Hurricanes, wildfires, storms, floods, and images of streams, rivers, and the oceans filled with plastic flood my consciousness. My morning walks take me past sick and dying trees, over a muddy river covered with a strange white foam, no doubt caused by fertilizers and herbicides from agricultural runoff. Most troubling is the absence of honeybees that once flourished and swarmed on the blooms of White Dutch clover that once covered our yards in summer before anything, but approved grass became a weed to kill. These things focused and sharpened my awareness of the environmental deterioration and devastation we deny.
The effects of climate change due to global warming is evident to those whose eyes are open and take a moment to study science. We are, all life on earth, passengers trapped on a runaway train on a track most say, and the overwhelming evidence supports is a dead-end.
Some of us are here by choice, but most find ourselves trapped on this train as it hurls down a dead-end track, picking up speed. We see the mountain marking the end of the line looming on the distant horizon. It gets closer with each passing moment and each gulp of fossil fuel required to keep the locomotive going. We watch, most of us passively, but uncomfortably as the mountain grows.
Others claim we are silly and spreading fear. They tell me my concerns about climate change are merely part of the normal climatic cycle of the planet. Fossil fuel industry spokesmen and advocates assure me the track continues to the bright future where we’ll all benefit and prosper by staying the course and continue extracting and using fossil fuel sources to meet our voracious appetite for energy.
I vividly recall the images reflecting the lack of concern for the environment from my youth growing up in the 1950s. I remember the coal soot that turned the snow black around our school, in my neighborhood, and around our house. I remember the putrid smell of diesel fumes and clouds of exhaust from automobiles hanging in the frosty air. Most of all I still see the raw sewage pouring from huge pipes emptying into the Wabash River that provided drinking water to communities downstream. We didn’t think about pollution. It was merely part of the inevitable cost of our rising standard of living, or so we were led to believe.
America’s population in the 1950s was between 150 and 180 million people; today it is almost 330 million. The population of the earth rose from two and a half to three billion between 1950 and 1960; today there are over seven and a half billion. Tripling the population intensified pollution’s impact. The numbers of people and the amounts of pollution they inevitably generate increased exponentially across these decades. At the same time, our awareness and knowledge of the impact of this pollution also grew exponentially, yet our thinking and attitudes about it stayed relatively the same. I can’t help but ask myself ‘Why?’
Those who insist fossil fuels are not responsible for global warming and climate change tell us increasing our extraction and use of these resources are vital to maintaining our standard of living. In their view, their continued use is a moral imperative for improving the health, well-being, and standard of living for those currently left behind. How do they support this claim?
The fossil fuel industry led by the Koch brothers-funded Heartland Institute and the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) — (created by the Heartland Institute) presents an opposing view to climate change and global warming. Examining these materials reveals an interesting omission; they offer no science in support of their opposition to the scientific consensus presented by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The NIPCC response is focused entirely on what it sees as inconsistencies and contradictions in the IPCC reports.
The bulk of the argument of those advocating continued use of fossil fuels is found in “The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040” published by Exxon Mobil in 2017. This report states, “ever-increasing supplies of energy are needed to sustain economic growth and ensure human betterment and that the bulk of that energy will be supplied by fossil fuels well into the future.” It claims without continued fossil fuel dependence there can be no economic growth. The report sees the need not only for more oil but also greatly expanded use of natural gas and coal into the middle of the twenty-first century. We must do this, the report says, to ensure the world’s poor and disadvantaged won’t stay immersed in poverty.
The Exxon report asserts we must increase our use of fossil fuels because sustaining the growth of the new global middle class depends upon it. Alternative forms of energy are dismissed as being too expensive, unreliable, or too difficult to move from place-to-place. Between 2010 and 2040 human population will increase from around seven billion to over nine billion with the demand for cars, SUVs, and other light-duty vehicles growing by over 100%, but while there will be an increase in hybrids, the vast majority of autos will continue guzzling gas.
This report goes further in asserting demands for energy will be even greater when we consider all these new middle-class consumers will want their share of computers, appliances, air-conditioners, flat-screen TVs, and other consumer goods with the inevitable spinoff for the need of more trucks, trains, and container ships to move these goods around the planet to meet the new demand. What is most important about this report is what it omits and ignores. Reading the literature nothing is mentioned of the effects of the inevitable increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere resulting from these activities. There is no mention of the probable effects of producing more plastic containers and adding to the plastic already seen polluting the world’s oceans. There is no mention of the impact these things will have on global temperatures. There is no mention of consequent melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and rising sea levels.
When the industry does bother to look at renewable sources of energy, they see nothing but problems. They say wind and solar are more costly and aren’t growing fast enough to meet the demand for more power. They admit renewable sources will expand between now and 2040 but will still only account for 4% of energy generation. Defenders also assert renewables are problematic because they provide only intermittent sources of energy — failing at night and on windless days necessitating the need for bolstering by other fuels to ensure uninterrupted energy output. They ignore the simple solutions to many of these issues.
Beyond this report, the proponents of fossil fuel consumption such as Matt Ridley, a British aristocrat, and journalist, and Alex Epstein, founder, and president of the Center for Industrial Progress claim fossil fuels will save the world and claim there is a moral case for their use. They tell us fossil fuels are available and plentiful, easier to find, more efficient, easier to transport, easy to set up and generate thousands of jobs. What they don’t and won’t say or acknowledge is fossil fuel use degrades the environment, is causing global warming and climate change with catastrophic implications, require huge storage and transport support, create public health hazards and problems including spills and accidents, face rising costs over time, and pose a health risk to workers. Finally, despite their claims, fossil fuels are a finite resource; solar and wind are for all practical purposes, infinite.
Addiction comes in limitless varieties; it takes almost any form. Our addiction to fossil fuels blinds us to the brutal reality we are choosing to create. We, humans, are a curious sort. We tend to get stuck in old ways of thinking even when we know it has become obsolete. As many others have observed in the past, our supreme excellence is also our tragic flaw. They are the two sides of the same coin and we deceive ourselves by choosing not to recognize the changed conditions and circumstances that require us to abandon our old habits. It’s not the fittest who survive, it is the organisms that are the most flexible and adaptable in the face of changing conditions and circumstances. The dinosaurs were the fittest, but it didn’t save them from extinction.
Dependence on fossil fuels, particularly oil, built the modern world we know and propelled the United States to become the world’s superpower. But oil, coal, natural gas and other forms of fossil fuels in the 21st century are leading us to a catastrophe of our own making.
We are riding the climate change denial express. It is manned and controlled by those who benefit most from our consumption and dependence on fossil fuels. You only have to listen closely and think about what these proponents are trying to tell us to see it is a form of addiction. Our enslavement to fossil fuels blinds us to the brutal reality we are creating.
No one is willing to order the switch be thrown to put our runaway train on the new track taking us in a different direction. That’s how addiction works. It distorts and perverts your senses until you are willing to put everything, even life itself, at risk for the sake of the 40 pieces of silver the addicted claim we need for our next fix so we can continue accelerating on our one-way journey. The nervous switchman is waiting ready to flip the switch, but the command isn’t being relayed because the “bosses” the “owners” the “investors” in the current system can’t let go of their addiction.
The mountain at the end of the track is real. The track will end. We know the science and the science says we can only use a fraction more of our carbon-based fuel budget before we go over the cliff, and this cliff makes the 2008 fiscal cliff that has taken so much media attention look like an anthill on a salt flat.
Have you ever watched or been a part of an intervention with an addict? The addiction could be anything: drugs, alcohol, food, sex, porn, shopping, literally anything. If you have, you know how difficult it is to get that person’s attention. You know how hard it is to get them to seek help or to agree to treatment. They have an endless number of excuses, reasons, defenses they will use to try and justify their claim there is no problem. The addict claims what he/she is doing is okay and they are in control. They are convincing in proclaiming to us why there is no need for this intervention, or for them to change anything about their activities or behavior.
This is where we are with our fossil fuel addiction. We know the petroleum, natural gas, coal, and other fossil fuel-dependent interests are going to make every excuse, pervert science, do anything they can to protect their interests and continue making money regardless the consequences to the rest of us. They tell us giving up our dependence on fossil fuels will end of the good life as we know it but ignore the end of this “good life” and maybe most all life if we continue traveling on their tracks.
We do not have the choice of waiting. The train is rocketing forward greedily guzzling fuel faster and faster, and the moment is close when we either throw the switch to put humanity on a different path or remain on the track of denial until it crashes into the mountain of climate reality where the line ends, killing most, if not all of the life on the train.