Two of the world’s leading authorities on the effect fossil fuels have on global warming had a lot to say this week. Elon Musk was the featured guest at the World Energy Innovation Forum on Wednesday. That’s not surprising, since it was held at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. In his remarks, he accused political leaders both in the US and around the world of bowing to the “unrelenting and enormous” lobbying power of the fossil fuel industry. He warns that a global “revolt” may be needed to make the move to a fossil fuel–free world a reality.
Musk made reference to the massive subsidies provided to fossil fuel companies every year, a number stated by the International Monetary Fund last year as more than $5 trillion a year. The solution, Musk said, is to place a price on carbon via a tax on greenhouse gas emissions or the carbon content of fuels.
“The fundamental issue with fossil fuels is that every use comes with a subsidy,” Musk said. “Every gasoline car on the road has a subsidy, and the right way to address that is with a carbon tax. Politicians take the easy path of providing subsidies to electric vehicles, which aren’t equal to the applied subsidies of gasoline vehicles. It weakens the economic forcing function to transition to sustainable transport and energy. It is quite worrying, the future of the world,” he added. “We need to appeal to the people and educate them to sort of revolt against this and to fight the propaganda of the fossil fuel industry which is unrelenting and enormous.”
Worrying is putting it mildly. The first months of 2016 have been the warmest ever recorded. India has posted armed guards at dam sites to keep its citizens from “stealing” water. Scientists have noted the Antarctic ice sheet has become dangerously unstable. They warn that ocean levels could rise 10 feet or more in the next 30 years. Maybe some of you are old enough that you don’t expect to be around to see Manhattan slip below the waves, but your children will be. This is not some warning that the sun may burn itself out in a few billion years. This is happening now and the pace of change is accelerating.
Climate activist Bill McKibben mentioned all those factors when he made his own call for a public uprising against fossil fuels this week. “We need to keep oil and gas and coal in the ground, keep it from being burned and adding its freight of carbon to the global total.” He says people around the world will be taking action personally and collectively this month to help make that happen.
“In Australia, they’ll be taking to kayaks at the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, and in Brazil it’s the fracking onslaught they’re opposing. In Vancouver they’ll be surrounding a new proposed oil terminal on the coast, and in Indonesia they’ll be outside the presidential palace in Jakarta. Coal will be the target in the Philippines and Turkey and the UK, oil in Nigeria, gas in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado—on and on around the planet, a swell of people saying the time has come.”
McKibben is one of the founders of 350.org. That group’s website has a full list of planned activities and contact information for those who want to get involved. “The time has come to turn up the heat on the small band of companies and people still willing to get rich off fossil fuel, even though it’s now utterly clear they’re breaking the planet. The time has come to show that we understand we’re in this together across borders and boundaries,” McKibben says.
Several lawsuits are part of the fossil fuel protest movement. In Oregon, a group of youngsters are suing the federal government. They are trying to force it to do what Congressional Republicans don’t want it to do — protect the environment. In the state of Washington, another group of young plaintiffs are seeking to force that state to do the same. Both groups are supported by Our Children’s Trust, an advocacy group with goals similar to McKibben’s 350.org.
Just as important as protesting or bringing lawsuits is voting this fall. Make it your business to find out where every candidate who wants to represent you stands on the issue of fossil fuels and vote accordingly. 60% of all Americans are represented in Congress by someone who is a climate change denier. That is largely thanks to a Supreme Court that thinks the rule of law means that the one with the biggest checkbook always wins. It can be argued that every one of the conservative justices on the Court are little more than paid shills for the political interests who put them there.
This election is not about fences, religion, or bathrooms. It is not about pandering to our fears. It is about the hard political choices that have to be made to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Unless you are wealthy enough to buy your way to Mars aboard one of Elon Musk’s spaceships, you need to make this the key issue for your vote this fall. It’s time to send the climate deniers in Congress packing, once and for all.