When will we Declare our Independence from the tyranny of fossil fuels?
Twelve score and four years ago, the Founding Fathers of the United States signed the Declaration of Independence, divorcing themselves from the tyranny of King George III and Great Britain. In this historic document, a fledgling America asserted that “all men are created equal” and that they have “unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Elaborating on these inalienable rights, the revolutionaries asserted an imperative to end tyranny, that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”. Thankfully, in the centuries since, the US has taken steps to extend these inalienable rights beyond white, male, cisgendered property owners, albeit there are some noteworthy areas that we must extend these rights further.
With this revolutionary spirit in mind, it’s fair to wonder: when will we declare our independence from the tyranny of fossil fuels? The necessity of the protecting inalienable rights for all-life, liberty and happiness chief among them-has not waned. Nor has the undeniably righteous motive of acquiring the consent of the governed. Burning fossil fuels presents an unusual wrinkle to these aims. Governance that enables fossil energy and stunts development of renewables is tyrannical policy whose victims are citizens of future generations. When in the present moment, and for the past one hundred and 150 years, we have burned fossil fuels to power our increasingly industrialized society, we have not only infringed upon life liberty and happiness in the present, but with every passing day increasingly prescribe a more hellish future to our descendants. These descendants to come, some now living but unable to vote or participate in governance, have not consented to the governmental decisions that will have profound impacts on their lives.
The governance we undertake today, this year, and for the next few decades not only determine the extent of life, liberty and happiness that may be enjoyed by those now living, but also the inalienable rights of those to come. As documented by the International Panel on Climate Change in their Special Report on limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we have until 2030 to reduce global CO2 emissions by ~50%, for a 66% chance of limiting warming to the ‘safe’ level of 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. The more the planet warms beyond this target, and indeed beyond our current 1.3°C above pre-industrial levels, the greater the likelihood of Island countries and this nation’s coastline getting consumed by the sea-level rise, of heat hotter than humans can survive by sweating rendering parts of the globe uninhabitable, of ecosystem collapse and massive tree die-off, and melting glaciers causing havoc to water supply for irrigated agriculture around the world.
Having not been born, future Americans and other citizens of the world have no means of consenting to the reckless, shameful, and foolishly optimistic course of fossil fuel governance we now find ourselves embarked upon. Climate Action Tracker estimates the amount of warming we’ll get for existing pledges Nations have made at the 2015 Paris Climate Accords. IF the pledges are met as declared, that puts us on course for 2.8°C. IF current policies pursuant to those pledges are followed through, we’re on course for 3°C warming by 2100. As evidenced by Trump, Bolsonaro, and other Heads of (petro) State downplaying climate change and buttressing fossil fuels, it’s not apparent countries will even meet the inadequate, piecemeal changes called for in their countries 2015 pledges.
Citizens of future Earth, were they given a choice, would be unlikely to consent to fossil fuel governance that limits their inalienable rights. Yet this is precisely what our governance today does. Burning the tar sands in Canada uses up an estimated 1/3 of our global carbon budget for 1.5°C, increasing the likelihood, frequency, and intensity of heat waves that can extinguish our right to life. Extracting oil from the melting Arctic Ocean will further melt dwindling glaciers that provide the freshwater for much of global agriculture. The slow creep of sea level rise, aided and abetted by Trump’s efforts to save coal, will infringe upon the liberty of future generations to live on low lying islands, or maintain familial or ancestral coastal properties (The largely Native Utqiagvik have already had their liberties infringed by rising seas and subsiding land making their homes uninhabitable, consequences of climate change). In delaying the transition to renewables Biden’s climate plan hastens the demise of coral reefs. Despite his plan’s assurances of 100% renewable energy by 2050, it makes no mention of halving emissions by 2030, 8/10 years in which he would be potentially be in office. Without a more visionary plan for halving our emissions in the next 10 years, we risk losing 99% of coral reefs and massive tree die-off. Many of us have pursued happiness in the solace of nature, but future generations may find themselves deprived of this inalienable right.
If we are to maintain and honor the revolutionary spirit of this nation’s founding fathers and defend our descendants from tyranny, we must not subject our descendants to further fossil fuel governance. This fossil-first governance, which places concern for short term economic gain ahead of concern for long-term consequences, is undoubtedly tyrannical governance. Our political decisions now that maintain fossil fuel infrastructure and delay transitioning to renewables infringe upon the rights of future Americans, who cannot consent to governance that has direct bearing on their inalienable rights. In the spirit of our founding fathers, from this 4th of July onward, we must act in ways that secure our inalienable rights not just for this time, but for the generations who will be most impacted by our decisions today. To secure the revolutionary ideals inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, we must transition to renewable energy as soon as possible, and in so doing secure the inalienable rights of our descendants. To do otherwise is tyranny.