Over the course of this week, we will be publishing a three-part series of posts outlining what an “All of the Above” energy strategy really means for the climate. This is part II of the series. Part I was posted on August 12th, and can be found here. Part III was posted on August 14th, and can be found here.

Anybody who supports an “All of the Above” energy plan must be in denial about the realities climate change. That’s a bold statement, but like we said in our post yesterday, there’s simply no other conclusion that can be made – and it’s time for some tough love. No matter how much our elected leaders want to, they can’t simply wish climate change away. What we need is leadership from officials at all levels of government to actually grapple with the real challenges that climate change presents.

There’s a decent amount to like in President Obama’s recently announced climate action plan; increasing investment in renewable energy, pursuing greater fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, and regulating pollution from dirty coal plants are all critical steps forward. But the President and many in Congress continue to support an “All of the Above” energy strategy that not only allows for the continued use of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, but actively promotes their increased development.

Instead of confronting the climate crisis head on, President Obama and others promoting “All of the Above” have decided to include oil, gas, and coal development alongside solar, wind and other renewable energy. There’s just one small problem: to have even a shot at stopping runaway climate change we need to keep two-thirds of all known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. In other words, we need to stop drilling, fracking, and mining – now.

Listed below are some of the biggest offenses within any “All of the Above” energy plan.

The Keystone XL Pipeline:

The Keystone XL pipeline has become a key issue in the fight to stop climate change. Already thousands have been arrested protesting the pipeline and even President Obama has recently begun to question any potential benefits from the project. During his climate speech this past June the President said he would only approve the pipeline if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”.

If the President is acting in good faith, there’s no way he can justify approving Keystone XL. According to OCI’s latest report, the Keystone XL pipeline would be responsible for at least 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each year. That’s comparable to the emissions from 37.7 million cars or 51 coal-fired power plants. Keystone XL and climate action are entirely at odds with each other.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies:

The US government gives $14 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry each year – and some estimates put that number as high as $56 billion. This is a massive problem. Government subsidies should not be incentivizing industries that are both incredibly profitable and also bringing on climate disaster. President Obama has said he wants to phase out these subsidies, but so far Congress has failed to act. It’s no surprise when the fossil fuel industry gives millions in campaign contributions directly to our elected leaders. We need to separate oil and state before it’s too late.

Fracking for Oil and Gas:

Fracking has become a cornerstone of President Obama’s energy strategy, but it’s a dirty and dangerous extraction process that needs to be stopped. Not only does fracking imperil the communities surrounding it through the direct contamination of their land, water, and air, but fracking for natural gas has dangerously under-reported climate costs as well. Methane leakage, a widespread problem across the natural gas industry, could make fracking for gas as bad for the climate as burning coal. Natural gas isn’t a bridge fuel, it’s a gangplank.

Further the idea of using the fracking process to get at not only natural gas but ever-more-difficult-to-reach oil reserves as well is purely climate insanity. Fracking for new fossil fuels (be they oil or gas) when we’re being told that we already have more than we can afford to burn is an act of denying the reality we are facing.

Arctic and Offshore Drilling:

The arctic is melting faster than most thought possible and it’s only expected to get worse. Instead of seeing this as a dire warning, the fossil fuel industry racing north in a mad dash to drill for oil, regardless of the social, environmental, and economic consequences. But it’s not just the arctic, offshore drilling continues to happen on a large scale despite the ongoing disaster caused by the BP oil spill (and more recent disasters). If offshore drilling continues off America’s coasts, we’ll be responsible for hundreds of millions of tonnes of new carbon pollution.

Oil, Gas, and Coal Exports:

The rise in US domestic carbon emissions may have leveled out temporarily, but fossil fuel production is booming and some of our elected leaders seem to think that’s a good thing. This carbon is exported to foreign markets where it’s burned, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less American-made. The atmosphere doesn’t care where carbon is burned.

Already coal exports have doubled under Obama’s presidency and there are proposals on the table to begin exporting natural gas at a massive scale. Rumors are even beginning to circle around efforts to gut the existing crude oil export ban as well. If the US continues to increase fossil fuel extraction simply to export it around the world, our fossil fuels will still crash the climate no matter how much we reduce our own emissions at home.

New Carbon Infrastructure Projects:

The energy infrastructure we invest in now will determine our future. Either we’ll have a renewable powered economy that’s safe, stable, and climate-friendly; or we’ll be struggling to cope with the impacts of climate change. We need to make sure that any energy plan focuses our government’s resources and power squarely on the energy technologies that will propel us towards a safe climate and prosperous economy. Continued investment in clean coal technologies, dirty and unregulated oil refineries, new pipelines and fossil fuel transport system, or other toxic infrastructure is a clear misallocation of resources that goes in the wrong direction.

Public Financing of Fossil Fuel Development:

The US has considerable power over international financial institutions like the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and our own Export-Import bank. The Obama Administration and Congress need to use the full force of the positions they’re in to make sure none of these institutions are investing in carbon polluting projects overseas. It doesn’t matter where carbon pollution comes from, it has the same effect.

President Obama has already taken some steps to address this problem with his announcement to end US government investments in coal overseas, but now we need all our elected leaders to follow through and make sure our shared long-term interests are put first when international investments are made and development projects approved.

All of the energy policies above are nearly universally included in “All of the Above” energy plans touted by anyone from Senator Inhofe, who has called climate change ‘the largest hoax ever perpetrated’ to Representatives who say they are terribly concerned about tackling climate change. Those denying the science of climate change should be ridiculed and pushed out of office for their science-denying stances. But those who accept climate change yet push energy policies that would serve to exacerbate the problem shouldn’t be let off the hook.

Solving climate change isn’t going to be easy – but it’s absolutely possible. It’s time for Obama and our elected leaders to find the courage they need to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, get real about what the science says is necessary, and protect our country (and the planet) from catastrophe.

Tar Pit #3

In tomorrow’s final post in this series, we’ll lay out how to turn an “All of the Above” energy strategy that would lead to climate disaster into an energy strategy that acknowledges the realities of climate change.

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