Over a century ago, our families were central in unlocking fossil fuels. Government embraced this technological advancement and invested in the infrastructure and production needed for its growth. Our personal histories compel us to publicly acknowledge what we have known for many years: the extraction and burning of fossil fuels is killing life on our planet.
Fossil fuels killed 8.7 million people globally in 2018 – disproportionately impacting Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. Human lives aren’t the only ones being lost. More than 1 billion sea creatures along the Canadian coast were cooked to death during this summer’s record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest.
Fossil fuels are a technology of the past – leftovers of a bygone era when we believed we could force our will on nature and disregard the connectivity of all living beings.
The latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that some climate impacts are already irreversible and that only through immediate, internationally coordinated action can we hope to avoid the most severe consequences. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the report “a code red for humanity.” The terrifying reality is that inaction, or even half-measures, will cost countless lives. Yet Congress is still not reacting to the climate emergency with the urgency that a humanity-threatening crisis demands.
There is nothing left to debate. The science is clear on what needs to happen and many organizations have already created a blueprint to follow.
To start, Congress must help usher in a new energy age – a clean energy age with the same level of support that fossil fuels companies have received for over a century. A rapid managed transition off fossil fuels – including an end to new refineries, infrastructure, and pipelines like Line 3 that lock in more dangerous pollution and warming emissions – can prevent the worst of the climate crisis while securing a future where our communities and the planet thrive. Including safeguards to ensure good jobs for workers in transition and responsible land management will help revive our economy while tackling environmental injustice, and systemic racism.
In addition, in the coming weeks, Congress must use the budget reconciliation bill to end all federal support for the fossil fuel industry. Every year, $15bn of our taxpayer money goes directly to fossil fuel companies in the form of subsidies. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of the corporate welfare received by the industry most responsible for the climate crisis.
These handouts don’t mean jobs. Research from the Stockholm Environment Institute revealed that over 96% of the subsidies in the tax code go directly to profits. This point was hammered home last year when large fossil fuel companies received $8.2bn from the CARES Act pandemic relief bill and still laid off 16% of their workforce. Tax dollars need to support people, not polluters.
In addition to policy shifts, we must also find our way back to a deeper connection to the Earth, its well-being and our place in it. The global response to climate change must acknowledge our interconnection with nature and re-awaken our love for and connection with each other and the natural world. And we must realize that this interconnectedness is, itself, a natural resource that should not be discounted.
The two of us are intensely aware that our families’ history with oil has granted us tremendous privilege. With that privilege comes the opportunity to contribute to a world where all have the chance to thrive. We are joining so many others who are urging our elected leaders to listen to the science and understand the fundamental truth that we can’t build back better unless we build back fossil-free. We can harness the great American ingenuity and resourcefulness to steer us and the world toward a safer and more just future.
Aileen Getty is the founder of the Aileen Getty Foundation and the co-founder of the Climate Emergency Fund
Rebecca Rockefeller Lambert is the co-founder of the Equation Campaign and serves on the boards of the Rockefeller Family Fund and the David Rockefeller Fund