KEEP IT IN THE GROUND

Frostpaw the Polar Bear rallies to #KeepItInTheGround with Center supporters in Washington, DC. (Photo by Suchat Pederson.)

Our climate is at a tipping point. If we don’t quit fossil fuels by midcentury, scientists predict, we’ll be locked into a dangerous world of extreme weather, flooded coasts, human health catastrophes and sweeping extinctions of wildlife. Climate change is not a problem for another generation — it’s a problem now.

True to its policy platform of climate denial and America’s “energy first” policies, aimed at increasing extraction on public lands, the Trump administration continues to lease more of our public lands and oceans to the fossil fuel industry. Existing leases generate nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution while ruining some of our most cherished places, like the American Arctic and Colorado Plateau.

Destroying our natural heritage to create climate pollution is dangerous public policy. That’s why the Center is calling for a halt all new federal fossil fuel leasing on America’s public lands and in our oceans.

By doing this we can keep 450 billion tons of climate pollution in the ground — an amount that vastly exceeds any reasonable U.S. share of the world’s remaining emissions limits. And we can save extensive tracts of our public lands, oceans and wildlife habitat from more fossil fuel industrialization.

To help compel this action, the Center is working alongside allies in a national Keep It in the Ground campaign, making a historic push to bring climate activism to our public lands and oceans — to keep our publicly owned fossil fuels in the ground and out of the atmosphere.
Through national and regional actions and campaigns including administrative appeals, lawsuits, legal petitions, and strategic media and organizing, the Center is working to keep the last, best vestiges of our natural heritage off limits to the fossil fuel industry and fiercely defend against policy changes to cut out the public’s voice from decisions on federal lands or weaken existing protections.

Our Public Carbon Estate

Our public lands and oceans provide enormous environmental benefits, from clean air, water and natural ecosystems to habitat for some of our most imperiled wildlife. But they also contain vast carbon stores — fossil fuels that, if developed, would spell disaster for the world’s climate.

In a landmark 2015 report, The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels, EcoShift Consulting, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Earth, completed the first-ever estimate of the volume and potential life-cycle greenhouse emissions of nonfederal and publicly owned federal fossil fuels.

The results indicate that ending new federal fossil fuel leasing could keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from the global pool of potential future greenhouse gas emissions. This is about half of the total global emissions that can be released if the world is to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, a level of warming that will result in extreme and dire consequences for human and natural systems around the globe.

A second landmark report, Over-leased: How Production Horizons of Already Leased Federal Fossil Fuels Outlast Global Carbon Budgets, shows that the federal fossil fuels already leased to industry will still be producing fossil fuels long after global carbon budgets for international warming targets have been exhausted. In other words, we’ve already leased too much.

Map of publicly owned federal fossil fuels in the United States. By Curt Bradley.

Toward a None-of-the-above Fossil Fuel Policy

As global warming threatens to accelerate the extinction crisis, the highest and best use of our public lands and oceans is to provide safe harbor for diverse species by protecting the ecological systems upon which they, and we, ultimately depend.

Yet despite dire warnings, the Trump administration, under its “all-of-the-above” energy policy, continues to sacrifice those habitats to the fossil fuel industry.

More than 67 million acres — an area 55 times larger than Grand Canyon National Park — are now leased.

The “all-of-the-above” policy comes at a high cost for our natural and national heritage. It industrializes America’s public lands, pollutes pristine rivers and coastlines, endangers underprivileged communities, and pushes wildlife closer to extinction.

And it’s a recipe for climate disaster: Each new federal fossil fuel lease commits the world to more climate disruption.

Fighting climate pollution by only regulating smokestacks and tailpipes is a fool’s errand; fossil fuels that are extracted will be burned — so tackling the climate crisis requires policies that sever the fossil fuel supply.

Our public lands and oceans, which afford critical ecological and biological values, are the place to start. Now.

 

 

 

Photo of oil and natural gas development courtesy EcoFlight