Menconi: With time running out, there’s no choice but to take on fossil fuel use directly
Plato said, “No one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.”
It seems hard to believe now, but Richard Nixon regulated dirty smokestacks and DDT out of existence and created the Environmental Protection Agency after being lobbied.
Fifty years later, our elected representatives have been hijacked by special interests who foreclose on our children’s future.
Despite all the advances in green technology, we continue to burn oil and gas with reckless abandon.
Despite tens of trillions spent on endless wars for cheap oil, we’ve only managed to find $370 billion to incentivize clean energy early this year with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act.
American leaders refuse even to discuss deep cuts in emissions.
At a recent panel hosted in Aspen, during the Men’s World Cup, called “the World Cup of Climate,” I asked a simple question to the leaders: “Are any of you advocating or lobbying for a bill to regulate fossil fuels out of existence?” After all, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned five years ago that we must cut carbon emissions by 7% a year — and by half by 2030. It’s now clear that we will miss these targets by a wide margin, with potentially catastrophic consequences for our planet and future generations.
The panel’s response was disappointing, to say the least. Dustin Cook, a former Canadian World Cup winner and Olympian, came up to me afterward and said, “While it was nice to see a climate panel on the agenda, the session contained very little substance in terms of actual steps or ideas to address the massive climate impact that ski racing and the World Cup circuit has and appeared to be mainly a ‘pat on the back session’ for those involved.” We got empty platitudes and branding ideas. It seemed more like a World Cup of Greenwashing.”
The IPCC completed its Sixth Assessment Report in March. The report notes that under current policies, the world will blow past the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal for 2050 and reach between 2.7 C to 3.2 C (nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.
Since the Industrial Revolution, this increase has impacted our health, food security, and water supplies. Climate destruction is happening with increased fires, droughts, flooding, and intense storms. With the rapid ocean warming in the Pacific ahead of El Nino, scientists are panicking that it will add to global-warming projections. Climate scientists admit they don’t have all the variables needed to understand global warming’s real threats.
The economic impacts of not taking action to reduce carbon emissions are staggering. The IPCC estimates that the economic costs of warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could be between $1.6 trillion and $3.8 trillion annually by the year 2100. If warming reaches 2°C, the costs could be much higher, between $2.8 trillion and $15.2 trillion annually. These costs would include damage to infrastructure, health-care costs, loss of agricultural productivity, and many other factors that would impact people’s lives.
Taking action to reduce carbon emissions is not only necessary for the environment, but also for the economy. This is a simple math problem. The bottom line is that switching to a green economy is cheaper than paying for the death and destruction of our oil addiction.
What would a bill to regulate the end of fossil fuels look like? For starters, it would need to set aggressive targets for reducing carbon emissions across all sectors of the economy, from transportation and energy to agriculture and manufacturing. Big successes could be made in residential and commercial buildings. It would also need to provide incentives for clean energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal while phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels. And it would need to include measures to protect workers and communities that are currently dependent on the fossil fuel industry, such as retraining programs and support for local economic development.
The biggest challenge is political will. The fossil-fuel industry has enormous influence over our political system, and any attempt to regulate it out of existence would face fierce opposition.
But we cannot afford to wait any longer. We must take bold action to address the climate crisis before it’s too late.
As Oxfam has done, one way to build support for climate action is to break down emissions by income. The wealthiest 1% are responsible for twice as many emissions as the poorest 50%. A sample of 125 billionaires showed that their investments have the same carbon footprint as France. Oxfam’s analysis shows that with its high-income residents and visitors, Aspen has a grossly disproportionate responsibility for carbon emissions. We cannot rely on individual choices to reduce emissions. We need systemic change targeting the biggest polluters.
Consider the Willow Creek project on federal lands in Alaska, an $8 billion plan to extract 600 million barrels of oil, which the Biden administration approved in March despite its massive emissions, as an example of our challenges. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is supposed to reduce emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2030, could wipe out nearly 30% by a single project like Willow Creek.
Later in March, the Biden administration auctioned off 1.6 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. By now, we all understand the power of special interests and the urgent need for political leadership that puts people over profits.
We must demand more from our elected officials, business leaders, and environmental organizations to fix the climate crisis. We cannot afford to be complacent or rely on empty “blah blah blah,” as Greta Thunberg said. We need to push for bold action that addresses the root causes of the problem and puts the well-being of people and the planet first.
As the Colorado Legislators wrapped up their sessions, the Democrat majority with a Democrat Governor had not passed legislation to regulate fossil fuels out of existence yet again. Joe Biden promised not to drill on federal lands, yet approved two major projects in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico in March, outpacing Donald Trump’s administration.
Environmental groups like Protect Our Winters (POW) are not pushing for laws to keep fossil fuels in the ground for fear of alienating Democrat representatives. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, nicknamed Frackenlooper, have not introduced laws to rachet down fossil fuels. This is environmental malpractice — knowing what is urgently needed but not acting.
We used to say that those who don’t believe that humans cause global warming are climate deniers. Now we have the science of an existential crisis, and our Democrat elected officials, business leaders, and environmental groups are practicing incrementalism and delaying the call to action for getting off of oil and gas to save their jobs.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “Delayers are deniers.” This won’t change until we lean in and our voices are heard that we are sick and tired of the branding, virtual signaling, excuses, and other BS.
Write letters to the editor, go to their meetings, contact your papers, and most of all, demand laws that outlaw the problem.
In 2019, I met with the Environmental Protection Agency EPA architect under Nixon, David Freeman, for a day, in Washington, D.C. I sat in on the Congressional Committee for Climate Crisis, spoke to U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, ran for office on the Green New Deal, passed green building laws as a county commissioner, and protested.
Freeman said it best at 93 years old: “We have a simple solution, to write laws to regulate fossil fuels out of existence.”
I met with several local elected officials, who asked me what I would do if I were them. I said they should lobby our Colorado elected officials in Washington for a climate bill. The problem is that the oil and gas industry has our leaders held hostage. But this is our World War II moment in history.
I am told over and over by environmental groups, Democrats, and others — we can only do what we can do. Do you realize how hard it is to pass legislation of any kind?
Yes, I do, but I’ve seen times when we all stood together and accomplished what seemed like the impossible. We have no other choice.
Arn Menconi, a former Eagle County commissioner, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.