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The Numbers Tell the Story

April 15, 2013 - Bill McKibben’s brilliant article in the Rolling Stone of April 11 was not just thought provoking, it was right on target.  Entitled “The Fossil Fuel Resistance,” McKibben details why the laughter of oil industry barons rings a bit hollow these days.  There’s so much good information to be found in McKibben’s latest call-to-arms, I’m going to give it the fine-tooth comb treatment it deserves.
“My philosophy is to make money.”  Rex Tillerson’s obscenely redundant declaration followed his announced intention, as CEO of ExxonMobil, to more than double the acreage over which his company is exploring for fossil fuel.  (Isn’t there something about that word “fossil” that’s just so inadvertently accurate, that describes Tillerson and his fellow old-white-guys-who- honor-the-almighty-dollar-more-than-their-mothers with an achingly awful degree of precision?)  He elaborated contemptuously that renewable energy would account for just one percent of American energy by 2040.  Plainly he has not read a University of Delaware study, to which McKibben refers, which states that Americans can affordably power themselves 99.9 percent of the time with renewables by 2030.

Perhaps Tillerson is aware that renewable energy creates three times as many jobs as coal and gas and oil.  In order to be happy about that, however, he would need to remember that human beings are happiest when they have a purpose and are engaged in beneficial activity.  That most basic premise has been long forgotten by Exxon’s CEO and his ilk.  It has been replaced by a new-old paradigm: if human beings facilitate the continuous acquisition of money, they have a place in the world.  If they do not …   It is actually that paradigm that lies at the root of fossil fuel’s decline.  The candle is burning brightest just before it goes out.
What of those who know better than the old white guys?  Ah, their numbers are growing.  The Climate Rally of two months ago in Washington drew 40,000 participants to deliver the message that they oppose the Keystone XL pipeline.  Forty-eight of the rally’s leaders were arrested: Nebraskans, Texans, First Americans, scientists and black activists.  Representatives of the 323 campuses where leadership is being asked to give up fossil fuel investment were there, as were opponents of mountaintop removal.  Be mindful – these folks are fighting the richest and most powerful industry the world has ever known.  Gopal Dayaneni of the Movement Generation Justice and Ecology project says it best.  “Up to this point, grassroots organizing has kept more industrial carbon out of the atmosphere than state or federal policy.”  It is the oil industry’s ruthlessness that makes that statement so remarkable.

Then there are the 60,000 people who have signed a pledge promising to resist the pipeline if it is approved.  They are members or affiliates of Credo, which is described by McKibben as “the remarkable cellphone-company-cum-activist-group.”  Thomas Friedman was so impressed by the numbers that he expressed the wish in his column that activists would “go crazy” with civil disobedience.  Friedman needs to be moved enough by the numbers to go crazy himself.  So do we all.
My one argument with McKibben centers on his apparent misunderstanding of the term “peak oil.”  He innocuously asserts that peak oil theorists have been proven wrong, since more hard-to-get oil has been discovered.  This, of course, merely serves to underscore peak oil “theorists” contention that the easy-to-get stuff is all gone.   M. King Hubbert wasn’t wrong: the good stuff, the stuff without a lot of dirt in it, the stuff that can be found less than two miles beneath the surface, IS all gone.  From now on, it will cost lots and lots of money to bring to the surface what remains.  Yes, there’s  oil underneath the Arctic Ocean, but getting at it will be unmitigated hell.  It’s time to seek alternatives.

Thanks, Bill McKibben,  for reminding us that resistance is the only course of action worth taking.
With thanks to Rolling Stone.


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