by Nora Germain
As we near the full speed and progress of what’s sometimes called the fourth industrial revolution, the news on climate change becomes more frequent, stunning and dire in general. We have very little time as a society to convert to clean energy and to go even further with decarbonization technology and reforestation in order to save our planet and its precious natural places from total collapse.
The past few weeks were no exception, as several headlines illustrated that we are firmly headed out of the era of fossil fuels. This can’t happen soon enough as our carbon budget continues to dwindle at catastrophic rates, and if that wasn’t enough pressure, financial and economic factors also illustrate the need to transition quickly, ethically and completely away from fossil fuels.
In February 2021 it was reported in The Guardian that during 2018, a staggering 8.7 million deaths globally were caused by the burning of fossil fuels, mostly in the form of air pollution. It’s most severe in Eastern Asia, but a threat to societies almost everywhere. The study went on to explain that without the burning of fossil fuels, average human life expectancy could be increased by an entire year and health costs around the world could fall by $2.9 trillion — no small figure.
This report was one of the subjects discussed on RChain’s RCast last week, and we continue on a regular basis to discuss the global trends in public health, finance and tech that point to the end of the fossil fuel era. Whether it’s looking at the new Biden Administration in the United States or the increase in severe climate disasters and subsequent refugee crises, all signs point to the end of fossil fuels, with a new piece from The Wall Street Journal highlighting the point even further.
The headline reads, “Shell hits its own peak oil; Plans to reduce output.” For years the idea of “peak oil” was debated in the media and by environmentalists and economists alike. Finally, on February 11, 2021, one of the biggest fossil fuel producers in the world believes they’ve hit it, and they expect output to “decline by 1-2% per year.” I wouldn’t be surprised if it declined much more rapidly than that, with the recent price on oil going to negative $37 earlier in 2020. It was a temporary low, but a bad sign for oil producers in the long run.
Society is also growing tired of the climate crisis and of its dependence on oil. Tesla stock exploded in 2020, a recent United Nations poll cited that nearly two thirds of citizens around the world consider the climate crisis to be an emergency, and there was another oil spill in the San Francisco Bay just last week, which infuriated local residents, rightfully so.
The 600 gallon oil spill from a Chevron refinery is the latest of a long history of environmental disasters in California, not least of which was the orange colored skies that appeared in the Bay Area in 2020 which caused a great deal of anxiety and devastation due to smoke. Residents of California are used to wildfires, but an oil spill in 2021 might just be the last straw.
After President Biden decided through executive order to shut down the long fought over Keystone XL pipeline in January, support is now growing for Biden to also cancel the Dakota Access Pipeline which has been a focal point for many environmental groups and celebrity advocates around the world.
Local Indigenous tribes have fought extremely hard both legislatively and physically to get the pipeline shut down because it endangers drinking water and is a blatant example of environmental racism. Furthermore, the pipeline has leaked dozens of times and has already caused damage to precious and underprotected Indigenous lands.
Pressures continue to mount across the world as we recently saw the biggest protest in history with over 250 million people in attendance in India. Farmers in India are in a long standing clash with their government over labor laws and income security, but this complex set of issues is exacerbated by the climate crisis with water being the biggest issue.
Around the world we see that both flooding and drought can lead to civil unrest, economic turmoil and even war, in the case of a place like Syria. Solving the climate crisis thus is an answer to a great many of the world’s most contentious and intersecting issues, and it’s another sign that the world is not only ready but desperate for solutions to climate change.
Finally, another indication that the fossil fuel era is ending is the potential connection that has now been made between climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Per CBS News, aggressive and out of balance land use, deforestation, poaching and other human activities can cause species to move to new areas, to bring new diseases with them, and to potentially infect human beings more easily.
Furthermore, a rise in temperatures causes insects to procreate for longer periods of time and in habitats that are further and further north, and the rise in temperature can also cause diseases to spread more quickly. The summary is that we need to allow nature to thrive and to stop interfering and hindering it to the degree we are now. It’s not certain that this would prevent the next pandemic, but it seems that it would make the conditions much less likely.
No matter how you look at the climate crisis, through issues of public health, economic vitality, natural disasters or civil unrest, you’ll find that the evidence that we are entering a decidedly new era is now incontrovertible. The question is not about whether the human race will make this transition successfully, as both economic and environmental factors demand this already. The question is how fast we will transition and how ethical this transition will be especially for those people with less means and who already suffer most from the crisis.
A swift and ethical transition ensures not only higher economic stability, but will put a limit on the suffering that human beings and wildlife face as a result of our inaction for so long. This crisis will worsen and conditions will continue to decline for people all around the world until, and likely some time after, this crisis is solved. It’s time now to heed this moment and to make the most of this rare gift — a virtually united world, full of people who want to save it.