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Know the West

Give the fossil fuel industry free rein!


In 1729, Jonathan Swift published the most famous satirical essay in the English language:  A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public.  And what was Swift’s proposal?  Merely that the one-year-old children of indigents be eaten, thus solving the problems of poverty and overpopulation at a stroke.

Poverty and overpopulation are still with us, of course, but sadly, such bold ideas to solve these problems are in short supply today. Meanwhile, the world’s current level of 7 billion is straining resources to the limit. Certainly the earth cannot support in health and comfort the 9 billion expected to swarm upon its surface by mid-century.  Action must be taken -- immediate, forceful action -- to reduce the human population and re-balance the planet before it is too late.   No person of good conscience can view televised scenes of squalor in the teeming cities of Africa and Asia -- and even, if reports are to be believed, in parts of our own country -- without feeling called upon to make a difference.

Fortunately, thanks to the generative genius of capitalism, the fossil fuel industry is positioned to solve this problem, while simultaneously generating good-paying jobs and unimaginable amounts of money. The release of greenhouse gases by this industry has already set the world on a trajectory toward irreversible climate change, which will ultimately bring about the population readjustment that all thinking people wish for. And companies from ExxonMobil to BP to Koch Industries to Syncrude stand ready to do so much more.

However, through no fault of their own, these corporations have not been as effective as they might be.  Last year, barely over a million acres of new oil and gas leases were sold on America’s public lands, and the industry was forced to make due with only $18.5 billion in government subsidies.  Meanwhile, endless red tape has imposed restrictive regulations on emissions, delayed the construction of essential pipelines like the Keystone XL, and waged a pitiless War on Coal. President Obama even signed an emissions-reducing deal with China.  It is obvious to all sensible people that this is going in exactly the wrong direction.

My modest proposal is simply this: Set the fossil fuel industry free. Open the valves fully on greenhouse gas emissions. The near-term profits will be immense. In the slightly longer term (after most of our generation are safely off the stage), this plan will produce a bracing readjustment of earth’s ecological systems, resulting in much-needed population reduction through droughts, crop failures, and coastal inundation. And don’t worry about your children or grandchildren.  Surely the wealth they inherit will insulate them from whatever unpleasantness may come in the overpopulated parts of the world.

I acknowledge that there are a few misguided individuals who will urge a different course.  They fancifully suggest that carbon emissions be immediately and drastically reduced, with the goal of keeping atmospheric CO2 below 450 parts per million.  This is the threshold that international climate negotiators have identified as providing a 50 percent chance of avoiding the impacts of catastrophic climate change. The level is almost 400 ppm today. To keep it below 450 ppm would cost the fossil fuel industry the equivalent of $28 trillion in revenues over the next two decades, according to published estimates.  The only possible response to such an idea is a hearty laugh.  When in the history of the world have corporations or governments passed up such wealth?

Nothing makes me angrier than those self-righteous “greens,” who profess to love the earth, but who do nothing but fiddle about with this little regulation here, that little lawsuit there, and never talk about population at all.  To use a well-worn phrase, they are merely rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  I say, aim the Titanic straight at that rapidly melting iceberg!  Throw more coal into the boilers!  Full steam ahead!  The earth will thank us.  Eventually.

Joel Pett

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News (hcn.org). A writer and naturalist, he is co-author of Shifting Patterns: Meditations on Climate Change in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley (www.shiftingpatterns.org).  He lives in Ashland, Oregon.