Jerry was 16 when he showed up in clinic with a sore knee. The diagnosis was devastating — osteosarcoma is an aggressive, deadly cancer.
His parents frantically sought advice from specialists, but they all said the same thing. Only amputating his leg now could save his life.
This price seemed too severe, without absolute certainty that the disease would be lethal. They finally found a something-opath who offered hope of saving both Jerry’s leg and his life.
The problem was unidentified “toxins.” A series of “treatments” ensued. From day to day his knee didn’t change much, but as weeks passed it grew huge, red-hot, excruciating.
“Wonderful!” said the therapist. Jerry’s own body was attacking the toxins, eliminating them.
Thus died Jerry.
Quacks come in many guises, willing to trash compelling science in pursuit of a secure income. Today their ranks include fossil-fuel execs who maintain a sturdy public defense of the practices that continue to enrich them. Ignore the climatic equivalents of redness and pain; fossil fuels (FF) are good for you!
The quack arguments don’t change much — after they’re refuted, FF flacks (FFF) soon trot them out again as though they were brand new. Some of their target audience will recall seeing these assertions before, and figure they must be valid or they’d be gone.
While energy consumption has increased in recent years, America’s CO2 emissions have receded a bit from their previous peak level. Just because we are contaminating the atmosphere somewhat more slowly doesn’t mean we’re getting away with it. It’s like a broken pipe gushing sewage all over the kitchen — is reducing the flow by 20 percent reason to celebrate?
Today’s atmospheric CO2 levels are the highest they’ve been in 3 million years.
FFF’s tout lower prices at the pump, downplaying the existential threat these very practices pose to all of us. The “unseen” costs remain unacknowledged.
FFF’s brag about creating jobs — another diversion. America now boasts 800,000 clean energy jobs; just the 51,000 increase in wind jobs over the past three years equals the total of existing coal-mining jobs. In 2016, solar was creating U.S. jobs at 17 times the rate of the national economy.
Claiming it’s just for all of us, the industry is desperately squeezing sludge from tar sands, and drilling in pristine habitats. This creates two problems: a short-term environmental assault as infrastructures inevitably fail, portending devastating leaks and spills; and longer-term catastrophe instigated by simply displacing carbon from the ground into the atmosphere and water.
This is the FFF arguments’ fatal flaw — no matter how abundant our own oil, gas and coal, no matter how illusorily “inexpensive” they seem to be, so long as we fervently rationalize transferring carbon from ground to sky, we’re digging our own grave.
We can welcome reducing pollutant emissions, since many byproducts of combustion from oil and coal do cause serious human diseases. The problem is that carcinogenic particulates and toxic vapors aren’t the biggest problems. Even “clean” fuels like natural gas or ethanol burn to form CO2 — anything (except hydrogen) we burn for energy produces CO2. Reliance on burning is the issue.
It’s true that oil, gas, even coal provide important raw materials for manufacturing. But let’s get real. We’re not driven to tar sands by a shortage of plastics and medicines. There would be no argument over FF production if we were simply taking out what we need for manufacturing, instead of burning most of this valuable commodity.
Jobs are important. But what if a given job entails harming large numbers of people who don't get the same paycheck?
The kerosene industry once provided a critical ingredient for the development of our society. Even as urban regions shifted to gas and electricity, rural areas remained dependent on kerosene to replace flickering candles.
Then rural electrification struck, providing power to rural households. Countless workers involved in production and distribution of lamps, kerosene and containers lost their jobs. They didn’t get a bail-out, nor was there a movement to discourage electrification in order to preserve their livelihood.
Not all jobs can be conserved as technology advances. They must not form the bottom line of policy discussions when sustaining them would do a great disservice to the country overall.
There was a time when technological advances depended on FF combustion, but now that same technology tells us we can’t keep relying on obsolete approaches.
By proclaiming that 77 percent of global energy needs will be met by FF’s in 2040, FFF’s advance a self-fulfilling prophecy. So long as exploiters can convince us that it’s simply impossible to do without their product, they can forestall real progress.
We need a non-carbon-based Manhattan Project — an all-out investment in eliminating FF combustion, period. Leave it in the ground.
Don’t let the FFF’s intimidate you. We can do this. A bill has been introduced in the U.S. House, the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act. It would transition us to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Easy, no, but better than the alternative.
The cure for carbon-emission disease is the immediate amputation of our fossil-fuel dependence, which served us well until it turned into a cancer. Our therapeutic window of opportunity is closing.
History is clear: Over time, some conventions, some traditions of American society will need to be modified or abandoned. We can try to plan and guide the process, or be dragged along by our heels.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired
family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.