If We Don’t Stop Producing Fossil Fuels, We Won’t Make It

by Annie Leonard

January 10, 2019

Let's not forget one of the most effective ways to stop climate change — leaving oil, coal, and gas in the ground.

We have 11 years to solve climate change. 11 years. Essentially a blink of an eye within the span of history. You might still be driving the same car, living in the same house, working the same job, caring for the same pet in 11 years. You may also have been part of the global movement that avoided the worst of climate change by ending the age of oil, coal, and gas. The Washington Post understands this urgency based on their January 2nd roundup “How We Can Combat Climate Change” which highlighted the Green New Deal, electric vehicles, and a carbon tax. The climate crisis requires integrated and achievable solutions, a reality highlighted clearly for readers by the Post’s opinions staff. That list, however, had one glaring and non-negotiable omission – stopping the supply of fossil fuels.

To make the most impact on climate change we need to stop all oil, coal, and gas expansion, massively accelerate the growth of renewable energy, support workers with a just transition to a sustainability-based economy and climate-impacted communities with a just recovery from extreme weather, and hold corporate polluters and political leaders accountable for their role in putting us in harm’s way. Without stopping oil, coal, and gas expansion as soon as possible, though, we won’t get anywhere close to where we need to be to stave off the worst of climate change.

Environmental activists are not naive — that’s why we take climate change so seriously. We understand the truth, and we know stopping fossil fuels at the source will be one of our country’s greatest challenges. It will be hard, but it is not impossible. One lesson from the sobering IPCC report released last fall is that we can fix this and our society will be stronger, more equitable, and more just in the end. Imagine the gains we would make if the United States government actually tried to cut emissions like so many other industrialized countries are already doing, instead of letting former fossil fuel lobbyists like Andrew Wheeler at the EPA and David Bernhardt at the Interior Department dictate our future.

What does stopping oil, coal, and gas at the source look like? It means no new drilling, no new oil and gas pipelines, and no new mining. Proposals for carbon taxes and cap-and-trade have taken up too much climate-solution oxygen in recent years, and so far they have been flimsy half measures porous with loopholes. They come nowhere close to meeting the scale of the crisis. You think Exxon is going to support the whopping $27,000 per ton carbon tax that the IPCC report actually recommends? The most recent carbon tax bill floated last fall proposed a $15 per ton price on carbon if that gives you an idea.

The bottom line is that humanity won’t survive climate change without restrictive supply-side strategies, policies that would directly cut off new fossil fuel expansion. The good news is that economists argue that stopping fossil fuels will be good for the economy. One more time economists argue that stopping fossil fuels will be good for the economy. A recent report authored by two economists from the London School of Economics and the Australia Institute make the case that stopping oil, gas, and coal expansion will avoid costly infrastructure lock-in among other economic and political benefits.

Nearly five years ago, we saw one of the most epic examples of stopping new fossil fuel expansion when activists around the world would not give up in their pursuit to stop Shell from drilling in the Arctic. Not only did Shell’s plans to drill come with a staggering 75 percent chance of an oil spill, the scientific journal Nature said definitively that Arctic oil must stay in the ground if the world wants to avoid the worst of climate change. Scientists also identified Canadian tar sands as another fossil fuel reserve that had to stay in the ground, and activists have undergone Herculean efforts to keep the Keystone, TransMountain, and Line 3 tar sands pipelines from reaching full capacity. There is no debate about it. Activism and sound policy that stops, and even slows, new infrastructure like offshore drilling and tar sands pipelines will play a leading role in limiting global warming to a liveable 1.5 degrees Celsius, and anyone that argues otherwise isn’t serious about solving climate change.

Imagine it’s 11 years from now. Renewable energy powers our lives. Passionate people around the globe have stopped new oil, gas, and coal projects. Regions recovering from devastating climate impacts have the support and funding they need to rebuild stronger communities rooted in sustainability and justice. And it’s all because of the action we took today to actually stop climate change. We cannot give up. 2019 is the year we get in the ring with the biggest corporate polluters and fight like our lives depend on it because they do. The 11-year countdown for the climate starts today.


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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