The Next Economy
As Groups Continue to Push Obama for Strong Climate Action, Deniers Pose 'Fossil Fuel Free Challenge'

In the less than 100 days remaining before the much-anticipated COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, more and more stakeholder groups are adding their voices to the throng urging world leaders to come to a decisive, actionable consensus on how to address the global climate crisis. Among the latest: Last week, some of the music industry’s biggest stars unveiled a “Love Song to the Earth” — though the song has gotten mixed reviews, “Every time the song plays, Earth earns the royalties, which will go towards lowering carbon emissions,” according to the Friends of the Earth website.

Also last week, a group of stakeholders from the outdoor and snow sports industry calling itself Protect Our Winters, made up of 92 brands — including K2 Sports, Head, Rossignol, The North Face, Clif Bar, Patagonia and Burton — 53 U.S. resorts, 50 professional athletes and 13 snow sports trade groups signed a letter to President Obama about the urgency of climate change and encouraging him to bargain hard for a tough agreement at COP21.

“The snow sports industry views climate change as an economic opportunity as well as an environmental issue. Our businesses support $62 billion in tourist-related revenue, 964,000 jobs and $4.6 billion in annual retail sales. We are united in our desire to reduce carbon emissions and transition to a clean energy future,” they say in the letter. “2014 was the warmest year in the temperature record, and 2015 is on track to surpass it. Failure to act now on climate is unacceptable, and will result in damage to the environment, tourism and the economy. This is the greatest opportunity of our time. We need meaningful action from all, and it is time to act."

Meanwhile, a coalition of more than 400 organizations and leaders will deliver a historic letter to the White House tomorrow calling on the President to stop new federal fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans in the United States, and instead “keep it in the ground.”

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The letter argues that, by keeping publicly owned fossil fuels that haven’t already been leased to industry in the ground, President Obama can keep nearly half of the potential emissions from all remaining U.S. fossil fuels, up to 450 billion tons, from the global pool of potential carbon pollution.

More than 67 million acres of public land and ocean are already leased to the fossil fuel industry. That represents an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park and contains up to 43 billion tons of potential carbon pollution. Deeming unleased oil, gas and coal “unburnable” would accomplish more in the global fight against climate catastrophe than any other single climate action taken by the Obama administration.

Hundreds of prominent organizations and leaders across the country signed the letter, among them tribal leaders, labor unions, scientists, religious leaders, public interest groups and climate activists, including Bill McKibben, Dr. Noam Chomsky, Winona LaDuke, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., United Auto Workers Union, Unitarian Universalist Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Protect Our Winters, Rainforest Action Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians and hundreds of others.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, and more than 1.7 billion acres of Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. This includes federal public lands such as national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans such as Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior.

The letter calls on President Obama “to make our nation the first to commit to keeping all of its remaining, unleased public fossil fuels in the ground, thereby challenging other nations to do the same.” It concludes that “such leadership is necessary to ensure a livable climate and planet for both present and future generations.”

“President Obama understands the urgent crisis of climate change, and yet his administration has allowed Shell to drill in the Arctic and companies like Peabody to lease billions of tons of coal from public lands," says Greenpeace executive director Annie Leonard. He still has the chance to be remembered as a climate leader, but he must take bold, concrete steps to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, says: “The science is definitive: If we are to lessen the effects of climate change, we must leave dirty fuels in the ground. President Obama has taken historic steps to moving America toward a clean energy economy while leading the world forward. It's time he solidifies his climate legacy by stopping new oil and gas leases on federally managed lands and waters, leaving dirty fuels where they belong: in the ground.”

Letter signers will hold a press conference outside of the White House at 10am EST tomorrow.

Of course, not everyone is convinced that our future depends on us quickly ending our reliance on fossil fuels, especially those with a vested financial interest in ensuring that we don’t. Today, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) — a non-profit trade organization that “supports policy reform that encourages job growth, investment and timely access to Western federal lands in order to turn our enormous energy and economic potential into reality through responsible development of America’s abundant Western oil and natural gas” announced its upcoming Fossil Fuel Free Challenge. Taking place September 28-Oct 2, WEA says the Challenge offers “the chance to attempt the lifestyle environmentalists and policymakers promote through protests, social media activism and overreaching regulations.”

“There’s a growing group of people who want to completely eliminate fossil fuel consumption as their way of protecting the environment. Meanwhile the government is implementing unprecedented new regulations to squeeze out production,” said Tim Wigley, president of the Alliance. “This challenge is a way to experience the lifestyle those groups promote to the fullest.

“Fossil fuels permeate our lives. Our campaign provides us the opportunity to show those who oppose responsible oil and natural gas development that they would be poorer, sicker, less educated, colder in winter, and hotter in summer while generally leading a dull and deprived life,” Wigley added. “But for anyone who thinks life is better without fossil fuels, then we challenge you to go one week without them.”

The snarky campaign misses the point: Obviously, we would be rather screwed if our primary source of energy were cut off tomorrow, and a global transition to renewable forms of energy won’t happen overnight. All the more reason to continue to develop more climate-friendly energy sources — as more and more data emerges that asserts the importance of “keeping it in the ground”: As research highlighted Friday in the New York Times reveals, burning all of the world’s deposits of coal, oil and natural gas would raise global temperatures enough to melt the entire ice sheet covering Antarctica, driving the level of the sea up by more than 160 feet. The scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany were shocked to find that half the melting could occur in as little as 1,000 years (about 10 times faster than previously predicted), causing the ocean to rise by approximately a foot per decade, roughly 10 times the rate at which it is rising now, forcing a rapid retreat from the world’s coastal cities and throwing human society into chaos. So, there’s that to consider.

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