Human World

Marvin Odum with an oil company’s perspective on climate

Marvin Odum: You have to think about how the energy mix for the world will change over time. And you have to be realistic about the pace at which it can change.

Marvin Odum is president of Shell Oil, which is the U.S. subsidiary of the multinational Royal Dutch Shell – one of the largest oil companies in the world. Odum said his company believes the risk to Earth’s climate from burning fossil fuels is real. He said there are no easy answers. And he gave Shell’s perspective on the most immediate solutions to climate change and the role the U.S. should take in the global efforts to reduce global warming.

Marvin Odum: I think the fact that the U.S. is one of the world’s largest emitters of CO2, and the fact that it’s a strong and powerful economic force in the world automatically gives it an important role to play in how this gets determined in the future. In what way does the U.S. lead by example? What do you do at home? And I think that’s the question of the current legislative debate in the U.S. now. What should we do with federal laws and federal legislation to start to limit CO2 emissions? How do we want that to impact our energy mix overall?

Marvin discussed some of the solutions to climate change.

Marvin Odum: Natural gas, when used to generate power, for example, can be 70% less CO2 intensive than an old coal-fired power plant, or 50% less CO2 intensive than a more modern coal-fired power plant.

Odum said Shell is focusing on biofuels from non-food sources like algae or switchgrass. He said corporations in general need to work internally to become more energy efficient. He spoke of “carbon capture and storage” – capturing carbon emissions from places like oil refineries and power plants and storing them underground. He said incentives for wind and solar are needed so entrepreneurs and the market can make them a bigger part of the equation over the decades to come.

Marvin Odum: Remember that energy underpins our way of life today.

Odum said fossil fuels will remain a primary fuel source for Earth for the next several decades.

Marvin Odum: Another thing, as you think about this equation and some of the changes that have to be made over time, what you realize is hydrocarbons, fossil fuels, are going to be with us, they’re going to be a big part of this equation for decades into the future.

He said most of Earth’s easy-to-reach oil is gone.

Marvin Odum: Oil reserves are getting harder to reach. They’re getting more expensive. But they are still there in very large quantities, and that’ll be an important part of the equation.

He spoke about the role of wind and solar in the world’s energy future.

Marvin Odum: Alternative energies will start to develop over time. But we have to recognize that – where they are today – they’re expensive, too expensive to be a very significant part of the energy mix. That will change with experience and with continuing improvements to the technology. So it’s important that we develop some market mechanisms to help promote the development of those alternative energies. What that comes down to, in the simplest statement, is that we need to put a price on carbon at some point in the near future, so that we can start to see how these alternative energies can be incentivised, could be worked on by entrepreneurs and the market to become a bigger part of the equation over the decades to come.

Odum looked ahead to the COP16 climate summit in Mexico City late 2010.

Marvin Odum: Shell doesn’t have a crystal ball in terms of where this will go or how quickly it will go. But I think it’s important to keep expectations in the right place, meaning we shouldn’t expect a quick solution to what, at least in some people’s minds, did not happen in Copenhagen. So the steps along the way – Germany in June, Mexico towards the end of this year – I think should be viewed as important milestones as we continue to build on the Copenhagen accord. Basically, we need to put more meat on the bone of that policy, and learn how governments can work together and what that really looks like.

This podcast was made possible in part by Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.

April 5, 2010
Human World

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