WWe are in an extremely difficult time in the history of world politics. The combined stresses of the war in Ukraine, the climate crisis, and economic troubles stemming from spiking oil and gas prices, inflation, and growing global inequality have pushed us to our limits— geopolitically, environmentally, and psychologically. After hundreds of years of colonialism, resource extraction and short-term thinking, it is time for the chickens to return home. Imagine if you could feed three birds from one scone.
Many people notice a rise of doomsm following the release of climate assessments such as the IPCC assessment. When headlines proclaim it’s “now or never” to limit warming, some assume we won’t do what’s needed in time. And if you think there’s nothing we can do, why bother trying? Some well-meaning people can be weaponized by those who stand to benefit if we throw up our hands in surrender rather than challenging the fossil fuel industry’s social license. It is important to stress that Dringlichkeit. You don’t have time to waste. There is. Agency too. The problem with “now or never” is that it implies a hard threshold at 1.5°C that if we fail to achieve, it’s game over. However, this is not the end of the game. There is no point beyond which we shouldn’t keep trying to limit warming. To the extent that climate disruption is going to hit us, every degree counts.
We are reaping what we’ve sown in a world that has remained dependent on fossil fuels for far too long. Russia and Saudi Arabia have made every effort to prevent global climate action. They have benefited tremendously from fossil fuel dependence. They have held the entire world captive with their control over oil and gas markets. Our ability to respond to various aggressive acts from a place where we are strong has been compromised.
There are so many issues that need our attention. How can we choose which crises to focus on? It is important to think about the future and, fittingly, who it will be inherited from. Over 80 percent are concerned about climate change. As they rightly should, they’re angry. Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Villaseñor, Vanessa Nakate, and other leaders of the youth climate movement are fueled with righteous anger against those who have stood by and watched as the world burned.
Interesting thing about anger; turns out it’s a more useful emotion than anxiety or depression when it comes to climate action. It empowers. It is not wrong to be angry. This story has a villain. For decades, the fossil fuel industry has been aware of the potential climate destruction its products could cause. It is the most powerful in human history. The industry’s scientists had warned them of this decades before. It instead of disclosing the findings and charting a new course of action, it sponsored a large disinformation campaign that aimed to block any progress on climate change. It and its supporters, the politicians, were largely successful at blocking any effective steps to curb climate change.
These coal and oil barons say they’re just supplying people with what they want. But we don’t want fossil fuels. We want cold beer, hot showers and services that make it easy to move around with good food. If we can get those in a way that doesn’t destroy our planet’s life-support system, we’d surely prefer that. The IPCC’s latest report, on climate change mitigation, that is, reducing future climate change by cutting heat-trapping gas emissions or increasing their uptake from the air, tells us that this is entirely possible, using current technologies. Many such actions are on the so-called “demand side,” because they reduce energy demand rather than increasing its supply. According to the IPCC, demand-side strategies can reduce heat-trapping gases emissions by 40-70 percent across all industries and sectors between 2050 and 2050. A pretty astounding finding, and as investigative journalist Amy Westervelt bemoans, why wasn’t this a headline in every paper?
Let’s return to our three birds: war in Ukraine, climate change, and the economy. These crises are not separate but can be seen as one, with one win-win-win approach. This is the right time to address these issues and move forward with determination towards a clean energy future. The U.S. is in a good position to do so; we’re not starting from scratch. U.S. second place in wind and solar, after China. The expertise and resources of fossil fuel firms can be used to create broader energy businesses. They can turn their expertise in geology into geothermal power, which holds great promise. They can turn their experience in offshore oil to offshore wind. This is an enormous resource, in which the U.S. is way behind more than a dozen countries. Peabody coal is able to use large lands for the development of solar farms and other sources of energy.
They have been long-standing agents of delay and denial regarding climate change action. Big fossil fuel companies are still exploring for oil and building new infrastructure with support from big banks. American bank JPMorgan Chase (Citi, Wells Fargo and Bank of America) are four of the largest banks that have made these investments. As we speak, new oil and gas projects in the pipeline are being approved and planned. The world is on track to produce twice the fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the internationally agreed upon 1.5°C target. This is the time to hold the fossil fuel industry, and banks funding it, accountable.
To achieve lasting security, we must stop using fossil fuels. The U.S. should now take the lead and solve these problems, helping to propel the world into a more stable, secure, economically productive future. It is essential. Our hands.
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