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Ways to Save the World

If we really want to make a difference this Earth Day, we have to confront the problem of climate change at its source.

Tens of thousands of students across Belgium during the youth-led global climate strike in January, 2019. (Photo: EuroNews/Twitter)

With all the doom-and-gloom studies that have come out about climate change, you might be feeling a little guilty about your carbon footprint. Did you turn off the lights when you left for work this morning? Or leave the air conditioner running?

Doing what you can individually to bring down greenhouse gas emissions is important to keep in mind this Earth Day, April 22, although this can only make so big a dent. If we really want to make a difference, we have to confront the problem at its source and euthanize the fossil fuel industry.

"Simply put, the business model of the fossil fuel industry is incompatible with a habitable planet."

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that capping warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius, as is necessary to avoid catastrophic consequences, will require huge reductions in the use of coal, oil and gas by mid-century. Meanwhile, a recent analysis by Carbon Tracker found that 92 percent of top oil and gas companies directly incentivize growth in fossil fuel “production, reserves, or both.”

Simply put, the business model of the fossil fuel industry is incompatible with a habitable planet.

Despite mounting evidence against them, fossil fuel companies will try to paint themselves as allies in the climate fight. Industry lobbyists have spent years working to weaken the Paris Agreement while pretending to support its lofty goals. At last year’s United Nations climate talks, the 24th Conference of Parties, Shell executive David Hone openly bragged about his company’s influence over that document and the ensuing conversations about implementation.

“We put together a straw proposal,” he said. “Many of the elements of that straw proposal appear in the Paris Agreement.”

Since the U.N. Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total have collectively spent $1 billion trying to green up their image. Meanwhile, they’ll invest just 3 percent of their $115 billion of new spending this year into low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and storage, and algae biofuels.

These companies simply can’t be trusted to act in humanity’s best interest.

Of course, dismantling the world’s most powerful industry is no easy task. But that’s what I call for in my contribution to the May issue of In These Times magazine, which is entirely devoted to exploring ways to decarbonize the economy.

Turning off the fossil fuel taps overnight would trigger economic chaos. But a managed decline of the industry can ensure that fossil fuel workers aren’t left out in the cold. The Green New Deal resolution proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat of New York, and Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat of Massachusetts, calls for investing in those communities that will be hardest hit, helping workers transition into well-paid work in new sectors, and diversifying regional economies to thrive in a sustainable 21st century.

Researchers at the Next System Project have proposed bringing the fossil fuel industry under public ownership by buying up 51 percent of its shares, then ending the hunt for new reserves and scaling down production. Political will for that could take time to build.

In the meantime, we can take such common-sense steps as eliminating the $20.5 billion in state and federal subsidies that fossil fuels collect every year, banning new leases for oil and gas development on America’s public lands, and reinstating the crude oil export ban, the 2015 repeal of which unleashed a spate of reckless new drilling.

Everyone can do their part this Earth Day building a brighter future—one that does not include the fossil fuel industry.

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Kate Aronoff

Kate Aronoff is an organizer and freelance journalist based in Philadelphia, PA. While in school, she worked extensively with the fossil fuel divestment movement on the local and national level, co-founding Swarthmore Mountain Justice and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network (DSN). She is currently working to build a student power network across Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff

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