Fossil fuel: keep it in the ground

Fossil fuels have powered the rapid industrialization of our current society and culture. As we consume more energy and exhaust our existing deposits, we have developed extraction methods with larger environmental consequences. 

Since we have historically undervalued and dismissed these externalities, private industry is incentivized to maximize extraction and production with little regard for their impact on their surrounding communities and the planet at large. They privatize this fossil fuel profit for themselves while socializing the cost on the people around them.

This is not sustainable.

Below, we propose a plan to systematically disincentivize the extraction of fossil fuel, starting with its most destructive and harmful methods, and ending with a complete transition to sustainable zero-carbon energy.

Prohibiting exports of oil and gas

When our goal is keeping fossil fuel resources in the ground, prohibiting exports of crude oil, natural gas, and liquified natural gas is a sensible place to start.

Allowing the export of fossil fuels incentivizes environmental racism and allows for perverse macroeconomic incentives. Extraction companies are incentivized to locate extraction facilities in or near low-income communities, run pipelines across indigenous land. These pose dangerous risks of irreversible devastating health and environmental impacts.

Ban fracking

It makes no economic sense to incentivize the depletion of scarce national resources for private profit, especially given the tremendous externalities implicit in fracking.

Fracking is the process of injecting high pressure fluid deep underground. The fluid, consisting of water, sand, and chemicals, breaks open fissures in the rock that contain small oil and gas deposits, which can then be recovered and processed. This process enables the extraction of previously inaccessible oil and gas deposits at a high environmental expense. 

Numerous investigations by EPA and journalists have shown these consequences on the surrounding community. These include the vast contamination of drinking water, pollution from spoil, fluid, or oil/gas, and earthquake risks. Fracking companies skirt environmental regulation, pay off politicians, undermine tribal nations, and privatize resources on public lands.

Ban new fossil fuel extraction or refinement

I favor a national ban on the development of new infrastructure to support fossil fuel extraction or refinement.

The externalities implicit in any fossil fuel extraction or refinement render it economically unsound to incentivize the further development of those activities. The first step to reducing our commitment to fossil fuel is to dismantle future investment and construction of new extraction facilities.

One factor that has historically slowed the adoption of renewable alternatives is the need to update our existing fossil fuel infrastructure. To that extent, we should redirect the infrastructure dollars we would have otherwise spent on aging fossil fuel industries into researching and developing renewable energy generation, storage, and transmission infrastructure. Improvements in those areas can allow renewable wind and solar plants to generate a steady source of electricity.

Ban new fossil fuel development on federal lands

Allowing natural resource extraction of any kind from federal lands represents an implicit public subsidy. No amount of compensation can justify this subsidy, since extraction inherently pollutes, defaces, and reduces the value of these public lands for centuries if not millennia.

Allowing mining, drilling, logging, and other forms of extraction on federal land makes a mockery of public ownership and epitomizes the socialization of risk and privatization of reward that pervades crony corporate capitalism.

Divest from fossil fuels and other destructive industries

Public institutions and pensions represent a huge part of fossil fuel investment. To further remove economic incentive from this industry, no public institution should have its tax dollars, pensions or other holdings invested in fossil fuels or other industries that profit from oppression and destruction. This includes publicly-traded companies that hold the vast majority of listed coal, oil and gas reserves as well as the big banks that fund these projects.

Nationalize fossil fuel extraction industries

If we are going to take appropriate action to address the urgent needs of the climate crisis we must not only ban new fossil fuel projects, but also nationalize the companies involved to remove the profit motive from these activities. There is already a precedent for publicly owned energy production and distribution models with the Tennessee Valley Authority, as Bernie Sanders highlighted earlier.

Fossil fuel companies have known for decades about their impact on global climate. They are threatening the survival of the human race for profit, and they are not going to phase themselves out. It is clear that fossil fuel corporations have bought control of both parties through campaign contributions, so regulating or reforming them is hopeless.

Nationalizing fossil fuel as a public good will end the billions of dollars in subsidies the industry receives every year. It will put the control back in the hands of the people and align incentives towards a just transition for sustainable energy.

Following nationalization, I propose allocating oil profits into a special fund to contribute to financing the Green New Deal. The nationalization will act as a transitory phase where the fund can wisely reinvest vast oil profits directly into fossil fuel replacements rather than the bank accounts of a few wealthy individuals. I propose investing these funds into not only building next generation green energy infrastructure, but into a significant grant programs to aggressively incentivize the research, development, and education into sustainable, zero-carbon replacements to fossil fuels.

What about a carbon tax?

I favor strategies to "keep it in the ground," rather than attempt market incentives for fossil fuel extraction and refinement. Pricing schemes like carbon taxes legitimize and incentivize activity that plunders the planet, places people at risk en masse, and places corporate profits above public health and a viable life for future generations.

Read more

  1. 350 Bay Area. Fossil Fuel Divestment Program
  2. Penn State University. Explore Shale
  3. Propublica. EPA Concludes Fracking a Threat to U.S. Water Supplies / Fracking series
  4. Politico. Power to the people: Bernie calls for federal takeover of electricity production