Kicking the Fossil Fuel Habit

Sandy Levine | @CLFLevine

Bad or unhealthy habits are tough to break. And they are even harder to break when options to replace them seem beyond our reach, or just plain impractical.

This is as true with fossil fuels as it is with sugar or cigarettes, or too much screen time.

And, unfortunately, there are those who benefit from keeping us thinking that breaking bad habits is just too tough or inconvenient.

In the case of fossil fuels, Volkswagen’s deceit rises to the top. They rigged their cars to give false emissions readings. Rather than actually produce a car that reduces pollution, they chose instead to produce a car that lied about its pollution impact. All the while they advertised about what fun it is to drive their cars and how good you can feel about cutting pollution.

All of that was false. Instead, their cars kept you hooked on fossil fuels and their actions made it harder to kick that habit.

As the dust settles on the legal actions around the Volkswagen travesty, some of those lemons will be turned into lemonade. Car purchasers and dealers should be made whole and compensated for being lied to. As for the rest of us, we too are suffering more pollution because of those cars. The settlement plans from the Volkswagen fiasco include money to reduce some pollution going forward. Their illegally gained profits should also fund putting vastly more people into electric cars and buses and more public transportation. That would not only reduce pollution, it would show that cutting fossil fuel use in transportation is practical, convenient, and well within our reach, hastening a future where we are less reliant on this fossil fuel habit.

ExxonMobil should be next. Like Volkswagen, they too profited from their deceit. They knew the real risks of global warming long ago. Anticipating melting ice sheets, they made strategic investments in ice-laden northern areas where oil would be more accessible as a result of global warming. While they were making these investments, they deceived and short-changed the rest of us. They bet their profits on global warming. They downplayed its known risks, luring the public to keep buying fossil fuels. The deceit continues as ExxonMobil fails to report or manage the risks to its facilities in coastal areas that will flood from sea level rise. Their profits rise while they leave their host communities in the cross-hairs of harm from global warming. ExxonMobil should not profit from its deceit any more than Volkswagen should.

It is time to level the playing field. Nobody should be allowed to profit from deceit. It’s like letting a thief keep the stolen goods. As we work to kick the fossil fuel habit, let’s not work blindfolded or with our hands tied behind our back. Let’s take the profits from pollution and turn them in to clean energy.

The opportunities have never been greater. Investing in energy conservation and efficiency through weatherization, heat pumps, and electric vehicles can slash our total energy needs. Next up we can invest more in clean energy, like wind and solar and clean biofuels from farms, to replace fossil fuels. A carbon pollution tax allows us to invest in cleaner energy while cutting pollution.

Local energy supplies keep jobs and dollars in New England and send pollution packing. That’s how we can truly kick the fossil fuel habit, put ill-gained profits to good use, and leave an energy legacy of honesty instead of deceit.

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