By Jacqueline Savitz, Deputy Vice President of U.S. Campaigns at OCEANA
Any discussion about modern energy policy must be set against a climate change backdrop. Our reliance on fossil fuels has put unprecedented amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, with global impacts that are increasingly hard to deny. They range from the acidification of our oceans to the increased frequency and severity of storms. Sea level rise is beginning to force residents of small island nations out of their homes, and changes in rainfall and other weather patterns will cause famine and drought in some places. The only way to change course is to make clean energy our goal. That means moving away from fossil fuels, not expanding our focus on them, and reducing offshore drilling, not expanding it.
If the United States were a company it would need a smart business plan complete with goals, timelines, milestones and a strategy for meeting them. Our CEO would analyze the competition and the business environment. To address climate change, we would set a clean energy development goal: to build a clean energy industry that provides half of our needs by a set year, and hopefully all of our needs at a later date. This goal would reduce the risks and costs associated with fossil fuel production as well as the attendant risks of climate change.
The projections show we can do this. There are a variety of clean energy solutions on the horizon, and many of them are already proving to be useful here and abroad. Investors like John Doerr see the tremendous potential in clean energy. Doerr called clean energy “the next great global industry,” and argued that green technologies could be the biggest economic opportunity of this century. But, he points out that we may be missing out because of our “competitiveness crisis,” where countries like China are lapping us on clean energy. How can that be?
They are ahead of us because the “All of the Above” approach to energy, which has been advocated by some in the fossil fuel industry and adopted by President Obama in his first term, simply doesn’t work. It sets the clean energy sector up with a losing proposition: compete against the richest companies in the world, which are heavily subsidized and have accumulated tremendous power in Congress over more than a century, and see how you do. Clean energy companies must compete with wealthy fossil fuel companies for investments, labor, talent, parts, and access to resources, just to name a few critical needs. This drives up the costs and reduces our net on our goal.
We need new energy policies that stop favoring the fossil fuel industry. Clearly, we can’t stop all drilling immediately. But we can decide to stop issuing new leases, and not to start drilling in areas that are high risk, or low return, like the Arctic and the Atlantic, respectively. New drilling will not lower the price at the pump. Oil is traded, and its price is set, on the global market. The gas prices fallacy is proffered by the oil and gas industry for its own benefit and we all know it’s not true.
What is true? Offshore drilling is dirty and dangerous, the BP oil disaster laid to rest any doubts about that. Congress has failed to pass a single bill to improve offshore drilling safety. And offshore drilling in the Arctic is extremely misdirected as Shell is clearly demonstrating.
Before we expand oil drilling any further, we need to ask ourselves (those of us that are not in the oil and gas business, that is) where do we want to be in 2030 or 2040? Do we want to watch more footage of oil gushing into our oceans, watch the climate crisis unfold for our children and shift our energy dependence from the Middle East to China? Or do we want to cash in on a climate saving investment that prevents those outcomes and achieves our goal? If the answer is the latter, then we should stop expanding offshore drilling and get to work on energy policy that is favorable to clean energy.
OCEANA is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. www.oceana.org