June 18, 2019 | 72° F

Award-winning journalist emphasizes importance of reducing fossil fuel usage

Photo by Yizhuang Li |

Mark Schapiro, an award-winning environmental journalist and author, explains the intersection between the environment, economics and politics in relation to a catastrophic oil spill in 2002 on Tuesday at the Cook Student Center.

More than a decade ago, a fierce winter storm raged on the craggy, isolated coast of Galicia, an autonomous community on the Northwest coast of Spain, snapping an oil tanker in half and releasing 39,000 tons of oil. The entire area smelled like a gas station, recalled award-winning journalist Mark Schapiro.

Since the incident in November 2002, Schapiro, author of “Carbon Shock: A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Global Economy,” found a “remarkably awful” rock on the same coast covered in oil, and went on to report and write about the incident, which would come to be known as the “The Prestige.”

It is an experience he still vividly remembers, he said.

The rock was a talisman of his experience and a symbol of climate change, Schapiro said at a lecture and book signing at the Cook Student Center on Tuesday. More significantly, the thousands of tons of oil that was accidentally dumped on to the coast of Spain is analogous to the greenhouse gases we add to the atmosphere every day by burning fossil fuels.

Schapiro's investigative research into the costs of fossil fuels and implications for geo-politics is a natural fit with the Rutgers Climate Institute’s education and outreach mission, said Marjorie Kaplan, event sponsor and associate director of the Rutgers Climate Institute.

Schapiro’s journalism also tackles the intersections between environment, economics and international political power, said Robin Leichenko, a professor in the Department of Geography.

The students that attended, such as Joseph Visaggio, a School of Engineering sophomore, said he came to the lecture to see why it is important to come up with some solutions during economic conflicts regarding climate change.

“For ‘The Prestige’oil spill, the Spanish government spent the equivalent of $10 billion dollars to help recover its coast,” Schapiro said. “Similarly, the public is held responsible for environmental catastrophes that are related to global warming.”

Schapiro said man-made disasters such as “The Prestige” are referred to externalized costs, where costs not fully accounted for in the marketplace are pushed on to the public.

Trucost, a British environmental accounting firm, found the 3,000 biggest companies in the world are responsible for $2.1 trillion in annual environmental costs.

“In America, these costs are manifested in superstorms and droughts,” he said. “Massive droughts across the Midwestern and Californian food growing areas are paid by the public through crop insurance. But the program is on the brink of bankruptcy because claims have skyrocketed over the last ten years.”

When members of the audience asked about policy solutions for climate change, Schapiro said that cap and trade, or placing a limit on emissions from a group of sources, is a highly inefficient way to price carbon. While cap and trade imposes some cost, the price is still unrepresentative of the true price of fossil fuels.

Instead, the most effective and significant way to get a meaningful price of carbon is a carbon tax because a tax imposes higher price on carbon than cap and trade and is easier to plan for, Schapiro said.

Divestment, or cutting financial ties with morally ambiguous fossil fuel companies, is a powerful tool to send a message that the existing ways of doing business linking us to fossil fuels through the massive investment portfolios of major institutions is no longer workable, he said.

“In order to slow down global warming, the international economy must charge fossil fuel companies for the environmental damage that they cause,” he said. “When governments bear the costs associated with climate change, they are effectively subsidizing fossil fuel companies.”

Katia Oltmann

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