Mining and oil companies, among the world’s largest polluters and emitters of planet-warming carbon dioxide, are cleaning up their acts. A process that started slowly and reluctantly is now moving with the momentum of a freight train. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that their black-to-green transformations are not necessarily good for the planet and could even result in more carbon output, not less.
How could that be? Booting carbon-intensive products such as coal, oil, natural gas and iron ore out of the business model of mining and energy companies does not mean these commodities will cease being produced; they will just be produced by someone else.
Mining and oil companies can reduce their emissions in three ways. The first is to make their operations, which use highly polluting machines such as diesel trucks, more energy efficient. The gains are slow and hard won.
The second is to produce less of the grubbiest commodities. But resource companies are hard-wired to produce more and more. Shareholders do not value shrinking production.