- Publisher: New Sky Books
- Edition: First
- Available in: Paperback, PDF, Kindle
COMING IN 2020
A Clear and Present Danger
Time is running out to stop runaway climate change.
In the next decade, the world economy’s current path of emitting climate pollution will lock in average global temperature increases of more than two degrees Celsius. At that point, scientists say that high temperatures could push ice caps and glaciers, oceans and other natural systems past tipping points that would pull the world inexorably into climate chaos.
Hopefully, we can act quickly enough to avoid these dangerous climate tipping points. Even so, the world is already locked into a certain amount of climate change.
The question at this point is: How bad will it be?
Fortunately, humans still have the ability to avoid the worst. But the longer we wait, the harder it will be to preserve a livable climate. While other species and future generations will pay a heavy price for our inaction, people alive today will also face a more dangerous world.
Weird weather including storms, floods and droughts will become more common, bringing destruction, disease and death in countries across the world. Water shortages and failed crops will intensify competition for dwindling resources, starting with the most vulnerable places.
That in turn will bring armed conflict sending millions of refugees across borders and stressing governments across the globe. Those governments will try to maintain and regain control in any way necessary. A full blown climate emergency could lead to the rise of angry ethnic nationalism, extended periods of martial law, authoritarian leaders and worse — even climate fascism.
In fact, climate-driven droughts and crop failures have already led to rising food prices and hunger, creating political instability most recently in such places as Syria and Central America.
This all should be no surprise to anyone.
Our governments have known about the threat from climate change for three decades. They’ve known that the main source of climate pollution has been burning oil and other dirty fuels. And they’ve known that global instability from climate chaos will be one of the most dangerous threats of the twenty-first century, according to experts in global security from the U.S. military on down.
Solutions from solar panels to energy conservation have also been available for decades. And in the last few years, clean energy has now become competitive on price with dirty energy. Public policy solutions such as putting a steep fee on dirty energy through a carbon fee or tax can make clean energy even more affordable and even help the economy by creating jobs and opportunities for innovative businesses.
Yet, the governments of the world, especially the United States, have so far failed to take serious action to embrace these solutions and to cut climate pollution. Why?
Who’s to Blame
While psychological and cultural barriers have played a part, majorities of citizens in all major countries have supported climate action for years. But when their governments have tried to act, one force has blocked action again and again: the world’s largest, richest and most powerful special interest, the fossil fuel industry.
Led by oil companies, dirty energy producers have not only stopped governments from acting against climate chaos but they’re also covered up their own role in the problem and spread lies about climate science. Caught telling lies and bribing politicians again and again, these companies have shown that they can’t be trusted to be good corporate citizens.
The same companies have had plenty of time as well to switch over to clean energy, from oil rigs to solar panels. And yet, they haven’t done so. Based on their past bad behavior, there’s no grounds to have faith that oil companies will reform in the future.
So, the rest of us must fix the mess that oil companies have created. And then we must force those companies to pay for the clean up on the “polluter pays” principle.
In short, we must abolish oil, whether it’s about burning or bribing.
Since we have all the tools we need to get off of oil, the problem is not technological. We don’t need to wait for more research into clean energy or geoengineering. What we need are innovations in politics.
To outweigh opposition from oil companies, the climate movement needs to build broad support among the public for serious climate solutions. That may be harder and take longer than anybody had thought. To achieve success, we need to build a movement with the staying power to persist for decades and the fortitude to stand up to the biggest, wealthiest and most politically connected special interest of our era.
The Original Abolition Offers A Path to Victory Today
Abolish Oil Now brings history to bear on the present crisis. The book offers the most successful movement in the modern era to dislodge a moneyed special interest and achieve a long-sought goal shared by millions of people across the world: the campaign to abolish slavery.
Key lessons from nearly a century of activism spanning the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries on three continents show how abolitionists recruited enough ordinary citizens to their cause to defeat the massive political power of the slave-owning class.
Then as now, moneyed special interests will fight to the death to preserve their wealth, whatever the cost to the nations of the world or to future generations.
Fortunately, there’s a way for ordinary people to win.
That formula was written by such abolitionists as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson in Britain and William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass in the United States.
If we follow their roadmap today, the climate movement can reach the same destination — victory against impossible odds, and for the massive amount of good it will accomplish, victory all the more sweet.
A Moral Battle
The abolition movement succeeded largely because it got Americans worked up about the moral wrong of slavery.
Today, the climate movement can also make a moral appeal to mobilize more Americans to demand serious action to get off fossil fuels while there’s still time.
When talking about morality, of course there’s a difference between an enslaved human being and a molecule of oil, gas or coal. The two are in no way equivalent. And the struggle of African Americans first for freedom and later for full civil rights, a struggle that continues today, stands alone in many ways.
Also, the people who work in fossil fuels today are not the same as slaveowners in the 18th and 19th centuries. While slavery was an unalloyed evil, fossil fuels have brought many benefits to America and the world over the last two centuries. Coal made the industrial revolution possible. And oil helped the Allies defeat Hitler while providing post-war Americans of all backgrounds to enjoy unparalleled prosperity.
Miners and oilfield workers showed grit and resourcefulness to provide the rest of us with the energy we need to enjoy modern civilization. Sometimes, these workers put themselves in harm’s way on oil platforms or coal mines, suffering injury, disease and death.
Talented engineers solved difficult problems with technology and gutsy entrepreneurs kept business going over stomach-churning cycles of boom and bust.
Many of the people of the oil and coal industries deserve our thanks and admiration. In key ways, they embody the best of the American spirit.
It was that spirit that helped coal replace wood when forests became scarce. The same spirit helped petroleum replace whale oil when fisheries collapsed. And today, now that we know more about the climate than we did in the past, this very same spirit will help replace both coal and oil with the next energy sources, solar and wind.
We can recognize the good work of ordinary workers and managers in coal and oil companies. At the same time, we must recognize that oil company owners, lawyers, lobbyists and PR flacks have caused much damage. As their product has damaged our climate, their lies and money have damaged our politics.
Thank the Workers but Stop the Lobbyists
In the moral fight to save the climate and stop the damage of fossil fuels, we must assign blame where it’s due. And we must take action to save the world’s climate and America’s future. We must phase out the coal and oil industries on a rapid timeline but with an orderly plan.
A good model might be the gradual abolition of slavery in all northern states of the US after the Revolution and prior to the Civil War — all done peacefully and without a shot fired. Legislated abolition in the British Empire in the 1830s offers another model of peacefully phasing out an industry in conflict with society’s most basic values.
If we learn from history to plan the phase-out of fossil fuels, we can minimize disruption to the whole economy, to coal and oil workers and to communities dependent on mines, wells, refineries and other fossil fuel installations.
If we don’t learn from history that planning oil’s phase-out is better than just waiting for the industry to somehow go away on its own once it’s no longer profitable, then we may be faced with the moral equivalent of the Civil War. Slavery was still profitable in 1860, and it took the deaths of more than 700,000 soldiers to free enslaved people in the southern states.
Today, a disorderly end to coal, oil and gas will not look like a shooting war between one region of the country and another. It may look like a big recession or depression. It may look like more and more weird weather that cripples local economies and makes thousands of Americans homeless. And an unplanned end to oil four or five decades in the future will certainly bring violence and intense suffering.
We can avoid that suffering by starting now to gradually abolish the fossil fuel industry. First, stop any expansion. No more exploration and no more pipelines. Then, start to contract, liquidating investments over a decade or two and returning all asset values to shareholders.