Op Ed in The Bridgton News, Feb. 27, 2014

Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground

             We know they’re destroying our chances to maintain a livable planet, but we keep using fossil fuels anyway.  Are we addicted to them, or is our consumption of them so habitual that we fail to regard fossil fuels and other fossil derivatives as a danger to us?  We do notice that they are packed with energy and give us the speed, comfort and convenience on which the modern day world is based.

            The greenhouse effect, aka global warming, aka climate change is forcing us to review our options for a sustainable planet.  Every superstorm, every drought, every tornado, every flood, every wildfire, every melting glacier is a reminder to those of us who accept the science of climate change that time is running out for human intervention to counteract a situation that is human precipitated.

            Thus far, many successes in drawing public awareness closer to adopting abatement solutions for climate change have been countered by the fabulously wealthy fossil fuel industry with its campaigns to create doubt about the science of climate change.  Stalled efforts to mobilize the public in democratic societies have been the result.

            The latest strategy in combating the fossil fuel industry is divestment which helped to dismantle apartheid in South Africa.  350.org advanced this effort last year (350 refers to parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a figure climate scientists say we cannot permanently exceed in order to continue having a climate that supports life as we have known it for recorded history; we are presently past 400 PPM).

            The plan is called, the “Divest-Invest” initiative, with the objective of divesting from a fossil fuel economy into one that improves the climate and sustains the earth.  According to Green America, a non-profit organization whose mission is to harness economic power for a just and sustainable society, the goal of fossil industry divestiture is to damage the industry’s reputation.  Its wealth is so immense and its capital reserves so huge, divesting will not harm the industry financially. 

Looking at it from Bill McKibben’s viewpoint, this is the industry that “melted the Arctic and then decided to drill it for more oil,” (Oil and Honey, 2013).  Rather than the public being “addicted to oil” as George W. Bush famously stated, it is the fossil fuel industry that is addicted to the enormous profits rolling in from fossil extractions.  It turns away from investing in the infrastructure required for an economy based on renewables.  This is an industry that needs to be shamed.  It is responsible for blowing off the tops of mountains with explosives, polluting bodies of water large and small through accidental spills and hydraulic fracturing, and using the atmosphere as a sewer. Land desperately needed for agriculture and as habitat for other species is compromised with exploitive extraction techniques and vast networks of pipelines.  It has hijacked our political system and academic institutions with its money.

            Divest-Invest is building momentum.  Nine colleges (Unity College and College of the Atlantic here in Maine) have committed to divest along with twenty-two cities, seventeen philanthropic foundations controlling almost $2 billion in assets and several religious organizations including the United Church of Christ and most recently, the Maine Council of Churches.  Locally, a bill was introduced to the Maine Legislature this year that would have divested fossil fuels from the Maine State Retirement System.  LD 1461 was voted down in committee, but the idea will live to see another day here in Maine as other pension funds continue the divestment process.

            What can we do as individuals?  GoFossilFree.org is an excellent resource to start the Divest-Invest process.  There is also a proposal to create US savings bonds that would finance clean energy investment.  Visit cleanenergyvictorybonds.org.  Most importantly, we must not give up hope that realistic solutions for climate change are possible.


Sally Chappell