Houston, we have a solution

by Annie Leonard

October 8, 2019

We believe a world beyond fossil fuels is possible if people are willing to fight for it.

Climbers Block Houston Ship Channel Traffic in Texas - Aerial

Twenty-two Greenpeace USA climbers form a blockade on the Fred Hartman Bridge in Baytown, Texas shutting down the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the United States ahead of the third Democratic primary debate in nearby Houston.

© Greenpeace

One month ago in Houston, Greenpeace activists shut down the largest fossil fuel thoroughfare in the country for 18 hours. This is a waterway that all the major oil companies — including Exxon, Shell, Chevron, and BP — depend on to continue their business as usual. In response, these peaceful activists have been hit with a state felony charge under a new law designed by and for the fossil fuel industry to protect “critical infrastructure.” But recently, Texas Oil & Gas Association president Todd Staples argued in the Houston Chronicle that “respectful protesters won’t have to worry” about the chilling impacts of such laws on their First Amendment rights.

Todd, we disagree. This is a climate crisis, and we all have to worry.  

“Respectful” protest is code for action that plays by the rules written by the oil and gas industry. If that were enough to wake people up to the threat of climate change, we would have seen change decades ago. People — especially the Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities on the frontlines of climate change in Houston and across the globe — have been calling for action on climate for years. Our leaders have failed them. The United Nations now estimates that one climate-fueled disaster happens every week around the globe, and in the past ten years alone, more than 21 million people have been forcibly displaced due to climate change-related hazards.

This is only going to get worse if our leaders don’t take action now. That’s why Greenpeace activists hung for 18 hours from the Fred Hartman bridge.

We deserve a world without fossil fuels: a world in which workers’ rights, community health, and our shared climate come before oil company profits. On average, 700,000 barrels of oil pass through the Houston Ship Channel every single day. If the fossil fuel industry continues to get its way, that will increase to more than 2 million barrels in a matter of years. That’s climate suicide. But we know there’s a better way. We know that we have a better chance at creating millions of safe, high-paying jobs with renewables than we do with fossil fuels. In fact, the transition to a renewable energy-powered economy can not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, but also add 550,000 jobs each year while saving the US economy $78 billion. But this will only work if we start the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy today. 

American voters know this and want change. The climate crisis has emerged as a top issue for voters in the 2020 election, but the political leadership in this country — and not just Trump but even some of those working to beat him in 2020 — has failed to fully address the problem. Now is the time for all of them to imagine what a world without fossil fuels could look like.  

Greenpeace’s peaceful protest in Houston must be the start of a reckoning for the oil industry. Those climbers represent the millions of Americans demanding a plan for our survival. Their action was just the beginning, as this past week, millions of people rose up in youth-led climate strikes in cities around the world. This is a matter of survival and our actions must match the gravity of the crisis we face. 

We have to continue demanding that those who call themselves our leaders join us in rising up for communities facing climate disaster. For the sake of those already suffering the supercharged storms, droughts, and heatwaves brought by climate change, they must champion a Green New Deal and ensure a just transition off of fossil fuels. We believe a world beyond fossil fuels is possible. The clean energy revolution for a healthier, more prosperous, and more equitable future must start today. That’s why Greenpeace activists came to Houston — and it’s why we’re asking you to join us. 

Annie Leonard

By Annie Leonard

Annie Leonard is the co-Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Leonard began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and has returned to help the organization inspire and mobilize millions of people to take action to create a more sustainable future together. She is based in San Francisco.

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