No New Fossil Fuel Facilities
The disruption of Holocene climate due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation is the existential crisis of our times. The amount of Carbon Dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million to 410 parts per million since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the first use of coal to power industry and the present. Almost all of the buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere has taken place in the last 70 years, and the build up is now faster than ever. Atmospheric scientists tell us that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is the same as in various periods in the distant past that were significantly warmer than today, and had sea levels as much as 20 meters higher than we do today. The reason we have not yet hit some of the higher temperatures is that CO2 in the atmosphere has an additive effect, bouncing infrared radiation back to Earth, and bouncing some of the rebounding radiation as well, building up through time, and with a greater percentage bounced back to Earth as the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere increases. In other words there is more heating of the planet baked in with the pollution we have already spewed that we shall feel down the road.
If you are in a deep hole and you want to get out, do you keep digging down, or do you stop digging? On some level it is as simple as that. Every time we add additional fossil fuel facilities, power plants and pipelines mostly, the amount of fossil fuels burned increases and we make the hole deeper. And make it that much less likely that we shall stop the warming trend due to pollution before it sets off civilization breaking catastrophes. Which all the best science says starts at 1.5 degrees Centigrade above the average temperatures recorded in 1880 when we started having accurate measures of temperature around the world. Right now we have used up 2/3’s of the budget, with temperatures averaging 1 degree centigrade above 1880 temperatures.
I started discussing the idea of building no new fossil fuel facilities about 4 years ago. At the time no one else seemed to be talking about it, and some of the most up to date students of climate politics had never heard the idea presented that way, before I started them thinking about it, but over time it has become much more of a thing, with scientists actually contemplating what such an idea would mean. A recent study
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-018-07999-wChristopher J. Smith, OiersM. Forster, Myles Allen, Jan Fuglesvedt, Richard J. Millar, Joeri Rogelj, & Kirsten Zickfeld. “Current fossil fuel infrastructure does not yet commit us to 1.5 °C warming”Nature Communications 10, Article number: 101(2019)
made it rather clear that the best climate models we have say that if we stop building any new fossil fuel facilities, and slowly wind down current fossil fuel facilities as we create more and more clean power, we have a 2/3 chance of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, but if we continue to build new facilities that last 40 years, that we have no chance to avoid out of control rising temperatures and the catastrophes that brings.
Business as usual, a slow gradual wind down of the fossil fuel industries with coal use and gas use extending 50 years is a death knell for the planet. It means many new oil and gas fields are opened up, more forests are destroyed, floods, fires, heatwaves, hurricanes and wars take an ever bigger toll. The wild animals and plants of the planet are squeezed out of their homes and ecosystems cascade into destruction as species after species disappears and they cease to function.
So we have to do something meaningful today, right now, in the next year or two, if the planet is to stay livable, and for us to get to zero emissions by 2035. The most meaningful thing we can do is stop all expansion of the fossil fuel industries. Stop mining new coals seams, stop drilling new oil fields, stop building pipelines and power plants. Right now New England, and many other places, have more than enough capacity, with current fuel sources, to maintain what we do today, to heat our houses, get us around the neighborhood, power the electric grid. Not building new facilities will not change that any time soon. It would take years before we noticed, and by then all the wind farms and solar arrays, the insulating and electrifying of buildings, the expansion of the electric car markets, will mean that we can make a pretty seamless transition to clean power. Yes it will be expensive, but billion dollar power plants that overheat the planet are pretty expensive too. And construction jobs in renewable power, insulation and efficiency will keep the bottom from falling out of the economy just as well as any number of dirty power plants. We can stop climate change in its tracks if we stop building new fossil fuel facilities. And we can do it in ways that help our communities become more prosperous and just. Why would anyone insist that we build more useless junk that will become white elephants as our society burns down? It is time. No New fossil Fuel Facilities.