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fossil fuel

Öl Macht Frei

My father was a tractor pull champion. A homebuilder by trade, his office walls were lined with dozens of shiny trophies. He was Texas state champion in his category. When he retired from building, he moved back to his farm, converting one field to a staging area where he could host his own tractor pulls. This was fun for him. It was validating. He was able to socialize, make some money, and feel important.

What’s wrong with any of that?

Not much, really, except that each tractor could burn through an entire tank of gas in minutes.

Fossil fuel corporations are our biggest adversary in transitioning to other forms of energy that release less carbon into the atmosphere, but the biggest obstacle in getting “the people” to take those corporations down is the impact on our personal lives. My nephew works for an oil company and has been able to provide a comfortable living for his family for the past 15 years. A smart guy, he never graduated from high school. The only job I remember him working before his current position was one painting cars. He also likes tractor pulls.

My nephew has several children he loves deeply. Each day he goes to work, he is condemning them to a harsher and harsher future. But he won’t stop because to do so would put them in dire circumstances today.

Good people do terrible things because they feel they don’t have options. We will be unable to persuade the public to go along with the disruptive changes required not only to cease carbon emissions but also to recapture tons of it already released.

Back when I was Mormon, my bishop worked for Shell Oil as a geologist. I’d long enjoyed geology, but he pointed out that it was difficult to earn money as a geologist unless you were searching for oil. That didn’t particularly appeal to me, even in the days before I had heard about global warming. My bishop eventually became my stake president and presided over my Court of Love where I was excommunicated for being gay. As he pulled me into a separate room away from the group of high priests who’d convicted me, he said, “I know some great guys at work who are gay. I don’t know why the Church has this position, but I don’t have any choice but to excommunicate you.”

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Good people do terrible things because they feel they don’t have options. We will be unable to persuade the public to go along with the disruptive changes required not only to cease carbon emissions but also to recapture tons of it already released. That means we must take a multi-issue approach.

Tuition-free colleges and trade schools would help workers shift to new careers. But my nephew would not be able to attend any educational program for two to four or six years without being able to provide for his family in the meantime. We need an adequate stipend for the time it takes folks to shift to other jobs. We need guaranteed childcare as well. And no one is going to leave a secure position if they have to worry about medical bills. We can’t cut our dependence on fossil fuels unless we implement single-payer or some other form of universal healthcare.

Our survival depends on a sweeping overhaul of our entire culture and economy. It’s daunting. Deep into the world’s sixth mass extinction event, the only one caused by human activity, we’ve just seen another sobering report on global warming. An additional million species will soon be added to the already staggering death toll.

Many brave souls fought against the Nazi regime, but many more did not, afraid that fighting back would guarantee their deaths while waiting it out might give them a chance to survive. The sign above the entrance to Auschwitz promised that work would make them free. They clung to the promise, even as they marched to the gas chambers.

The entrances to all fossil fuel companies, their storage facilities, and the work sites that process or transport those fossil fuels should have new signs erected over them.

“Öl macht frei.”

Unless we can offer those who make their living bringing death to the world a viable alternative, they will keep doing their jobs. Blaming them for their short-sightedness is both unfair and unhelpful. If we really want to save ourselves, we can’t tackle this challenge one piece at a time. A sizable chunk of the funds necessary to implement these radical changes can be requisitioned from the massive fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks we currently give to fossil fuel corporations. The rest can be redirected from our bloated military budget.

Since 1945, we’ve dreaded what World War III would look like. Well, it’s here. The entire planet is facing an enemy greater than we’ve ever known. And it will take a massive, multi-faceted attack to achieve victory.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend