Accelerate transition to clean energy, not oil and gas production

“Generals are always prepared to fight the last war.” 

It is a quote that has been attributed to Winston S. Churchill and to many others, and the proverb is equally applicable to those who advocate increasing the production of oil and gas to meet the present crisis. 

Increasing the production of oil and gas prepares us for the last century, not this one. Nor does it prepare us for the future…if we want to have a better future. 

Historically oil and gas have done wonderful things to give us a better world. But now we recognize that their carbon and methane emissions have also given us a contaminated world and threaten our very future. 

The latest report from the world’s climate experts, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, spells it out: “The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” 

According to a March 22, 2022 study from Manchester University, wealthy countries such as ours have until 2034 to STOP all oil and gas production. And even that only gives us odds of preventing devastating climate breakdown no better than a simple coin flip. 

Most proposals to increase oil and gas production would only further lock us in to obsolescent energy infrastructure and would not even help us in the short run. (For example, export and import terminals for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) take 3-6 years to build. Proposals to open leasing on public lands, build pipelines, etc. will not help lower current energy prices in the U.S. as they would not increase production quickly.) Furthermore, fossil fuel companies in general are showing huge profits right now. And they’re using that extra cash to reward investors and pay down debts, not invest in new production. 

Fortunately the United States military has not exemplified that old proverb about generals, but instead has been leading the way in adopting clean energy. In combat zones, green energy saves lives. And since at least as far back as 2014, the U.S. defense strategy has viewed climate change as a “threat multiplier,” because it has the potential to exacerbate conflict.

Svitlana Krakovska, Ukraine’s leading climate scientist, puts it this way: “Burning oil, gas and coal is causing warming and impacts we need to adapt to. And Russia sells these resources and uses the money to buy weapons. Other countries are dependent upon these fossil fuels, they don’t make themselves free of them. This is a fossil fuel war. It’s clear we cannot continue to live this way, it will destroy our civilization.” 

The good news is that a transition to clean energy will also save the average household $500 a year in energy costs, when it includes tax credits and investments in clean electricity, electrification and efficiency. In addition, clean energy will save lives because it eliminates fossil fuel contaminants in the air we breathe and the water we drink. 

Further, by slowing the pace of climate change, we can reduce the risks to health and safety posed by severe droughts, wildfires, and floods, with which we Coloradoans are all too familiar. The U.S. has sustained 310 weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2021). The total cost of these 310 events exceeds $2.155 trillion. 

In the deepest sense, our modern mega-wildfires are fossil-fueled. 

Instead of doubling down on polluting sources of energy like oil and methane (“natural gas”) we should be accelerating our transition to the clean (and free) fuels of the present and future: wind and solar. As the Environmental Voter Project put it in a recent tweet: “Remember that time solar & wind energy prices spiked because of a foreign war? Of course you don’t.”

We should encourage Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to support legislation that is robust enough to meet the U.S. goal of 50% carbon reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. And here in Colorado, the Office of Just Transition should be expanded to include coverage for oil and gas workers. We should do this for the sake of jobs, U.S. leadership, national security, cutting costs for consumers, improving every-one’s health, and – most important of all – to take advantage of the “brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.” 

Chris Hoffman, M.B.A., M.Ed., is a retired management consultant and licensed professional counselor whose experience includes 23 years in the utility industry. He currently devotes most of his time to volunteer work for social justice and a thriving future with a livable climate.