You don’t have to agree with his story’s denouement to appreciate his fascinating journey there. The point about Jeremy Leggett is that he has inhabited three worlds: He trained, and later taught, as an oil geologist, then became an environmental campaigner and finally turned renewable entrepreneur when he founded the Solarcentury company. In these various guises, he has been at the heart of the energy confrontations of our time; at conferences, in TV debates and at climate change summits.
His main aim is to keep the banner of “peak oil’ flying and to warn that oil depletion will occur sooner than governments and the oil establishment would have us believe. Although the International Energy Agency sees climate change as a serious risk, Leggett takes it to task for complacency and for accepting too readily the extent to which the shale revolution will extend the life of oil and gas resources.
He was the driving force behind the UK’s industry taskforce on peak oil and energy security that tried unsuccessfully to engage the British government in contingency planning for an early oil crunch. In such a scenario oil shortages would cause a price spike, dragging in all sorts of dirty (tar sands) or dangerous (Arctic) oil production before renewables and energy efficiency measures were ready to solve the problem. He has also been instrumental in the creation of carbon tracker reports on fossil fuel companies. These reports underline that the carbon reserves of these companies are, or should be, ‘unburnable’ for climate reasons and should therefore be classed on their balance sheets as liabilities, not assets.
To my mind, Leggett exaggerates the conspiratorial hold over governments by the fossil fuel industries, which he calls collectively “the incumbency”. They hardly need to conspire; they are incumbents precisely because of the awkward but inherent convenience of fossil fuels. But I believe Leggett’s essential insight is that the war for renewables will never really be won until people fully realise the long-term risks of relying on fossil fuels.