Respect and Admiration, But…

coal excavator

How strongly to oppose this?

Bill McKibben and 350.org are calling for a summer of action, of civil disobedience and arrests, and of more radical opposition. They plan to focus on the Keystone pipeline, new tar sands extraction sites, mountaintop coal removal, and other fossil fuel issues, and they’re calling it “Operation Summer Heat.” I hesitate to comment—the people involved believe in something passionately and are willing to act selflessly. All science points to the fact that we can’t possibly burn all the fossil fuel in today’s proven reserves without “roasting the planet,” so there’s even less reason for these companies to be developing more reserves and production capability.

But something strikes me as incongruous about this particular group of efforts. I’m not sure what it means when you have to buy gasoline from an Exxon Mobil station to be able to drive to your protest site to protest Exxon Mobil. This is particularly so when one realizes that not only did the fossil fuel industry provide you with your transportation, but also with virtually every piece of food you put in your mouth, all the clothes on your back, and virtually every bit of your physical existence. Our entire way of life, for virtually all 7 billion on the planet, has been made possible by this industry. And we were all complicit, every one of us.

Worse, there is no possible way to switch overnight away from fossil fuel, it will take decades. And all the while, fossil fuel will have to power the planet, or economies will collapse and people will starve. So it’s not like we could stop using fossil fuel today even if we had a magic button to push to do so.

I agree that the companies are too powerful, politically. I agree that the last thing we should be doing is giving huge government subsidies to these companies that make profits in the billions, every year. I agree that they are worsening things considerably with their new exploration and ramping up of production capability, at the same time that they are finding new hydrocarbon reserves that we can’t possibly allow ourselves to burn, unless we can perfect some as-yet-to-be-invented process to remove the carbon completely as we derive power from the fuel.

All that is true. BUT—we need a plan to switch to a sustainable economy, we need that plan now, and we need to start switching.

Again, I hesitate to voice this. I might be wrong, maybe the future depends on these activists. But across the board, I see too much anger and not enough plan. I see too many who have opinions but don’t actually act, or don’t act in ways that actually matter. (I saw a whole-page diatribe the other week in the local paper about the evils of dog poop).  We need to start shifting the economy, and we need to start doing it now. CO2 effects have a long lag time, the future dangers are real. But our economy and system could change very rapidly if everyone changed their lifestyles, buying habits, investing habits, their political involvement, and/or their personal activism in the form of projects that result in grassroots change.

So, I applaud those who are willing to chain themselves to mining equipment in Appalachia. But, in my humble opinion, we all need to think the whole ball of wax through rationally, and make sure that we aren’t missing the forest for the trees.

Image credit: kodda / 123RF Stock Photo