Walking the Walk but Still Flying the Flights: The Fatal Flaw of the Keep It in the Ground Movement

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Vowing to “walk the walk” on climate change, the Democratic National Committee last week voted unanimously to ban all political contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Fortunately for all involved, the resolution did not call on the DNC members to ban the use of oil and natural gas, otherwise the delegates would have been forced to “walk the walk” all the way home from their Executive Committee meeting in Rhode Island.

And therein lies the fatal flaw of the Keep It in the Ground movement: the goal of keeping all oil and natural gas “in the ground” is pure fantasy because we simply cannot live in modern society without the tremendous benefits they provide.

This fact was driven home during the infamous La Jolla 2012 conference by one activist who admitted that the “activities” associated with oil and natural gas “are highly beneficial to us. We love them.”

During that two-day conference, the activists “debated the … legal merits of targeting carbon producers (as opposed to carbon emitters) for U.S.-focused climate mitigation.” But, considering that one of their agenda items was literally entitled “Attribution of Emission to Carbon Producers,” it was a foregone conclusion that the activists were going to target oil and gas producers and not the billions of us emitters who benefit immeasurably from the use of their products.

That decision paved the way for the Keep It in the Ground movement and established a paradox that the activists are tripping over to this day.

For example, the U.S. District Judge presiding over New York City’s lawsuit against five of the world’s largest oil companies recently said to the plaintiff’s attorney, (who just happens to be an alumnus of the La Jolla conference), “I don’t think it’s hard to take judicial notice of the fact the city police department has a lot of cars, that the firehouse has trucks. Isn’t the plaintiff using the product that is the subject of this lawsuit?”

The U.S. District Judge presiding over San Francisco’s very similar lawsuit against the same oil companies (litigated by the same plaintiff’s attorney and La Jolla alum), voiced the same concerns.

“We need to weigh in the large benefits that have flowed from the use of fossil fuels,” he said. “There have been huge benefits.”

According to Courthouse News Service, the judge told the lawyers that America “would have lost” World War II and other military conflicts without oil and gas to power planes and ships. He also asked how the cities can hold oil companies liable for conduct that was expressly endorsed by Congress and the president.

“Didn’t Congress tell the people in Texas and everywhere else, ‘Get out there and drill for oil,'” he asked. “Every president I can remember says, ‘We’re going to achieve energy independence.'”

The DNC will consider a second resolution at their upcoming board meeting this August to ban contributions over $200 from individuals who work for oil and natural gas companies. It seems only logical that unless the DNC board member plans to walk to Chicago and sleep on the sidewalk, they should reject that resolution.