Published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel on December 12th, 2023
In the early 1970’s, I worked on the adolescent ward of a state mental hospital. One of our patients was a fifteen-year-old – let’s call him Ian – who was smart enough to beat everyone at chess and to speak a bit of several different languages and who was also experiencing a mental condition that gave him distorted views of the world. These distorted views caused suffering for him and those around him. I think of him, and a particular incident with him, when I think of our climate situation these days.
The incident occurred when Ian had been doing well enough that he had earned privileges to be outside when accompanied by an attendant nurse. He and I were outside playing HORSE in the otherwise deserted basketball court. At some point he realized that he was going to lose. A look came over his face that I’ll never forget. He came up close to me and fired the basketball at my face, breaking my glasses, and then set off running away from the hospital. But he kept calling back over his shoulder, “I’m coming back, Chris. Look at me. See…I’m coming back.” All the while he kept running farther and farther away.
I think of this when I hear the promises from various governments, and the rosy reports from fossil fuel companies, and the promises from their bought politicians, about how well they are doing. “I’m cutting my carbon pollution. See…I’m cutting my carbon pollution.”
For example, ExxonMobile says it is “advancing climate solutions.” Yet while making that claim, ExxonMobile purchased Pioneer Natural Resources. As the Associated Press reports, “Including debt, Exxon is committing about $64.5 billion to the acquisition, leaving no doubt of the Texas energy company’s commitment to fossil fuels.”
Exxon is not alone. The world’s fossil fuel producers are planning expansions that would blow the planet’s carbon budget twice over, a UN report has found. One of the authors of the report, says: “Despite their climate promises, governments plan on ploughing yet more money into a dirty, dying industry, while opportunities abound in a flourishing clean energy sector. On top of economic insanity, it is a climate disaster of our own making.”
Fossil-fuel-driven climate change is already impacting the food we eat, our health and safety, our natural environments, our economic prosperity and it is already too late to prevent many of these harms from worsening. Advocating for more fossil fuel production is radically out-of-touch with reality. The delusions of the radical fossil-fuel agenda are harming us all.
Yet in spite of this, if current projections hold, in 2030 the United States will drill for more oil and gas than at any point in its history. Russia and Saudi Arabia plan to do the same.
Colorado is not doing much better. A new baseline analysis by Rocky Mountain Institute shows that Colorado will fall short of its 2030 carbon dioxide reduction goals by nearly 12 million tons a year. And this doesn’t count the pollution of all the fossil fuels produced in Colorado and then exported out of state.
Back in 2021 the International Energy Agency (IEA) said, “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas, and coal, from now – from this year.” Yet, in 2023, Xcel Energy plans to invest $510 million in new methane (“natural gas”) infrastructure, and a total of $2.59 billion by 2027. And as of 2022, the Colorado Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC), formerly known the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, had approved 13 company projects to drill 195 wells on 20 locations since early 2021. What part of “no new investments” do they not understand?
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association says, “The oil and natural gas molecules produced in Colorado are among the cleanest in the world.” True perhaps, but irrelevant. Those produced molecules trap more and more life-disrupting heat every year. “I’m coming back,” said Ian as he ran farther and farther away.
We can do better. Most of the technologies we need already exist, and the longer we wait the steeper becomes the glide path to an abundant clean energy economy. As part of the process, we must ensure a just transition for our fossil-fuel veterans and for fossil-fuel-dependent communities as well as social justice for front-line communities who have suffered the most from both the production and climate impacts of fossil fuels.
Instead of running away from reality we should run toward a cleaner, safer, healthier future.
Chris Hoffman is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and management consultant with 23 years of experience in the electric utility industry. Since retirement he has been active in advocating for climate action and social justice.