Quantcast
Climate

President Obama, Stop Selling Us Out: End Oil, Gas and Coal Extraction on Public Lands

On Friday across our nation and the world conscientious members of churches, motivated students at universities and schools and civic-minded employees of many U.S. cities will join together in calling on the institutions that they love to take an act of fiscal prudence and global conscience to ensure that we have a future worth fighting for.

The Bureau of Land Management has leased 2.2 billion tons of coal on public lands, roughly equivalent to more than 3.9 billion metric tons of carbon when burned. Photo credit: eastcoalfax/Flickr

As a part of Global Divestment Day, they will be asking the leaders of their churches, schools and cities to divest from companies that extract and burn fossil fuels.

So far, the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement has focused on investment assets of academic, religious and municipal institutions. While that’s a smart starting point, it misses a huge opportunity and challenge: expanding targeted assets to include those owned by all Americans. I’m referring to the coal, oil and gas that underlie our public lands and waters, the carbon that belongs to all of us.

Last year, a full quarter of all fossil fuels produced in the U.S. came from our public lands, our nation’s single biggest source which created a whopping $110 billion in royalty, rents and bonus payments to the U.S. treasury. Divestment won’t reach its full moral promise until we divest from burning the fossil fuels we all own.

Luckily, ending the sale of public carbon is very simple. Selling off future reserves is entirely up to the President. Without having to wait for a do-nothing Congress, President Obama can stop new sales from proceeding with the stroke of a pen. That federal divestment would be a real climate legacy.

A credit to the energy and brilliance of its activists, fossil fuel divestment is probably the fastest growing environmental movement. Divestment groups have formed on hundreds of college campuses in just the last couple years.

A few groups have already won. Some are staging massive campus protests, while Harvard students are suing their university to force divestment. Thirty U.S. cities have agreed to divest and organizations as diverse as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Oxford Diocese of the Church of England are getting their money completely out of coal, oil and gas companies.

It makes sense. Fossil fuels are a bad financial bet. Late last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that the eight coal-mining stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange were down an average of 29 percent in 2014. With solar and wind now achieving price parity, coal is going the way of the Betamax.

But fossil fuel divestment is about much more than money. We just experienced the world’s hottest year in history, part of the trend of the 14 hottest years on record occurring in just the last 15 years. To continue to profit from coal, oil and gas dooms our children and grandchildren to a world that will be increasingly inhospitable. We each face an unassailable moral imperative to divest completely from the fossil fuel business.

While many Americans have financial connections to fossil fuel companies through the investments of our towns, churches, colleges and retirement funds, all Americans have collective ownership of vast coal, oil and gas reserves sold off daily from our public lands and waters.

Ending extraction of the fossil fuels we all own is the moral equivalent of divestment by the churches and schools we attend. Just like our towns, churches, colleges and retirement funds have been investing in fossil fuels without most of us ever thinking about it, our government has been doing the same. And in the same way that college kids are calling for universities to divest, all Americans must demand the same of our government.

Of course, just as student energy is fueling the divestment campaigns on campuses, locking down our public carbon is not going to happen without sustained public pressure.

But there is every reason to believe that a campaign for our collective divestment from the public land fossil fuel business can take off just as quickly. The stakes are as high as the future health of our planet and it is surely our highest moral imperative not to sell that future for our own quick buck.

Obama has the authority to cut U.S. fossil fuel production by 25 percent. It’s our job to show our support for such a bold, brave and necessary move.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Nation’s Largest Solar Farm on Public Lands Now Online

Tim Cook: New Solar Farm Will Be Apple’s ‘Biggest, Boldest and Most Ambitious Project Ever’

50 of the World’s Largest Cities Ranked by People, Planet, Profit

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Shutterstock

EPA: Perchlorate in Drinking Water Can Harm Fetal Brain Development

By Tom Neltner

Pursuant to a consent decree with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing drinking water regulations to protect fetuses and young children from perchlorate, a toxic chemical that inhibits the thyroid's ability to make the hormone T4 essential to brain development. The rulemaking is part of a long process that began in 2011 when the agency made a formal determination that Safe Drinking Water Act standards for perchlorate were needed. Under the consent decree, EPA should propose a standard by October 2018.

In the latest step in that process, EPA's scientists released a draft report in September that, at long last, answers questions posed by its Science Advisory Board in 2013: does perchlorate exposure during the first trimester reduce production of T4 in pregnant women with low iodine consumption? Does reduction in maternal T4 levels in these women adversely affect fetal brain development? According to EPA's scientists, the answers are Yes and Yes.

Keep reading... Show less
Cafeteria Culture

Ditch Plastic Lunches: Stand Up for Zero-Waste Schools

  • Carrots in a Ziploc
  • Grapes in a bag
  • Sandwich in saran wrap, with a "fresh daily" tag
  • Water bottle snuggled by an extra pair of socks
  • Plastic straw
  • Chips to gnaw
  • Juice in a box

That's an average American kids lunch stuffed in a school bag, with enough plastic packaging to wallpaper the classroom. Once it comes to school lunch, we don't practice what we preach, so let's unpackage what we teach.

Keep reading... Show less
Pexels

Trump's 'Hold' on Elephant Trophies May Not Be Enough

As many of you may have heard by now, President Donald Trump tweeted, and Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke reiterated, a decision late Friday night to put elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe "on hold" out of the belief that "conservation and healthy herds are critical."

This follows the administration's decision, on Thursday, to allow such imports after finding Zimbabwe's management of its elephant population "enhances the survival of the species" (referred to as a "positive enhancement finding") under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The announcement reversed the Obama-era suspension on such imports due to finding the opposite: that Zimbabwe was NOT successfully managing its elephant population.

Keep reading... Show less

Fracking Chemicals Remain Secret Despite EPA Knowledge of Health Hazards

By Tasha Stoiber

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) knows that dozens of the chemicals used in fracking pose health hazards. The agency not only allows their use, but also lets the oil and gas industry keep the chemicals secret, according to a new report.

Between 2003 and 2014 the EPA identified health hazards for 41 chemicals used in fracking, according to a report from the Partnership for Policy Integrity and Earthworks, based on documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. Fracking is the injection of a chemical slurry into drilling sites to free up underground oil and gas deposits. Hazards from the chemicals used included irritation to eyes and skin; harm to the liver, kidney and nervous system; and damage to the developing fetus.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Protesters in Bonn call on politicians to fight climate change. Spielvogel / Wikimedia Commons

Global Warming Timeline, Political Will: Top Questions After COP23

As the world increasingly looks to be on track for a catastrophic 3°C of global warming, world leaders and diplomats gathered in Bonn, Germany to turn the Paris agreement into a set of rules.

In that sense the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), which concluded on Saturday, accomplished its goal of keeping the process alive by setting up the rules that will be finalized next year in Poland. But the conference also kicked a number of issues down the road. The round of climate talks heard repeated calls for a more ambitious approach to slashing carbon emissions but did not initiate any conclusive solutions, though it should be noted that no major decisions were expected.

Keep reading... Show less
U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Florida Schools' Food Waste Program: A Win-Win to Fight Hunger and Save the Environment

You've probably heard the unsettling stories of school cafeteria workers throwing away students' lunches over unpaid lunch bills, but schools in Orange County, Florida have come up with a genius solution to not only help feed hungry students and their communities, but to also cut down on food waste.

For the past two years, about 20 public elementary schools in the Florida county have been using "share tables" to great effect, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The program allows kids to place their unwanted food on designated tables so others can eat them. This means the food doesn't have to be thrown out. Instead, fellow students who are still hungry can just grab the food themselves off the tables.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Hurricane Harvey flooding. Jill Carlson / Flickr

Record Number of Americans 'Very Worried' About Climate Change

As someone who writes about the environment on a near-daily basis, the fact that a large chunk of Americans (about one in eight) reject the near scientific consensus of climate change can be a tough pill to swallow.

But after a year of record-breaking heatwaves, massive wildfires in the west, and a string of destructive hurricanes, it appears that my fellow U.S. citizens are waking up to the realities of our hot, new world, according to the latest nationally representative survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
iStock

Nursery Bans Glitter, Calls on Others to Follow Their Example

By Imogen Calderwood

Glitter is great, right? Particularly now that it's getting dark and cold and a bit depressing outside.

But, as much as we love glitter for making everything look festive, a chain of children's nurseries in the UK might actually have a point.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!