“Helpful new strategic clarity” before us now: stop digging! We must shift off of fossil fuels

September 30, 2016

Rev. Peter Sawtell of the longstanding Eco-Justice Ministries supported by the Sisters of Loretto and others, writes in a letter he titles “Stop Digging,” an excerpt of which is included below.  For the full letter and previous Eco-Justice Notes, see archive on their website.

The executive summary of the report thus offers three recommendations:

  • No new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure should be built, and governments should grant no new permits for them.
  • Some fields and mines — primarily in rich countries — should be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.
  • This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.

The final paragraph of the report says, “the conclusions are also remarkably straightforward at their core. To keep from burning more fossil fuels than our atmosphere can withstand, we must stop digging them out of the ground.”

Because the data and the conclusions of the report are so clear, we have been given a helpful new strategic clarity. We can — we must — stop arguing about specific instances of wells or pipelines. We must work for categorical changes.

The world community must reject every new coal mine, starting now. We must refuse all new drilling operations. Generally, that will also mean that no new oil pipelines or coal export terminals will be built. We need to stop now. Nothing new can be added to existing production.

China has already adopted a policy of closing some existing coal mines. The US government has stopped issuing new coal leases. The US ban has to be extended to oil and gas leases, too — both onshore and offshore. (That was the demand behind our “Break Free” protest last May at a BLM lease auction.)

It is no longer a question of whether good pollution controls are put on gas wells — we have to stop drilling new wells. It is no longer a question of the ecological destruction of mountain top removal — we have to stop all new mining operations.

There is an absolute standard to meet. We, as a global community, must not allow any new fields of coal, oil or gas to go into production. What is already in production must decline to net zero by no later than 2070 — and 2050 improves our odds.

The report spells out many details about what is needed to make this energy transition happen — technically and economically. There is a pathway to a just transition. It is a challenging pathway, but it is the only viable option that is available.

We’ve just passed the line of 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere — and the rate of increase is accelerating. Without dramatic action, we are on a rapid path to climate chaos.

“Stop digging” is the only realistic choice. May we heed the wisdom of the new report, and demand policy changes to put those recommendations in place.