Keep It In the Ground
Updated: Aug 16
How you can help end the fossil fuel era
Today, I am more motivated than ever to keep remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground. I’ve been supportive of “Keep It In the Ground” efforts ever since I heard Bill McKibben speak in 2012 about the shocking math of the climate crisis. McKibben stated that to remain below 2°C of warming with only 350 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, we had to keep all future emissions to 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel companies already had enough reserves then, that if burned, would create 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide emissions, five times the safe amount.
You would think, with this information, the world would have slowed down exploring, drilling, and use of fossil fuels. But it didn’t. Since then, the world has continued to finance, explore, extract, and burn fossil fuels at an increasing rate. For instance, banks have funded fossil fuel companies with large amounts of financing. One recent report stated that since 2015, 60 of the world’s largest banks have invested $2.7 trillion in the fossil fuel industry.
So, it’s no surprise that eleven years later we now have around 419 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. And even less of a surprise that we, no matter where we live or what our politics are, are feeling the extreme effects of this level of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in our atmosphere. But, it’s the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) State-of-the-Science report, issued on August 6, 2021, that has raised my concern and desire for urgent action.
Scientists in the report say the planet is warming faster than previously predicted and the time span for avoiding catastrophic climate change outcomes is narrowing quickly. Temperatures have already increased by 1.1C and we have already emitted enough GHG to reach 1.5C (the tipping point the Paris Agreement set as the goal to stay below). The carbon budget that gives us the best odds of staying below 1.5˚C runs out in less than five-and-a-half years at our current rate of global emissions. To sum up the situation, UN Secretary General Gutteres issued a code red alert for humanity. We are no longer on the “highway to the danger zone,” as Kenny Loggins sings. We are now in it.
If we are to stay within the agreed rise in temperature, we must drastically and immediately reduce GHG emissions and remove CO2 from the atmosphere. As Dr. Michael E. Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said when asked how many years we have left to act on climate change, “Strictly speaking, zero–which is to say, that we must act, in earnest, now."
While I don’t like to focus on doomsday scenarios, I think it’s crucial to listen to the scientists and use the information they give us to spur us into action. I want to leave my children and grandchildren a world in which they can thrive. So, I am doubling down on working to end the fossil fuel era this decade.
I strongly believe that if we don’t act to keep remaining fossil fuels in the ground, we will regret it. Like the lyrics from Joni Mitchell’s song, Big Yellow Taxi, “we won’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone.” To keep the world an “unpaved paradise,” we need to transition away from coal, oil, and natural gas to a renewable-energy economy this decade. Our call is clear: keep it in the ground!
So, what exactly does it mean to keep it in the ground?
350.org, the NGO Bill McKibben co-founded and has been campaigning to keep fossil fuels in the ground for the past decade, says it means supporting renewable energy, making massive fossil fuel production decreases, and not adding any new fossil fuel infrastructure of any kind.
Bill McKibben, writing in the New Yorker on January 22nd and February 10th, 2021, simplified this goal by saying we need to “stop burning things” (coal, oil, gas, and trees) as soon as possible and not “build anything new that connects to a flame.” While he admits “we’re not going to stop burning fossil fuel tomorrow” because we are deeply entangled with fossil fuels as the driver of our way of life, he acknowledges that if we keep building new fossil fuel infrastructure, we dash our chances of transitioning to a renewable energy economy.
He says, “Every time you build something new that connects to a flame, you’ve chosen not to build that solar panel, not to build a wind turbine. Every time you build or buy a new internal-combustion vehicle, you’ve chosen not to build or buy an electric vehicle. And, since cars and power plants are only occasional purchases, each new one puts off a solution to the climate crisis for a few more years or decades.”
The good news is, even the International Energy Agency thinks “nations need to drop fossil fuels, fast.” In their latest report, A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, they state “There is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.”
Given this, what can we do as individuals to reverse the momentum and keep them in the ground?
Ways to help keep fossil fuels in the ground
Essentially, there are three general categories of action we can take. We can work to:
Stop Burning Things: decimating current global GHG emissions.
Stop Building Some Things: halting and banning new fossil fuel power plants, extraction projects, pipelines, drilling permits (onshore and offshore), and financing.
Start Building Other Things: fully supporting and scaling up the transition to a renewable energy society.
There are many specific actions we can take, some of which I will get to shortly. However, I want to first point out that the most important action to take in all three areas is building the political will to make necessary and urgent change happen. Even though the climate movement has been talking about the urgent need to solve the climate crisis for decades, to date the political will in nations around the world has not been adequate. We can no longer afford to wait. We must ramp up our political pressure and demand that banks, corporations, and our local, state, and national governments stop burning things, stop building and financing fossil fuel projects, and start building the green economy we need to survive.
Here are some ways to take part in ramping up the pressure. (Note: since I live in the U.S. the specific actions listed here are primarily based in this country. However, I encourage readers from other countries to find similar actions in your region. Some organizations, like 350.org and Greenpeace, have chapters all over the world).
1. Join the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Become a member and/or donate to one of the NGO’s working to keep fossil fuels in the ground, like 350.org, Climate Action Network, Green America, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund, to name a few.
Write to your local representatives and ask them to say no to fossil fuels in your area and yes to the transition to a green economy.
Join a rally and help deliver petitions to your members of Congress over the August recess demanding that Congress end all fossil fuel subsidies.
Take a training to help you learn how you can take more action like the one offered by Climate Reality.
Join the On the Line event on August 19th, 2021. Get connected and learn about the path forward from speakers like youth climate leader, Alexandria Villaseñor and climate thinker, Daniel Aldana Cohen.
2. Pressure the government and finance industry to stop funding fossil fuels.
Write to the Biden administration in support of implementing the plan he asked John Kerry to draft for ending public funding of “carbon-intensive” fossil fuel projects overseas, in keeping with the EU plans.
Break up with your Mega Bank, particularly if it’s JP Morgan Chase, which is the largest funder of fossil fuels. Although, according to Yale Climate Connections and Bill McKibben, at least 77 major global financial institutions are restricting fossil fuel lending to oil, LNG, gas, oil sands and arctic drilling, many of the big guys are still financing fossil fuels. Use Green America’s resources to learn how to break up with your bank.
Watch the video of Senator Whitehouse calling out the Insurance Industry to stop insuring coal projects and other fossil fuel endeavors. Then share it on social media and sign the petition organized by Insure our Future to put pressure on insurance companies to drop coverage and not insure the Trans Mountain pipeline. Without insurance, this project can’t proceed.
Sign this petition organized by the Center for International Environmental Law, asking President Biden to block all new fossil fuel projects and invest in clean energy.
3. Support government action on fossil fuel reduction and climate.
Write to your U.S. representative and ask them to support the Keep It in the Ground Act introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Jared Huffman in April 2021. If enacted it will stop new fossil fuel leases on federal land and end non-productive leases for coal, oil, gas, oil shale, and tar sands there. The Act aims to keep over 90% of the potential carbon emissions from oil, gas, and coal on our federal lands and waters in the ground.
Call your U.S. member of congress, via the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224–3121 to demand Congress keep crucial climate investments in the budget reconciliation package and also pass the Clean Energy Victory Bonds Act.
Put pressure on Congressional Democrats by adding your name to Evergreen Action’s petition and/or NRDC’s petitionasking them to turn Biden’s clean energy plan into a legislative reality.
4. Work to stop further pipelines from being built.
Join a day of action organized by Stop the Money Pipeline.
Attend or host a #DefundLine3 art action and protest as hosted by Stop the Money Pipeline.
Sign up to join a resistance camp in Minnesota to support Indigenous leaders trying to stop Line 3. It’s a great opportunity to learn directly from frontline leaders. If you’ve never done frontline resistance work before, you can attend a virtual orientation call to learn more.
Sign the petition asking to protect the Great Lakes from another oil spill from Line 5. The message asks that a new tunnel under Straits of Mackinac not be built.
Donate to Honor the Earth, a non-profit led by Winona LaDuke that is fighting Line 3.
5. Demand a ban on further oil exploration and drilling
Start a petition on Change.org asking your government to ban further oil exploration. Draw on information from countries, like Ireland, Belize, New Zealand, Spain, France, Costa Rica, Denmark, and Greenland, working to ban oil-and-gas exploration in their territories.
Sign this petition demanding that the Biden Administration stop all drilling on federal land. Biden did issue an executive order to stop new leases, but a judge threw it out. Now it’s time to stop all drilling.
Sign this petition to ask the Biden Administration to ban offshore drilling permanently on the Atlantic Coast.
Donate to NRDC’s legal efforts to ban offshore drilling.
Which of these actions will you take?
To make it easy for you to take as many actions as possible, I’ve included direct links to petitions and climate organizations. Set aside some time each day this week to take more action to keep it in the ground.
I wish you all the best in your climate action,