Our civilization was built on burning carbon-emitting fossil fuels. It’s been central to human life since the first prehistoric campfire. But that time has come and gone, writes Peter McKillop, founder and editor of New York-based Climate & Capital Media, in a weekend commentary.
The science is clear and irrefutable: carbon emissions are overheating our atmosphere with increasingly catastrophic consequences to life and property, McKillop writes. Nor is there a debate on what must be done: To survive as a species, we must end the use of fossil fuels. Not overnight. But at a minimum, agree to phase out fossil fuels and immediately end the exploration, production, and sale of new coal, oil, and gas.
This is not as hard to do as the furious proponents of new oil and gas exploration and production make it out to be, McKillop notes. We have enough existing oil and gas to make up the gaps from the exponential growth of carbon-free energy. This means it is feasible to follow the guidelines of the International Energy Agency that “no new oil and gas fields [be] approved for development.” It also means no longer blocking an international agreement to phase out the use of fossil fuels, as Saudi Arabia has done twice in the past year.
The IEA’s opinion matters because it is the forum for the world’s energy ministers and a global authority on energy data and analysis. “We have to bring the consumption of oil, gas, and coal down,” says IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. “And if we are able to do that… then the current existing oil and gas fields and coal mines are more than enough to meet the demand growth.”
If we don’t heed the advice of the IEA, we know what will happen: the death and destruction of millions, if not billions, of people and their cultures. It is already happening to vulnerable island nations, to great swaths of central and northern Africa, and to the Indigenous cultures of burning boreal forests. And as this summer has demonstrated, climate injury, death, and destruction are now everywhere. The World Health Organization says climate change is the single biggest “health threat” facing humanity and has called for a legally binding plan to phase out fossil fuel exploration and production.
Are You In Or Out?
As the scientific data piles up on the impact of climate on humanity, it is increasingly difficult to see the deliberate practices to increase fossil fuel production as anything less than a crime against humanity, McKillop writes.
So ask yourself. Do you support or oppose slavery? Do you support or oppose the killing of millions of Armenians, Cambodians, Jews, and Native Americans? Do you support the kind of colonial rule that denied freedom and self-determination to entire continents of people? Do you support Jim Crow or Apartheid laws?
There Is No Grey
All the above led to unimaginable human suffering, death, and destruction. That is why they are now seen as unspeakable criminal acts. There are no rationalizations or excuses. There is no grey.
Have we reached a similar moment with fossil fuels? McKillop asks. Do you, or do you not support the decision of fossil fuel companies to weaken their plans to stop polluting? Do you support BP’s decision to lower its targets to cut emissions from the production of fossil fuels? Or Shell’s decision to abandon cuts in crude oil production?
Do you support the decision of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak last week to “max out” British oil and gas reserves? Or the decision by U.S. President Joe Biden this spring to allow for new drilling of gas and oil in Alaska? Or letting the president of the United Arab Emirates’ largest oil and gas company preside over the United Nations climate conference?
These are not easy choices, particularly for those who have benefited the most. But choices must be made.
It means not accepting philanthropic and marketing dollars from fossil fuel companies. Or to allow executives from these companies and countries to hold policy-making positions, as the United Nations has done. It means painful decisions by banks and investors and by cash-strapped media companies. It means the end of well-paid oil and gas jobs [although with plenty of safer, cleaner, steadier, more reliable jobs to replace them—Ed.].
The Gettysburg Address
To sacrifice for the greater good is as natural as the decision to pursue evil, McKillop asserts. It has been done before. As then-U.S. president Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address in 1864: “It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom.”
The great task before us, McKillop says, is to save humanity from an atmosphere we are deliberately overheating so that, as Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Every day we learn that nature is outpacing our response to the climate crisis. But what makes this a crime is that we now know what we need to do. The climate crisis is not some random act of nature. It is not a comet.
What side are you on?