The Oil Shock is a Climate Opportunity and We Need to Seize it

This is a guest post by Cameron Fenton, Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with

This week, the cover of the Economist proclaimed "the fall in the price of oil and gas provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix bad energy policies." The article teased on the cover explains how low oil prices create the space for governments to make rapid leaps to change energy policy instead of "tinkering at the edges" urging policy makers to use this moment to "inject some coherence into the world's energy policies."

The article gets a lot of things right. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies and forcing big polluters to pay for the mess they're making are crucial policy steps, but the piece also presents some more dubious proposals. The last paragraph of the Economist piece is the perfect example of the inherent dangers ahead.

After calling for policy measures to constrain climate change, the author encourages that "governments should be encouraging the growth of seamless global energy markets" through steps like approving the Keystone XL pipeline or lifting restrictions on energy exports. It's the logic of free-market economics laid out in Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine applied to the climate crisis – that moments of crisis be exploited to reduce regulations and open markets.

Without a big, bold and diverse climate movement these ideas may never have a chance, or worse could be transformed into policies that leave out or sacrifice those communities on the frontlines of climate change and extraction. If we've learned anything in the past decade about climate policy it's that just because policy makes sense, that doesn't mean it will happen.

It's now up to us to seize this moment, not to follow politicians but to push them and demand the kind of energy revolution that the best scientific minds on earth are saying we need. This is a moment build on the momentum of the Keystone XL fight to hold politicians to higher standard, to refuse to accept weak policy and empty commitments on climate.

According to the Carbon Tracker Initiative, $1.1 trillion of potential capital expenditure on fossil fuel projects, including $271 billion in tar sands developments, require a price of oil above $95 a barrel. With the current price hovering close to half that, Stephen Harper's government has been forced to delay the release of their 2015 budget until April. 

An eight year push to expand the tar sands is now coming face to face with the reality of the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age, and it's something that neither Harper nor big oil are equipped to deal with.

The fossil fuel industry's business model, echoed in the policies of the politicians they prop up, is to extract every dollar and barrel they can before the bottom drops out. It's a model of business as usual that has set us on a crash course, both economically and climatically.

Like past crises, like the 2008 recession, it's unlikely that those truly responsible – CEO's and their political allies – will feel the biggest hit. Instead it's the workers, thousands of who have already been laid off, the communities and the people who will be left out in the cold.

Much of the time, movements move slow and steady, but sometimes we have a chance to sprint. This is one of those moments, and if we wait too long we might miss it. The good news is we don't have to start from scratch. The beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age has started at campus divestment campaigns, in frontline communities organizing against extraction, where local communities are stopping new fossil fuel infrastructure, and together in the streets at mass mobilizations like the Peoples Climate March.

This is the climate movement's moment to seize. It's a moment for the labour movement and climate movement to join together to demand investment in re-tooling and re-training workers to build the new economy.

It's a moment to divest from dangerous fossil fuels like tar sands and reinvest in the solutions that are here and growing, especially those being led by those communities most impact by extraction and climate change. It's a moment to recognize that climate justice needs racial, social and economic justice, and most of all, it's a moment to be bold.

Image Credit: Natural gas flaring in North Dakota by Tim Evanson.

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