Bail US Out of the Fossil Fuel Economy
It's my turn. I want a bailout. Not hundreds of billions of dollars to the auto industry for making an inefficient, dirty product that Americans have stopped buying. Not trillions of dollars to the banks that have made bad loans, creating an explosive housing bubble, leading to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression.
I want to be bailed out of the fossil fuel economy. America must kick the fossil fuel habit for our environment, our economy, our national security, our health, our children -- and forever.
Even with lower gasoline prices, America's dependence on fossil fuel is still gouging us at the gas pump. The cost of heating and cooling our homes is skyrocketing. The fossil fuel economy is stoking the war in Iraq, fouling our air and water, jeopardizing our national security and exacerbating catastrophic climate change.
If America could put a man on the moon, we can make the transition to 100% clean, renewable, non-nuclear energy within 10 years. It will require unflinching leadership an order of magnitude beyond anything that today's political leaders have proposed.
Catastrophic Climate Change
There is scientific consensus that we are in the midst of a worldwide emergency with catastrophic climate change -- the warming-driven destabilization of the earth's climate system. It threatens our way of life and our children's future.
Statured scientists agree that global warming is caused by human activity and attributable to historically unprecedented levels of greenhouse gases in the air from burning fossil fuels. Some noted experts have even called coal and oil unintended weapons of mass destruction.
The effects of such climate change could be devastating for life on this planet: inundating island nations and coastal areas; causing severe droughts and storms and spreading infectious disease. It is stressing our oceans, forests, wetlands and permafrost, all carbon sinks which help to absorb excess greenhouse gases when healthy.
These are not tomorrow's problems; they affect every American today. Even a concerted effort today to curb dependence on fossil fuels will slow -- but not halt -- catastrophic climate change.
Our dependence on other nations for fossil fuels imperils the national security of the United States. American national security now depends on propping up a few shaky authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. This creates wars for oil, inflaming hostilities against Americans and making us more vulnerable to terrorist attack.
Not just environmentalists, but conservative national security experts like former Reagan official Frank Gaffney warn, that dependence on foreign oil "is a national security emergency." In addition, "we are likely to find increasing competition from China for limited oil will become a flash point for future conflict, if not an actual causus belli [cause of war]."
Even the Pentagon reported* that because of the potentially dire consequences of abrupt climate change, the issue "should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern." The February 2004 report says that with 400 million people living in poor, overpopulated regions, "climate change and its follow-on effects pose a severe risk to political, economic and social stability."
According to The Observer, the report warned that "major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world."
Doug Randall, one of the authors of the report, told The Observer five years ago, it may already be too late to prevent a disaster but that since the consequences for some nations are so high, "It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile."
Dirty Air and Water
Much of our air and water pollution comes from burning fossil fuels. Human activity has greatly increased the atmospheric concentrations of compounds like nitrogen, carbon dioxide, mercury and lead. Excessive amounts of these compounds act as toxic air and water pollutants. The largest known source for most of these compounds is the combustion of fossil fuels by automobiles and power plants.
What goes into our air eventually ends up in our water, as shown by the tragic decline of the magnificent Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation notes that power plants burning fossil fuels "are collectively the worst toxic emitters in the country." Among other toxins, "They contribute 40 percent of all mercury emissions, or roughly 48 tons of poisonous mercury each year." Mercury results in "contaminating fish populations throughout the Bay" and poses a direct threat to humans, especially children through fish consumption.
The cost of heating homes and travel has increased dramatically in the past few years. The situation will not improve in years to come because of limited oil supplies and fierce competition from rapidly growing nations like China, India and Indonesia. And soaring jet fuel costs are threatening the viability of our airlines and raising the price of air travel. Similar problems beset farmers running tractors and construction companies operating heavy machinery.
In order for us to move beyond the fossil fuel economy, corporate America -- especially those seeking taxpayer handouts -- must do their part. American automakers are no exception. If they are to receive assistance, it must come with a requirement that they phase out the gasoline engine in 10 years or less.
Just as digital technology fueled the economic boom of the 1990's, green energy technology will create the economic advancement of tomorrow. More than a bailout, or a sacrifice, getting off the fossil fuel economy, is an opportunity for extraordinarily positive change, the kind our President-elect Barack Obama has promised. Clean, renewable, non-nuclear energy -- like solar, wind and geothermal -- is the basis upon which we must rebuild if our economy and our planet are to survive and thrive.
* The secret, 2004 Pentagon report was authored by Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network. The report was obtained by The Observer.
© Karyn Strickler, 2008