We can stop Fossil Fuel Empires from destroying our public lands and waters
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Humanity is at a climate tipping point and faces an urgent challenge: the phase-out of fossil fuels. Despite some progress with improving energy efficiency and advancing renewable energy, we’re running out of time. In March, the world surpassed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, well above the “safe” level of 350 parts per million. In order to have a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate, we need to keep at least 80 percent of global fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This may seem like a daunting challenge, especially when corporations like Shell are hell-bent on digging up every drop of oil from pristine places like the Arctic Ocean. But the solution is relatively straight forward: to keep fossil fuels in the ground, we need to stop opening up new areas for fossil fuel development. The one person with the power to start making this happen is President Obama. By ending fossil fuel development on lands and waters that belong to the American public, President Obama will not only safeguard our families, planet, and future, he will solidify his climate legacy and make America a true international climate leader.
The choices humanity makes to address climate change will define this century. A failure to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century will lead to severe, irreversible consequences with negative implications for people, wildlife, economies, and societies across the globe. In the U.S., approximately one-quarter of fossil fuel production occurs on lands and waters that belong to us, but are managed by the federal government. During the Obama administration, approximately 14.8 million onshore acres and 21 million offshore acres of public lands and waters have been leased to dirty energy companies. Federal fossil fuel leases contributed nearly 25% and 4% of U.S. and global fossil fuel emissions, respectively, over the past decade. The bottom line is that more fossil fuels have already been leased than can be burned to avert climate disruption. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need to start by leaving fossil fuel reserves under U.S. public lands and waters in the ground.
The climate movement is at a critical juncture. In 2014, more than 400,000 people mobilized in the streets of New York to call for global action on climate, and our highest-profile domestic climate campaign over the Keystone XL pipeline has delayed the project for over seven years. With this great momentum, our focus must turn to keeping fossil fuels in the ground, and the best places to start are on our public lands and waters. The communities where exploration, mining, and drilling for fossil fuels occurs are ground zero for the negative consequences that come in the form of poor health; polluted land and water; diminished cultural resources and recreational opportunities; and loss of livelihoods. Local and regional fights to combat fossil fuel development or enforce environmental regulations after accidents occur are already taking place all over the country. We can help these fights by building a concerted, national climate movement that aims to end the federal government’s fossil fuel leasing programs.
Calling on President Obama to end federal leasing for fossil fuels on public lands and waters will send him a powerful message: the public interest is not served by continuing to lease the dirty fossil fuels that are polluting our communities, impairing our local economies, and contributing to climate disruption. If President Obama is serious about leaving a safe and healthy environment for present and future generations, he needs to order the federal government to stop selling our public lands and waters to dirty energy companies and keep fossil fuels in the ground.
There can be no excuses because we’re almost out of time. That is why Friends of the Earth is launching its “Keep It in the Ground” campaign, to put pressure on President Obama to use his remaining months in office to be a true climate leader and protect our land, air, water, wildlife and frontline communities from the destructive impacts of fossil fuel development that scar our landscapes, foul our waters, impair our health, and undermine our natural and cultural heritage. As the world’s largest historic contributor to global warming, ending federal leasing of fossil fuels at home will bring legitimacy to international efforts to address climate change and help us meet our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
We are calling on President Obama to take a historic step and keep the American people’s coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground where they cannot destroy our climate and our future. We expect and deserve nothing less of our President.