The Moral Imperative: A Dose of Reality

Alan Journet, Co-facilitator, Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
August 2021

For some two and a half centuries we have all enjoyed the benefits of advancing mechanization and technology born of the invention of the steam engine and the subsequent industrial revolution. Although early warnings about the climate consequences of our burning fossil fuels were sounded some 200 years ago, warnings from scientists persisted through the latter years of the 20th Century. More recently, during the last three to five decades our understanding of the science of global warming and its climate consequences has grown to a point where denial is no longer sane. Denying climate science constitutes as much of a threat to humanity as denying the medical science regarding SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 virus.

We have all benefitted from the fossil fuel era some call the ‘Carbocene.’  Now that we know the consequences of fossil fuel use, it is incumbent upon us all to act to reverse the cause of the climate crisis we are experiencing that its use has generated. If we fail to respond, life as we know it will not be possible for our children and grandchildren because our natural systems, our forestry, our agriculture, and our fisheries will be devastated. It is no longer acceptable for us, either individually or via our industry or industrial organizations, to seek reasons why we should be exempt from reducing emissions. If we care about future residents of our planet, we absolutely must simply buckle down and both reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and capture and store greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. As we undertake the needed transitions in our daily lives, our energy economy and our industrial processes, we must stop seeking reasons why we cannot do that which is necessary, but commit to discovering how to achieve the necessary changes. Life as we know it on the planet is at risk!

Our need to address the climate crisis is not a partisan issue; it is a non-partisan moral imperative. It is also urgent! If we have not already crossed critical tipping points, we have but a few short years to make substantial changes in our behavior before we do. If they are not pushing us over it, those arguing minimalist responses are simply driving us closer to the precipice.  They are making achieving the necessary reductions more difficult. Our climate does not care what the limitations are for this or that person or industry. We are all responsible for the problem; we must all take responsibility for solving it.

The main cause for the crisis in which we currently find ourselves is no mystery: it is predominantly our use of fossil fuels. By extracting, processing and burning these fuels, we transfer greenhouse gases trapped from an atmosphere during the Carboniferous Period some three hundred million years ago into today’s atmosphere. All fossil fuels are responsible for causing the problem. There is no ‘clean fossil fuel!’ To argue that there is a clean fossil fuel demonstrates either a lack of understanding of the problem or a conscious effort to obfuscate and deceive. We simply do not have the time to play around with this kind of argument; all fossil fuels must be phased down to the point of net zero emissions or, better,, phased out completely. This means we annually emit into our atmosphere no more greenhouse gases than are captured annually from the atmosphere.

To achieve the necessary target of net zero emissions by 2050, we must acknowledge that there is no room in our energy future for fossil fuels. Representatives of the energy industries must accept this reality and respond accordingly by transitioning away from fossil fuels and into genuine renewable fuels. Gimmicks designed simply to extend our fossil fuel use and maintain profits for fossil fuels corporations engaging largely in ‘business as usual’ are unacceptable. The longer we cling to the cause of the problem, the more difficult will be overcoming it. We must transition away from coal, oil and fossil (natural) gas and stop pretending that any of these represent some kind of bridge fuel to the future. There is no ‘all of the above’ option. Individuals who cling to fossil fuels are not contributing to the solution but prolonging the problem. Industries and agencies that do likewise are similarly prolonging the problem; they are not solving it.