can be used according to their current usage amounts. Approximately 15 billion tons of coal is burned annually in the world and this increases by 2-3% every year. Accordingly, the lifetime of coal is about 60 years. The same calculation predicts 40 years for oil and 60 years for fossil gas. When “the reserves that are not extracted today because they are not economical” are added to these, these lifetimes may extend for centuries. However, using all these fossil fuels at this speed for years means releasing the carbon stored in them into the atmosphere as it was millions of years ago and completely changing the atmosphere and climate. In other words, it means the loss of an atmosphere in which living beings (including us) that have adapted to these conditions can live. So, we won’t have a chance to dry them out.
3- What's the problem with fossil fuels?
Some of the sun rays are reflected from the Earth’s surface and kept by some gases in the atmosphere, causing what is called the greenhouse effect. And these gases are called greenhouse gases. The presence of these gases at a certain amount ensures a stable, habitable temperature on the Earth. As a result of the combustion process, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane are formed by the carbon in the structure of fossil fuels, and mixes with the air. Fossil fuel-based greenhouse gases that have been accumulating in the atmosphere since the 1850s and especially very rapidly since the 1970s caused excessive greenhouse effect, thus “global heating”. The average annual temperature on the earth's surface is ~1.3 °C warmer today compared to the 1850s. If this warming continues, a collapsed social order dominated by extreme climate disasters, hunger, drought, migration and wars is inevitable as well as many parts of the World will become uninhabitable and the vast majority of living species will go extinct. Moreover, throughout the process of extracting, processing, transporting and burning, fossil fuels damage ecosystems. Mining leads to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, displacement of people; its processing and transportation leads to gas leaks, the construction of huge infrastructures and massive energy consumption; plastic, a by-product, affects the health of living beings in the world's most remote ecosystems today as microplastics.
4- Why are fossil fuels needed?
Throughout history, societies have established a relationship with nature like other species in nature, for their nutrition, heating, shelter and all other basic needs. They have organized this relationship at a social scale as production activities and have benefited from various energy resources. Under capitalism, fossil fuels have roughly 150-year history of being the main energy source of social production. The reason why fossil fuels are needed so much is simply that the competing capitals have to grow continuously to maintain their profit rates. That is why their usage has increased 8 times since 1950 and now meet 85% of the primary energy needs in the world. As the purpose of production shifted from meeting the social need to the reproduction of capital itself, fossil fuels gave capital a freedom of space and time that was not provided by previous energy resources. In other words, 54% of the primary energy spent in industry, 26% in transportation and 7% in commercial activities is needed for the capitalist mode of production to continue the 24/7 commodity production and to shape the lives and social needs of the people in these relations of production accordingly.
5- Is it scientifically certain that the climate crisis is caused by greenhouse gases?
Yes. Ecological and climatic instability periods, in which the vast majority of species went extinct, had happened 5 times before. A volcanic eruption, a meteor strike, giant wildfires, or earthquakes pushed the planetary ecosystem in a particular ecological balance into an imbalance. However, these were processes that spanned thousands of years. What is happening today is a process of extinction incomparably faster than the previous ones. All climatologists argue as a scientific certainty that the current climate crisis is caused by the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the positive feedback mechanisms caused by the crisis. The catastrophic upheaval of the planetary ecosystem will occur as some critical thresholds are exceeded irreversibly. The acidification of the oceans, the melting of glaciers and the loss of biodiversity are some of these thresholds. Since the excessive greenhouse gases caused by the capitalist mode of production are higher than the rate of regeneration of nature, the current climate crisis is driving us towards exceeding these thresholds.
6- What will the energy need be? How do we keep warm? What about the gas we burn to cook?
We cannot stop fossil fuels right now and all of a sudden. Today, we have no other choice but to use fossil fuel, the energy source of capitalism, to warm up, cook our food and light up. But the main problem is that fossil fuels are not used to meet basic social needs. How social life is organized, how big a city we live in, what kind of house we live in, what we eat, how much we travel, which devices we use, everything is designed according to the functioning of this profit-driven system. Consider the lighting, heating-cooling systems in giant shopping malls. All those disposable products, food that goes to waste. What is desirable for capitalism is that the entire production and reproduction process gets increasingly faster so that more profit is obtained. This is what is called the energy need. Since energy itself becomes a product (commodity), the more it is spent, the more profit those who have seized energy systems will make. The current energy supply is sufficient for needs such as heating, cooking and transportation. In other words, we need not to use new fossil fuels, but to use the existing energy in a planned way, and while doing this, we need to rapidly eliminate fossil fuels step by step.
7- Fossil gas causes less greenhouse gases. Is it not preferable to coal and oil?
No, it should not be preferred. Fossil gas, which is preferred especially for heating, transportation and lighting, has been presented as a kind of “new generation fossil fuel” in response to the increasing public reaction against oil and coal in recent years. Fossil gas is as pollutant as all other fossil fuels, it does not slow down the climate crisis. Although it is true that it causes less carbon dioxide emissions compared to oil and coal, gas leaks during extraction and transportation of fossil gas are generally not taken into account in this comparison. Fossil gas consists of 70-90% methane, and the leaked methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It is because of the conditions in the energy market that it often finds a place in distracting and deceptive energy policies. In order not to exceed critical thresholds in the climate crisis, almost 70% of all known fossil fuel reserves must be left underground, including fossil gas.
8- Can renewable energy completely replace fossil fuels?
Both yes and no. But this alone is not enough for us to solve the problems related to the climate crisis. However, an actually ecological energy transition can be achieved under a different mode of production. Under the capitalist mode of production, they do not replace fossil fuels, but rather supplement them, and are particularly part of displacement of people, deforestation and natural destruction. While economic and political exploitation relations between countries allow “developed” countries to shift to renewable energy more rapidly, “developing” countries, which become the source of the raw materials of this transition, mostly face the plunder of nature and exploitation of labor. Although governments developed greenhouse gas reduction plans by reducing fossil fuel use with agreements such as Kyoto and Paris, they soon became a deceptive distraction covering the priority of profit. Renewable energy gets serious attention as an “investment” issue mostly due to its comparable cost with the fossil fuels. However, as fossil fuels get cheaper with every new reserve found, even this dormant transition is interrupted. While the share of renewable energy sources in electricity generation increased to 26% in the world in 2020, it is 10% in heating and cooling and 3% in transportation. So there is a long way to go.
9- How much fossil gas is there in the Black Sea? Is it enough to make Turkey an energy exporter?
It was first announced about 320 billion m3. Now it has been updated to 405 billion m3 with the latest statement of Erdoğan. However, the amount of fossil gas in the Black Sea was announced before the technical feasibility study was completed. Therefore, this amount will probably be revised in the upcoming period. Turkey’s quest for fossil fuels in the region continued for many years and it is now stated that 5-10 billion m3 of gas can be extracted annually while Turkey’s annual fossil gas consumption is about 50 billion m3. This gap is provided by export with payment-guaranteed long-term gas purchase contracts. The claim of the authorities that an income sufficient to close the current account deficit of the state budget by the sale of fossil fuels is not possible with the current amount of discovery. Moreover, it is also argued that Turkey’s technical infrastructure is not appropriate for large-scale processing of fossil fuels. For example, TPAO’s (Turkish Petroleum Company) daily fossil gas extraction in Akçakoca cannot even meet its own costs.
10- Fossil fuels will be extracted by other countries if not by Turkey. So why shouldn't we get our share?
Our share of anything is seized by a handful of capitalists in Turkey just like in other countries. However, fossil fuels, both by destroying nature and as part of this expropriation process, call for trouble, not prosperity for us; it is part of injustice, not part of just shares. The effects of the climate crisis and ecological destruction are hitting the oppressed sections of society. Just as the climate crisis affects the oppressed in all countries without recognizing land or sea borders, it is in our best interest to stand against the extraction of fossil fuels wherever they may be. How to share fossil gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean has been a matter of tension for a long time. Ecologists and masses of people organized in all coastal countries of Mediterranean continue their struggle against the fossil fuel activities of their own countries. These struggles also raise the fact that countries such as the USA, EU, Russia and China are indebted to the peoples of the world with their greenhouse gas emissions both today and throughout history. It is the peoples of the world that we can take strength from and stand in solidarity with; not states and capitalists. We will take our rights and shares from these latter.
11- Will our heating and electricity bills not decrease thanks to the new fossil gas?
No. Bills are added up by the costs of many stages, from the production of energy to the use at the household. The inefficiency of our energy systems and buildings also affects bills. Both fossil gas and electricity distribution in Turkey have been handed over to private companies. Almost 60% of electricity generation in Turkey is currently being done in fossil fuel power plants. Production and distribution companies reflect their investment costs on the bills. Moreover, the ratio of energy lost during electricity distribution in Turkey is around 20%. Reducing this rate to acceptable limits (around 7-8%), is many times more beneficial than the gas to be extracted from the Black Sea. The cost of extracting new fossil reserves in the Black Sea will have an effect that will increase the bills with taxes or directly at the first moment of investment costs. Giant petroleum monopolies such as Shell, Exxon, and BP, as well as state-owned companies, have coveted to operate the reserves in the Mediterranean. In any country where the people are not in power, underground “wealth” did not bring prosperity to the oppressed, on the contrary, these “resources” generated relations of exploitation, caused wars, and the public budget was allocated to infrastructure costs, even if its business was private, and the deterioration of the life and health of the people due to mining brought additional burdens.
12- Why put ourselves in trouble when countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions aren't doing enough?
Because this is not a competition between countries. What matters here is the lives of people whether in the highest-emitting countries or in Turkey. Reducing the use of fossil fuels in the highest-emitting countries also depends on the strength of the international struggle waged by people all over the world. In order to make an effort, one should lean on the struggle of the peoples, not the statements of the states. Leaving fossil fuels underground is not a policy of austerity. On the contrary, it involves the demand that the public budget should be spent on public services destroyed by austerity policies and privatizations, not on fossil fuel extraction and not to get the fossil fuel-based production out of its economical crises. What puts us in trouble is the insufficient hospitals, test kits during the corona pandemic, and the imposition of the forced labor despite unhealthy working conditions. In all countries, people are struggling against this way of functioning of capitalism that destroys nature and seizes the atmosphere and therefore our future. One can only go from hardship to prosperity as part of this international struggle.
13- Will people in other countries afford their own countries' fossil fuel extraction?
Yes. From Canada to Australia, from India to Portugal, from Japan to Mozambique, people in countries on every continent wage mass struggles against the extraction of oil, coal and fossil gas, against the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, power plants and for the leaving fossil fuels underground to avoid the devastating effects of the climate crisis. The "Keep it in the ground" or "Leave it in the ground" (LINGO) movements with this general demands generate mobilization with organizations, campaigns and actions in every country as a fundamental part of the global environmental movement. And intense and long-term struggles can be successful in many cases such as the cancellation of the XL-Keystone pipeline that passes through the lands of indigenous peoples in the USA, the projects of fossil gas extraction from the seabed of Portugal, and the cancellation of some projects in the Mediterranean by the environmental organizations in Italy and France.
14- Can these economically giant projects big enough to be a matter of war be stopped?
Yes. States and groups of capital aim to suppress the reaction of the peoples by provoking a nationalist and militarist political discourse and to show the projects as a “national issue” by turning them against each other. Therefore, the struggle to keep fossil fuels underground is also here to defend the peace among peoples. War and armament, which bring nothing but destruction, pain and blood, are an extension and part of these destruction projects directed at nature. An ecological struggle, waged with different means and forms, negates the discourses of the rulers and reveals the contradictions of the system directly related with the state policies. The struggles in Chile, Sudan, Lebanon and elsewhere have had gains. The youth-led climate movement in Europe has completely changed the political atmosphere and created a momentum. Many fossil fuel projects have been canceled or postponed. Campaigns like this, in which the voices of people in the Mediterranean and Black Sea countries are rising together, make it difficult for the rulers to implement these policies of war and plunder.