The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change

Focus on Solutions

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I finished Tuesday’s post with a plea for people to use less petroleum. What we actually need to do is to use no petroleum (or coal or natural gas) at all.

I realize this sounds a bit pie-in-the-sky. Or, perhaps it sounds like an unreachable ideal, a star to steer by but never actually reach. The American way of life depends on fossil fuel, after all.

But I don’t mean to state an impossible ideal; I mean to issue marching orders. Getting off fossil fuel must be an immediate, tangible goal in much the same way that a driver headed towards an oncoming moose has an immediate goal of hitting the brakes.

Fossil fuel is killing the biosphere, period. Getting off fossil fuel is no longer optional.

Most efforts at reducing fossil fuel use ultimately fall short because, to one degree or another, retaining our accustomed way of life is the priority. We use more efficient technology, alternative energy sources, and even minor lifestyle changes to reduce as much as possible, but where these fall short we go back to fossil fuel because we “have to.”

The enterprising among us then bend our brains towards making further reductions possible in the future.

None of that is bad, but it’s ultimately a stop-gap, not a solution. The solution is to stop using fossil fuel–to prioritize getting off fossil fuel come what may–and then bend our brains to figure out how to live well anyway.

All this makes it sound as though the problem is that people choosing fossil fueled luxury over the planet. Realistically, some people are doing that, but others simply need the car to get to work in the morning.

The problem is that while the well-off can afford to take themselves off the grid, most people can’t. Many communities are not walkable and have little or no access to local organic food. Most apartments aren’t liveable without fossil fuel-fed utilities. Unless you can afford to create your own private infrastructure, there is really no way to go green.

The solution is that getting off petroleum can be a group venture, a community effort. If everyone who cared went about building the necessary infrastructure on a community level we could make a lot of progress quickly. Before the Industrial Revolution, no one was dependent on fossil fuel. That means we don’t have to wait for new technology to be fossil-free again. That doesn’t mean going back to life as it was in the 1700’s; it means using existing technology and modern knowledge to create new lifestyles that don’t harm the planet.

And the best part is, we’ll get to keep those lifestyles, if we want them. One way or another, we’re going to lose the lifestyle we’ve got.


Author: Caroline Ailanthus

I am a creative science writer. That is, most of my writing is creative rather than technical, but my topic is usually science. I enjoy explaining things and exploring ideas. I have one published novel and another on the way. I have a master's degree in Conservation Biology and I work full-time as a writer.

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