The extent of the damage to the California coastline caused by the recent oil pipeline spill will take months to assess, but you don’t need to be a scientist to know that the environmental impact is grim. Governor Jerry Brown declared a State of Emergency in Santa Barbara County after more than 100,000 gallons leaked from the pipeline that burst, and at least 21,000 gallons of that oil spewed into our ocean. My state’s beautiful coastline is now marred by an oil slick that stretches across 9 miles, and Refugio Beach is closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, 100 miles away, mysterious tar balls, some the size of footballs, have forced the temporary closure of beaches in South Bay. It is unclear whether the tar balls are related to the Santa Barbara oil spill, but what is clear is that when we drill, we spill.
And while the process of cleaning up oil, counting dead sea turtles, and bathing oil-soaked birds continues, our elected officials are calling for even more drilling. After a recent tour of a Shell Oil rig, for example, Alaska Governor Bill Walker announced that offshore drilling in the state’s Arctic waters “will happen.”
It is beyond obvious that our reliance on nonrenewable sources of energy has irreversible negative consequences to the environment and health. We need to shift to renewable clean energy—today. While we stand in waiting for our elected officials to pay attention to the symptoms of a changing climate, the destruction ensues. In 2014 alone at least twenty-four pipelines exploded or leaked in the U.S., down from thirty-six pipeline leaks in 2013. Pipelines carrying oil are designed to spill; in fact, a small amount of leakage is actually built into the construction proposals. But it’s crazy to think that the damage caused by pipelines is worth any potential economic benefits, which we know are temporary.
Transporting oil by train is no safer—trains carrying oil spill more often than pipelines, although the impact may be smaller because they spill less oil than do pipelines. Natural gas extraction is also no cleaner. Fracking produces hundreds of billions of gallons of toxic water every year and the link between fracking and human-caused dangerous earthquakes has now been scientifically proven and accepted as true by public leaders. The problems with coal have also been well established, the extraction and burning of which poisons our water and contributes more to air pollution than any other human activity.
Renewable energy has the potential to reduce pollution and slow climate change, birth new industries and innovative clean technologies, and has already created millions of jobs. Plus, sun, wind, and water provide us with clean and healthy infinite sources of energy, not to mention the fact that there’ll be no more sea turtles suffocating under massive oil slicks.
Other countries have already made the shift. Iceland, for example, gets 85 percent of their electricity from the Earth’s heat, and supplies their residents with 100 percent renewable energy. Norway is almost there, with 98 percent of their energy coming from renewable sources. Portugal, Scotland, Paraguay, Denmark, Germany, and many other countries are also setting and attaining their high goals for supplying 100 percent of their energy needs from clean renewable sources.
The oil and gas industry wants to go on with business as usual, putting profits over water, air, and health. ExxonMobile CEO, for example, says his firm isn’t investing in renewable energy because, “we choose not to lose money on purpose.”
But as many other countries have demonstrated, making the shift to renewables is possible—and with a little effort on our parts, we can do it, too. This involves reducing your own reliance on fossil fuels at home and work, and stepping it up by encouraging your employers, universities, and other institutions with which you do business to divest from fossil fuels—to remove their financial support from oil and gas companies. Divestment works, and it sends a powerful message to our elected officials and industry leaders, telling them that we are ready for a clean future built on renewable sources of energy. Launching a divestment campaign is easier than you might think, and you don’t have to do it alone. There are many organizations and online resources available to support your efforts to move beyond personal change and start making real social change happen.
In the wake of another major spill on the California coast, there is no better time than now to start contributing to a healthier world, one that uses our infinite supply of sun, wind, and water currents to create the electricity we need to power our clean future.
If not you, then who?