Opinion: Wake-Up Calls for Our Fossil Fuel Addiction
Kicking our fossil fuel addiction is good for the climate, our health, our economy, and geopolitical stability
Nations fight wars over resources, and use them as cudgels to influence and control the policies of other nations. We have seen this dynamic at play with energy resources for decades, including now with Ukraine and Western Europe.
Why didn't all nations stop buying Russian oil and gas, or even condemn Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine? Because they are addicted to Russian oil and gas. Like drug addicts, many nations would experience extreme withdrawal symptoms, both economic and political, if Russia stopped the flow. And even though the U.S. is effectively energy independent, disruptions in the global oil/gas market impact energy prices here, in turn impacting our jobs, economy, and politics.
Those are the geopolitical facts of life of oil and gas addiction. We have received many wake-up calls since at least the early Seventies: Ukraine is just the latest. Yet we remain as addicted as ever.
And our addiction impacts more than just geopolitics. Alarms are also ringing for Earth's warming climate, as they have for over 30 years. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report just gave its most dire warnings yet. We are urgently in need of waking up, as it is now clear there will be seriously harmful social, economic, and environmental consequences to continuing our fossil fuels addiction.
Fossil fuels have been the main catalyst for advances in human welfare over the past few centuries, and we will need to continue burning them to some degree for many decades to come. But there is no doubt that the time has come to wean ourselves from them – and quickly.
The transition away from fossil fuels will entail disruptions to business as usual. All transitions do – like the Industrial Revolution, the switch from horses to cars, or the digital revolution. All change generates resistance, but most people would agree these disruptions were worth it, that humanity ultimately ended up healthier and more prosperous.
Likewise, our transition away from fossil fuels is generating resistance, but the benefits of conquering our fossil fuel addiction will be enormous, far outweighing any disadvantages. Within a few decades, we can generate huge numbers of new jobs, save trillions of dollars in energy costs and trillions in GDP, and another trillion in health care costs due to a reduction in things like strokes, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other air quality-related maladies. We can reduce our vulnerability to energy-related geopolitical storms. Russia or OPEC will no longer hold democratic nations hostage by threatening to cut off their gas or oil. We can live in a nation where the cost of energy doesn't go up and down at the whims of other nations who do not have our best interests at heart. We can halt the trends of deadlier storms, more intense heat waves, droughts and water scarcity, wildfires, floods, rising seas, reduced agricultural output, biodiversity loss, and the death of coral reefs, the incubators for so much ocean life.
To achieve all this, we have to dedicate ourselves to kicking our habit.
Step 1 of recovery from our addiction is to end denial and admit a problem exists. We are finally entering that stage with climate. Polling data indicates a large majority of U.S. citizens now agree the climate is warming, worry about it, and agree humans are the cause. Now for our next step to recovery: Forge plans of action to change our unhealthy behaviors, and follow through on them. Put a price on greenhouse gas emissions, convert to clean energy sources, remake our transportation system, and redouble our energy efficiency efforts. It's time we stop hitting the snooze button on our fossil fuel addiction.
Bob Hendricks is a Citizens’ Climate Lobby congressional liaison and Texas state coordinator and a longtime political and environmental activist in Austin. Mark Warren is a Citizens’ Climate Lobby Austin member, Business Climate Lobby member, a longtime environmentalist, and a native Austinite born here in 1950.