Monday, March 3, 2014

Youth Dissent to Stop Fossil Fuel Extraction and Ensure a Livable Future

Earlier today, I joined 397 other young people in a civil disobedience action outside of the White House (that's me in the center!). Our demand was simple: No KXL. Through our peaceful protest, we sought to lift up the moral voice of our generation to push for ambitious action on climate. Building the KeystoneXL Pipeline and continuing to expand of fossil fuel infrastructure will lock us into decades of further emissions and a “game over” scenario for climate change.

As I have said in previous posts, we are running out of time to keep climate change under control. Put simply: we need to keep at least 2/3 of global fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic warming. Global governments have agreed to limit total warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial temperatures, and from this target climate scientists can calculate how much fossil fuels we can burn to stay within that limit. The total “burnable carbon” comes to 565 GtC, which is five times smaller than the total amount of carbon in all the world’s coal, oil, and gas reserves (2795 GtC). These numbers are neatly broken down in the info graphic below:

These overall carbon numbers allow us to calculate how the pace of oil consumption matches up with projections for future climate change. The graph below from Oil Change International shows the results. The main takeaway is that the oil industry is developing 22.5 million barrels/day more than that allowed under our climate goals. What this means is that we are on a path towards a 6 degree C rise in temperature, or a "Massive climatic change and irreparable damage to the planet."

Much of this new oil development comes from extreme sources such as the "tar sands" of Canada, which requires new infrastructure like the KeystoneXL Pipeline. And therein lies the challenge. If we're serious about dealing with climate change, we CAN'T burn oil extracted from tar sands. We CAN'T increase natural gas consumption through hydraulic fracturing; there is just too much carbon (let alone methane leakage). We need to rapidly expand low carbon energy. Further delaying this transition is not a choice if we are to ensure a sustainable world.

The young people present at the XL Dissent rally today understand this stark reality. We see further fossil fuel extraction as a death sentence for our future. Once you look at recent climate science and understand the carbon budget, it becomes fairly clear that we need a radical change. Nibbling at the margins won't do it. If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need a complete energy system overhaul within the next few decades in order to be net-zero emissions by 2050.

Ultimately, this global transition to zero-carbon requires monumental shifts in policy, with a centerpiece of a high price on carbon. But that's not yet politically possible. So young people have taken to organize in the ways that we can win immediately, through strategic divestment campaigns and by pressuring Obama to reject KeystoneXL. Through these efforts focused on short-term victories, we are building the long-term power needed to shift our political system at all levels of government towards embracing a fossil free future.


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