Our world as it stands can not function without the use or rather exploitation of fossil fuels. Our cities, cars, material goods, the laptop I’m writing this article on and the screen you’re reading this on are all a part of a complex society dependent on fossil fuels. However, that dependence needs to change; globally, our energy consumption increases each year, with an estimated 50% increase by 2050. Simply put, we cannot continue to use the energy produced by fossil fuels without increasingly severe climate ramifications. We cannot afford to continue along “business as normal” without endangering more communities. Climate change threatens our very existence — we need to cut ties from the fossil fuel industry by divesting and transitioning to renewable energy through investment. We need to prioritize the planet and people’s well-being by taking a stand against the fossil fuel industry.
The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report stated that by 2030, we need to cut global carbon emissions by 45% to limit our warming to 1.5 ℃. It is just one of the proverbial “canary” warnings of looming climate disasters caused by the fossil fuel industry. And while the public becomes more informed of climate change’s devastating effects, the fossil fuel industry has known for decades. In the 1970s, ExxonMobil’s top scientists knew that increased carbon emissions would forever alter the earth’s climate. Still, the company continued to pump emissions into the atmosphere in the name of profit. They took it a step further by actively engaging in misinformation campaigns and lobbying efforts to prevent climate action in the policy realm.
The top twenty fossil fuel companies are currently responsible for a third of the world’s carbon emissions. Their actions have contributed to significant climate devastation and environmental degradation. Weather irregularities, rising sea levels and the melting of the polar ice caps are all attributed to increased carbon emissions — but the harm doesn’t end there. In their ruthless pursuit of coal, oil and gas, fossil fuel industries have permanently modified our ecosystems. Deforestation has destroyed natural carbon sinks, fracking has negatively impacted water and air quality and species are going extinct at alarming rates. Utah’s very own Columbia spotted frogs are threatened by climate-induced extinction.
Moreover, fossil fuel industries directly harm us by polluting two things necessary for our survival: air and water. From the extraction to the combustion process of fossil fuels, contaminants with adverse health effects are released into the environment. In the US alone, 100 million people live in places where pollution exceeds the national standards. Salt Lake City is no stranger to air pollution as we experience harmful levels in the summer due to ozone pollution and in the winter via the inversions. From children to adults, everyone can develop asthma, cardiovascular diseases or cancer from pollution exposure but lower-income and communities of color face the most harmful effects.
However, as dismal as this sounds, we can work towards a fossil-fuel-free future through divestment. Divestment is a monetary strategy to stop funding fossil fuel industries and indirectly lessen the harm fossil fuels cause to people and the environment. This strategy is worth pursuing because trillions of dollars are currently being put into the fossil fuel industry, despite it being a bad investment. Divestment is also a part of the solution because it works within the economic system, providing people with a feasible way to break their ties to fossil fuels.
Currently, colleges nation-wide have been divesting, citing ethical and financial concerns. Schools in the Pac-12 are at varying degrees of divestment, spurring the University of Utah to explore the option of divesting its billion-dollar endowment fund and reinvesting it into renewable energy. If the U decides to divest, it would be a step in the right direction, literally putting their money where their mouth is in regards to their climate action plan. Though the U’s divestment is small in the grand scheme of things, it is still worthwhile as it sends a message that the fossil fuel industry’s destructive business model should no longer stand. The U’s reinvestment in renewable energy sources better aligns with its mission to “engage local and global communities to promote education, health, and quality of life” and “responsible stewardship of our intellectual, physical, and financial resources, ensure the long‐term success and viability of the institution.”
Fossil fuels are bad for people and the environment. The sooner we cut ties with the industry, the better off we will be. By divesting, we take concrete action towards climate adaptation and inhibiting the industry’s ability to continue harmful practices. Let’s face the fossil fuel industry head-on; by doing so, we make the earth a better place for our generation and the ones to come.