July 20, 2020 By Brianna Cunliffe, P.E.N. chief investigative reporter This is a moment of reckoning for the energy future of America. As three devastating decisions render major US pipelines defunct and global oil assets plunge, it is becoming abundantly clear: The fossil fuel era is dying. What sort of world will rise in its place? The 8 billion […]
By Brianna Cunliffe, P.E.N. chief investigative reporter
This is a moment of reckoning for the energy future of America. As three devastating decisions render major US pipelines defunct and global oil assets plunge, it is becoming abundantly clear: The fossil fuel era is dying. What sort of world will rise in its place?
In light of these failures and the changing energy landscape,analysis by Bloombergfinds that “U.S. pipelines are becoming increasingly unbuildable.” Worldwide, the downward spiral of fossil fuels worsened, as giants Shell and BP wrote off $40 billion of their assets as unrecoverable, a far cry from a once-militant optimism envisioning endless growth.
We are arriving at a tipping point. As Kelly Martin, director of theSierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuel Campaign, has said, “A new era is upon us—one for clean energy, and one where the risks of fossil fuel infrastructure are increasingly exposed.”
Two thirds of Americansbelieve the government is not doing enough to combat the climate crisis or to protect our lands and waters. The concurrent crises of COVID, mass unemployment, and racial justice uprisings are forcing the nation to reckon with the status quo. Elected Officials To Protect America has made it clear that there is no ‘back to normal.’ Instead, we must build a better world. After all, the old one is already crumbling. Appalachian Voices Executive DirectorTom Cormons put it plainest, “the facts have never been more clear: fracked gas has no role in our energy future.”
Two of the Dakota’s Honor the Earth primary staff moved to Standing Rock in July and lived in the camps in tipis and wall tents and faced down armored vehicles like these. Courtesy photo
Powerful Indigenous and local organizers applied courageous and ceaseless pressure. Big Oil ultimately caved. Utility companiesscrambledto distance themselves from volatile, exploitative extractive industries. This injustice is nothing new — only now the world is paying attention.
In the global marketplace, prospects for the fossil fuel industries look only grimmer. Concern for the future of precarious projects extracting oil and gas at high cost are no longer the purview of niche environmentalists, but every major investor. Keep-it-in-the-ground and energy independence campaigns have gained traction. Elected officials face growing pressure to divest taxpayer dollars from the increasingly volatile industry endangering both Americans’ healths and their wallets. Theasset devaluations that experts have long predicted are no longer vague threats or nightmares: for Shell and BP, they’re40 billion dollar realities. [expand on leave-it-in-the -ground outcomes, etc.]
But an important victory has at last come to long-beleaguered Appalachia. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is dead. It is an outcome that seemed impossible a short time ago, and a testament to what can happen when the people corporations wrote off as expendable rise up against the greed threatening their home.
The Supreme Courtcleared the way for the planned 600-mile fracked-gas pipeline, a venture of Dominion and Duke Energy to run from West Virginia, through Virginia into North Carolina. But eight unattained permits still stood in the way of its progress for obvious reasons: it is unnecessary, dangerous, andexploitative.
“They chose a pathway that goes through the most economically depressed towns and vulnerable communities in Appalachia on purpose,” saidDanielle I. A. Adams, EOPA National Board Member and North Carolina Soil and Water Supervisor. “Communities who are already marginalized, who are already economically depressed, who are already vulnerable to racial violence, the impacts of climate change. It’s very precise in who they’re denying their rights, and they’re doing it because they don’t have political clout.”
But from the roots of environmental justice movements in the toxic landfill sites ofWarren Countyto the modern day, the Indigenous, Black and low-income communities of Appalachia have proven that they are not to be ignored. The historicallyBlack community of Union Hill rose up against the insidiously unjust placement of a compressor statement in their culturally-rich town.25 percent of North Carolina’s Native population lived within a mile of the pipeline’s proposed path, and the Lumbee, Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, and Meherrin Tribesorganized for years to keep permits off their sovereign land.
“It’s just absolutely a horrific project, which shows that they clearly were not concerned about the livelihoods and well being and cultural and environmental significance of the places they would destroy on the way,” said Jenna Wadsworth, EOPA signatory, NC Soil and Water Supervisor, and nominee for NC Commissioner of Agriculture.
Just as they did in Appalachia, fossil fuel corporations thought they could bulldoze over indigenous peoples and their millenia-long stewardship of this land in pursuit of short-term economic gain. They soon learned they couldn’t. A third verdict has affirmed it: the Keystone XL Pipeline, long stalled because of its woefully inadequate environmental protections and potentially devastating path, was dealt another blowdespite the Trump Administration’s attempt to bolster it.
Grassroots organizers, indigenous leaders, and environmental groups across the nation worked tirelessly to upend the status quo and achieve these victories. All too often, the elected and appointed officials representing them — their health, autonomy, and liberty —were fighting against them, protecting the interests of the floundering fossil fuel industry. In the final week of June alone theSupreme Courtcleared the way for the ACP to cut through iconic public lands in Appalachia, Governor Newsom issuednew fracking permits in California, and the Trump administration moved to openmassive tracts of Alaskan reserves to drilling. July has seen President Trump unilaterally initiate massive rollbacks of bedrock environmental regulations and brag about them on the campaign trail.
Thepeople’s mandateto act on climate change is clear, with two thirds of Americans viewing the current response as insufficient . The current news cycle is rife with controversy, but activists are ensuring that the climate crisis won’t be blurred away or swept under the rug. The future is coming. And officials and corporations are fast finding out the costs of being stuck in the past.
“Currently, companies involved in the fossil fuel industry are at an even greater risk of losing value,”said New York Assistant Speaker Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, EOPA Council Member and veteran. “In combination with the negative impact fossil fuels have on the environment and climate, it’s time to divest now. New York can’t afford to wait.”
So what’s next? American consumers apparently have had enough of companies without the courage and empathy to shift their focus to the future. Evidence shows voters have had enough of this entrenched and systemic propping-up of the energy status quo, at any cost. The astronomic rise of climate champions backed by movements like Sunrise coupled with the unveiling of Biden’s new 2 trillion dollar climate plan points to a significant change in the political climate.
Forced to reckon with the impending failure of nonrenewables, from California to North Carolina, states are rolling out ambitious plans to phase out fossil fuel reliance. COVID does not sidetrack those on the frontlines from the climate crisis —- if anything, it makes efforts all the more urgent.
The likelihood of future pandemics is looming ever greater, thanks to continued destruction of biodiversity and rising temperatures. As a hurricane season likely even more devastating than years past, approaches our coastline and a similarly ominous fire season arrives in the West, many Americans believe that returning to the status quo is not simply irresponsible; it is fatal.
The future is here. Despite the massive blows to the renewable sector by COVID-19, offshore wind production still quadrupled from its last-year’s value. Solar is a sector ride with breakthroughs: a lab in spain has managed to produce power from solar panels 24/7. Research shows that by covering .3 percent of our world’s surface areas with solar panels, we could power the world by sun alone. That’s 1/60th of the world’s deserts. Coal is now more expensive than solar or wind in every major market. The excuses not to seize the moment are dwindling fast.
Administrations cozy with coal and oil can roll back regulations, scramble to prop up failing pipelines, and spout rhetoric about coal jobs. But will it be enough to hold back the turning tide? With climate champions ready and waiting to seize this moment to build a better world it looks like the oil industry’s reign is coming to an end.