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Climate Change

Fossil Fuel Heirs Urge End To Fossil Fuels

Two oil heiresses are calling for an end to fossil fuels. Does that seem weird?

Aileen Getty and Rebecca Rockefeller Lambert will never have to worry about having a roof over their heads or going hungry, thanks to ancestors who became incredibly wealthy in the oil business. Does that disqualify them from being climate activists? Not in the slightest.

In a jointly written article in The Guardian on November 6, the pair argue eloquently for an end to fossil fuel and the transition to a low carbon economy. Their words are directed at members of Congress at a time when oil and gas companies are pushing hard to slow down or stop meaningful climate action.

Opening Statement

“Over a century ago, our families were central in unlocking fossil fuels. Government embraced this technological advancement and invested in the infrastructure and production needed for its growth,” the pair writes.

“Our personal histories compel us to publicly acknowledge what we have known for many years: the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is killing life on our planet. Fossil fuels are a technology of the past — leftovers of a bygone era when we believed we could force our will on nature and disregard the connectivity of all living beings.”

The Damage Done

“Fossil fuels killed 8.7 million people globally in 2018 – disproportionately impacting Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities,” Getty and Lambert write. “Human lives aren’t the only ones being lost. More than 1 billion sea creatures along the Canadian coast were cooked to death during this summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.

“The latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that some climate impacts are already irreversible and that only through immediate, internationally coordinated action can we hope to avoid the most severe consequences. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report ‘a code red for humanity.’ The terrifying reality is that inaction, or even half-measures, will cost countless lives. Yet Congress is still not reacting to the climate emergency with the urgency that a humanity-threatening crisis demands.”

The Debate Is Over

“There is nothing left to debate,” the pair argue.

“The science is clear on what needs to happen and many organizations have already created a blueprint to follow. To start, Congress must help usher in a new energy age – a clean energy age with the same level of support that fossil fuels companies have received for over a century.

“A rapid managed transition off fossil fuels — including an end to new refineries, infrastructure, and pipelines like Line 3 that lock in more dangerous pollution and warming emissions — can prevent the worst of the climate crisis while securing a future where our communities and the planet thrive. Including safeguards to ensure good jobs for workers in transition and responsible land management will help revive our economy while tackling environmental injustice, and systemic racism.”

End Government Subsidies

Getty and Lambert call for an end to government subsidies for fossil fuels. “[C]ongress must use the budget reconciliation bill to end all federal support for the fossil fuel industry. Every year, $15 billion of our taxpayer money goes directly to fossil fuel companies in the form of subsidies. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the corporate welfare received by the industry most responsible for the climate crisis.” [Note: the International Monetary Fund says indirect subsidies are far larger.]

“These handouts don’t mean jobs. Research from the Stockholm Environment Institute revealed that over 96% of the subsidies in the tax code go directly to profits. This point was hammered home last year when large fossil fuel companies received $8.2 billion from the CARES Act pandemic relief bill and still laid off 16% of their workforce. Tax dollars need to support people, not polluters.”

A Deeper Connection

“In addition to policy shifts, we must also find our way back to a deeper connection to the Earth, its well-being and our place in it. The global response to climate change must acknowledge our interconnection with nature and re-awaken our love for and connection with each other and the natural world. And we must realize that this interconnectedness is, itself, a natural resource that should not be discounted.

“The two of us are intensely aware that our families’ history with oil has granted us tremendous privilege. With that privilege comes the opportunity to contribute to a world where all have the chance to thrive. We are joining so many others who are urging our elected leaders to listen to the science and understand the fundamental truth that we can’t build back better unless we build back fossil-free. We can harness the great American ingenuity and resourcefulness to steer us and the world toward a safer and more just future.”

The Takeaway

There is something jarring about people who are enormously comfortable financially admitting that the things that brought them such comfort are contrary to the best interests of humanity and the Earth. But as strange as it may seem, Andrew Carnegie once said, “Surplus wealth is a sacred trust which its possessor is bound to administer in his lifetime for the good of the community.” Getty and Lambert are putting Carnegie’s words into action and good for them for doing so.

Their focus on interconnectedness is refreshing in an age when anger and hatred are the defining elements of society, particularly in the United States where the venom directed at people of color and the poor has reached previously unimaginable heights. We are treated daily to crooks like Joe Manchin pocketing enormous sums from the coal industry while wringing his hands about the high cost of government spending on social programs.

In the final analysis, we are all in this life together, all of us — rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight. We can choose to exaggerate our differences or we can cooperate to create a rich, diverse, and sustainable world.

When my daughter was young, we spent many hours together watching Sesame Street, which often taught us lessons about cooperation (see video below). It’s not that hard to do, so why do we find it so hard to do? Self interest is not that answer. It breeds divisiveness and fear of the other.

It’s true we are not all in the same boat. But we really are in the same storm. It’s long past time we learned that working together is the only way to survive this mess we have created for ourselves. Is that really so hard to understand?


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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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