Leave Fossil Fuels in the Ground to Mitigate Risks from Climate Change

Individuals and organizations are joining together to advocate for keeping coal, oil, and gas in the ground, demanding that our global society break free from fossil fuels to mitigate the risks of climate change.
May 25, 2016 8:00 AM ET

Climate activist Bill McKibben led the fight against the Keystone XL Pipeline and won.  Now, he is building the Break Free movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground.  His efforts are yielding meaningful results—from the United Kingdom to South Africa, Australia to Brazil, the movement is disrupting fossil fuel projects, encouraging mass divestment, and setting the stage for “the rapid, just transition from the fossil fuel economy of the past to the 100% renewable and clean energy future that climate justice demands.”

Why is the Break Free movement, and other efforts to keep fossil fuels in the ground, so critical?  Because, according to the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, climate related disasters already affect over 170 million people each year (up from 60 million just three decades ago) and cost $40 billion annually. 

And things are expected to get worse.  Coastal cities and communities are the most vulnerable to natural disasters—1.3 billion people are expected to be displaced by climate events and rising sea levels, with costs exceeding $1 trillion, by 2070. 

We’re already starting to lose entire islands in the Pacific due to rising sea levels and erosion, including six Solomon Islands, which recently saw entire villages washed away.

“We are woefully unprepared for the climate and disaster risks that are rapidly changing our world,” said John Roome, senior director for climate change at the World Bank.  “Without changing decision-making today, we’ll only increase the disaster risk for the future. But if we make the right decisions now, we’ll be able to avoid a large number of these risks.”

Transitioning to a clean energy economy is essential. Progress is being made in the most unlikely of places, including oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia, which is weaning itself off its fossil fuel dependency as a hedge against fluctuations in an increasingly speculative market.

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