To listen to an audio recording of this post, click below.
Note: Discussion of Human Chattel Slavery, Earth Degeneration & Collapse, Corporate Oligarchy
As a people, we need to be moving away from fossil fuel interdiction, which is the small-scale, piecemeal shut down of individual fossil fuel projects. We need to begin to move toward a demand for a constitutional amendment that would abolish fossil fuels and allow for a peaceful and rapid transition to renewable energy resources.
I’m not alone in this call. In 2014 the journalist Chris Hayes wrote an article entitled, “The New Abolitionism,” which related our current fight to end the fossil fuel era to the historical slavery abolition movement in antebellum USA. Slavery abolitionists were some of the most visionary and brave Americans to ever live. They risked everything to end the reprehensible practice of human chattel slavery and I believe that if they were alive today, they would be fighting for fossil fuel abolition (amongst a host of other pressing social issues). Calls for the abolition of unjust societal practices have been a tradition ever since slavery abolitionists set their brave example, whether it be for the abolition of child labor, the death penalty, or even most recently the electoral college. This leaves me to wonder, why is there no self-identified fossil fuel abolition movement?
I am a proud fossil fuel abolitionist. A few weeks ago I was reading the compiled works of Frederick Douglass. I can not explain it in any other way than to say that he spoke to me through time and space on a spiritual plane through his writing. His impassioned calls for social justice emboldened me to envision a world that was unravaged by the destructive and corrupting powers of fossil fuels for the first time in my life. I have long known what we all know- that this fossil fuel era must soon draw to a close somehow- but thanks to Douglass I am no longer unclear on how that can be accomplished.
Frederick Douglass shared this about slavery, “It is such a giant sin- such a monstrous aggregation of iniquity- so hardening to the human heart- so destructive to the moral sense, and so well calculated to beget a character, in every one around it, favorable to its own continuance,- that I feel not only at liberty, but abundantly justified, in appealing to the whole world to aid in its removal.” For the humanity-killing practice of fossil fuel burning, I feel the same. When I first passionately shared my inspiration for abolitionism over dinner there was a brief silence at the table until my mom’s friend eked out, “you’re the first fossil fuel abolitionist I’ve ever met.” In a time when communities of many intersectionalities, (foremost POC communities, who are the most vulnerable to climate change) are converging to fight for the end of fossil fuel use, I hope to embolden us to reframe our demands and declare that we aim to eliminate the damaging practice in its entirety. It was Frederick Douglass who invented the famous phrase, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” We must make clear our true demand!
I attended the #NoDAPL rally in Chicago on November 15th and everyone I interviewed agreed to every concept that makes someone a fossil fuel abolitionist (a ban on new fossil fuel resource exploration/mining, the end of fossil fuel subsidies, the increased subsidization of renewables, the implementation of a #carbontaxNOW, the need to demand rapid investment into sustainability infrastructure, etc.) but when I asked them if they identified as a fossil fuel abolitionist they had to think about it! Many people responded as if it was an idea that they had never considered before. “Hu… Yeahhhhhh. Yeah, I guess I am? Yes. I’m a fossil fuel abolitionist!”
Many people I’ve talked to can’t even imagine a world where fossil fuels are no longer used in any shape or form. In fact, some people believe that it would be impossible to achieve a world without fossil fuels. Similarly, people in the antebellum South could not imagine their economy without slave labor, and yet by the toil and blood of thousands, we are here today. The people of this nation can demand a constitutional amendment that abolishes fossil fuel exploration, mining, processing, shipping, and combustion.
I’ve grown encouraged and inspired reading the news of successful movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Fight for $15, #NoDAPL, andIdle No More. The divisions between the fights for social, environmental, economic, and political justice in this nation are blurring into one singular fight against neo-liberal corporatist, ableist, homophobic, war-mongering, anti-environment, patriarchal, white supremacist, christian supremacist, oligarchical power structures.
We are at a crucial juncture in history when these movements for justice are joining forces in order to demand real societal change. I hope that the demand for fossil fuel abolition can become a rallying cry to solve a multitude of our societal ills. We are vulnerable to losing all the social progress that we have gained up to this point when we depend upon a finite and conflict-ridden energy resource that destroys water, soil, and air for our every way of life. It is imperative that we establish a clean energy future before it is too late, or we can collectively kiss all of our human rights goodbye. This isn’t a paranoid personal conspiracy theory, this is coming from the Department of Defense.
Right now the world is focused on the fight to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, and many of us are missing the fact that the fossil fuel industry is building several other pipelines at this very moment. It’s important that groups like 350 are helping to chip away at fossil shares with their divestment movement. It’s important that the Sierra Club is helping to implement a Clean Power Plan. There are many important steps toward abolishing fossil fuels for good. But if scientists are correct that modern society will collapse if we experience an increase of 3.6° F of global warming [we’ve already caused a .8° F change], then we can not afford to continue our current practice of reactively blocking the power elite’s radical fossil fuel expansion projects as they show up in our backyard. We can no longer petition shareholders to divest from fossil fuels on the basis of goodwill (or more likely on the basis of public scrutiny) without stemming the problem at its source. We can not stop at being pro-renewables, we must become actionably anti-fossil fuels in sentiment, action, and in legislation.
Coal plants in the United States alone cause 13,000 deaths every yearaccording to a study done by the Clean Air Taskforce. We can not be willing to accept that number as common-place or somehow morally ambiguous. Needlessly killing thousands of people for profit is wrong. There are business leaders and investors who will lose NO SLEEP tonight, kissing their children’s heads before bed, knowing that they profit financially from blood-invested-money. I agree with a friend of mine who believes we must not demonize the resource itself, for what is a fossil fuel but accumulated and captured organic matter from millennia ago? I happily concede that fossil fuels have made possible many of humanity’s greatest accomplishments: modern medicine, greater access to water, the United Nations, the internet, etc. (I am not a luddite calling for a return to agrarianism). The true evil of fossil fuels lies in the select few hearts of the power elite, who knowingly betray their own species by ensuring the prolonged use of a material that risks our national security, just to provide themselves with short-term profit. Our lives and the lives of future generations depend upon the environmental rights activists of today to proactively demand the legislative abolition of fossil fuels with a constitutional amendment.
Hayes describes in his article that, “the total amount of proven, extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn.” According to Hayes, all that fossil fuel wealth summed up equals $20 trillion of assets (twice the amount of economic value assigned to chattel slaves just before the Civil War, adjusted for inflation). I’m not deluded enough to believe that the fight to dissolve fossil fuel monopolies will be easy. Recently we have been reminded that the power elite will use the might of the militarized police state to protect their interests with violence, even operating outside of today’s laws.
Today, we see images of people’s suburban backyards being flooded with oil, the death of an entire gulf and its people, bakken crude explosions that destroy entire towns, South American workers cleaning oil spills without safety equipment… We’ve had imagery of many many potential Hindenburgmoments with this industry profiting from a violent and archaic (centuries old) energy resource, and we’re still killing for more today. There will be no Hindenburg moment for fossil fuels if we haven’t had one already. We can no longer stand idly by as we watch corporate oligarchs burn away our future and the future of our children.
We are lucky that today we live in an era where we are surrounded with technologies that could replace fossil fuel use in our country. In fact, Costa Rica (roughly the land area of Kentucky) powered it’s entire population with 100% renewables for 150 days this year, and counting. Electric airplanes are beginning to take flight, organizations are fighting for high speed rail that would travel four times faster than the current system (with current technology). The transition is already happening, but it needs to happen faster. Much faster. It will not happen fast enough until a vocal majority begin to call for a constitutional amendment for complete abolition. If this becomes our rallying cry it would set in motion a series of divestments from big-time investors seeking to avoid being caught with stranded assets, the size of which could potentially pose a serious threat to our economy the longer we wait to transition over to renewables.
This constitutional amendment to ban fossil fuels will force us to radically redesign our society. But even transitioning to 100% renewable energy will not be enough to save us. In tandem with fossil fuel abolition, we must deconstruct the radical consumption disorder which is plaguing our communities and completely rediscover our formative relationship with our ecosystems, agriculture, and our communities. This redesign will require our best thinkers, historians, elders, and problem solvers. (I will be posting more articles on redesigning our communities to eliminate the individual need for fossil fuels in the future).
The famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass might have been the most important figure to help demolish the public’s moral justification for the continuation of chattel slavery. Douglass, a fugitive slave himself, was writing what were considered audacious (if not lunatic) visions of a slavery-less future at a time when people could barely conceive of the notion. He was successful because he chipped away at the cognitive dissonance experienced by those who were directly or indirectly complicit in slavery. Through personal anecdotes, Douglass addressed every argument which tried to justify the oppression of African peoples in this nation. With every commonly-accepted myth Douglass dispelled, he brought the reader closer to transformative learning, wherein cognitive dissonance becomes too great and the reader must experience a base change in their meaning perspective of the world, ultimately becoming active in bridging the gap of their own dissonance through action.
I believe we are faced with three paths: one of optimism, one of realism, and one of pessimism. The path of optimism allows that we will be able to have a just and peaceful transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy and simplified living, preserving our structure of non-anarchistic/non-fascist society. The middle path of realism leads to the collapse of modern society. We assume then that the lowest we can descend is on the pessimist’s path which, due to rampant climate change and earth collapse, is not only the disassembly of society but also a descent to that darker benthos of total extinction with the rest of all multicellular creation of Earth.
I am hopeful that my fellow Environmental Rights leaders like Naomi Klein, Van Jones, Katherine Hayhoe, Susan Sarandon, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill McKibben, Leonardo DiCaprio, Winona Laduke, Vandana Shiva, Elon Musk, Annie Leonard, Mark Ruffalo, Bill Nye, Noam Chomsky, Al Gore, and Shailene Woodley will call for a constitutional amendment for fossil fuel abolition.
These are all environmental leaders who do great work to advocate for the end of the fossil fuel era in some way, but they fall short of demanding what is necessary. Abolition. We must come together as a united front and begin the many-year-fight for complete abolition. I call on them to adopt the word and strengthen the movement to end the use of fossil fuels once and for all. Let’s #AbolishFossilFuels!