I'm more interested in Nocera's overall point: that we need to reduce demand for fossil fuels, not supply. Until demand goes way down, he argues, we still need the oil wherever we can get it.
It's a familiar refrain. But it implies, wrongly, that demand for oil is an absolute that stands in isolation from other factors. It's like how whenever I argue in favor of passenger trains, someone counters that we Americans made our choice: we like cars better. What could anyone do?
Well, the federal government could have not systematically invested in federal highways while also divesting from rail infrastructure, for one. Nowadays, the government keeps promoting fossil fuel production—promotion that includes not just regulatory green lights but also financial investment—while moving far too slowly on clean energy.
Averting climate catastrophe requires changes in government priorities and consumer behavior alike. That's why the Keystone pipeline protesters also promote change at the consumer level. (For someone alleged to be fixated on the pipeline, Bill McKibben sure talks about electric cars a lot.) Yes, lower demand for oil would reduce the pressure to get it from whatever source is available. But the government could be doing so much more to reduce that demand—and so much less to encourage it.