Awareness of climate change's threat has grown over the last decade. With it, green policies, products, and habits have sprouted up to help reduce human impact on the environment. In many respects, the US is more efficient, cleaner, and responsible than ever—at least, the citizens are.
Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry is working hard to undo all our progress. Not only do the industry's emissions contribute to climate change, but they pollute the environment, perpetuate environmental racism, and pose a severe threat to the health and safety of their employees (but not the executives). It has to stop. Here is a list of the top 5 reasons we must phase out the fossil fuel industry.
Emissions Cause Global Warming, and We're Running Out of Time
To limit the chances of extreme weather, rising sea levels, and other hazards associated with climate change, we must keep the rise in temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change already restrict economic growth, damage human health (especially in marginalized communities), and reduce everyone's quality of life.
With the current emissions rate, we will reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius cutoff in just over ten years. But the rate is expected to increase from rising energy demands, and the fossil fuel industry has already developed enough reserves of their fuels to carry us past the point of no return.
Air Pollution Directly Affects Human Health
Fossil fuels also directly impact human and animal health—they cause localized air pollution from soot and smog. These increase the mortality risk of respiratory illness, heart disease, and cancer—the WHO has calculated that localized air pollution causes up to 4 million deaths yearly. Fortunately, scientists have calculated that a rapid abandonment of fossil fuels worldwide could save millions of lives.
Big Oil and Coal Consume Reserves and Pollute our Waterways
Frequent spills, leakage, and explosions in the US and Canada have irreparably damaged waterways, endangering wildlife and threatening the water supply. For example, the BP oil spill of 2010 dumped 171 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This and other disasters starkly illustrate that fossil fuels are unsafe to acquire and use.
In addition to spills in the ocean, wastewater from fossil fuel facilities pollutes groundwater and consumes precious freshwater reserves. Furthermore, coal mining releases ash into local waterways, endangering wildlife and human health.
Environmental Injustice: Toxic Waste, Unhealthy Air, and Contaminated Water
Fossil fuel companies don't dump their garbage near C-suite housing. Instead, toxic waste disproportionately affects poor minority communities in the US. Furthermore, poverty and race are frighteningly accurate predictors of harmful air pollution.
This danger impacts historically disadvantaged communities worldwide. According to the UN, climate change will impoverish over 120 million people by 2030, wreaking havoc on the economies, environments, and peoples of Earth's poorer regions.
Employee Safety and Health Policies Are Stuck in the 19th Century
The fossil fuel industry is one of the most hazardous in the US, with a terrible health and safety record for its workers. Moreover, the resurgence of "Black Lung" among coal miners illustrates the inhumane working conditions employees face.
Aside from the health risks, many companies use loopholes to give executives massive bonuses while denying pensions and health benefits to their workers. These offenses are most egregious when companies close mines and declare bankruptcy. The phasing out of fossil fuels needs to occur in a regulatory environment that ensures all workers receive fair treatment.
- Reduce demand—Reducing energy consumption is a great way to lessen fossil fuel usage. Ensure your home uses EnergyStar products, and don't forget to turn off all electrical appliances and lights when you are not using them.
- Bring your activism to work—Practice good stewardship in the office if your role has discretion, advocate for installing efficient equipment or developing products that require fewer fossil fuels to make.
- Keep your car home—Try to find ways to travel without using your personal vehicle. Public transit, carpooling, and trains are great for long distances. Moreover, walking and biking are super healthy alternatives if you only need to go a few miles.