We no longer need scientists to convince us that burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas is causing climate change — hotter weather, increasingly violent storms, and longer droughts which contribute to higher food prices, water shortages, rising seas, plant and animal die-off, and more competition for fewer resources. We see the results today — Superstorm Sandy, drought in the Mid-West, record breaking heat waves.
And if we could stop burning fossil fuels, we would. But we need to drive to work, we need to heat and cool our homes, we need to cook our food.
We have alternatives — like wind, solar, and geothermal — that don’t emit any of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide that are warming the planet. Also, we know that there are huge opportunities to make more efficient use of energy we do use. But as long as our energy is relatively cheap, why switch?
Scientists are getting more desperate in their warnings that if our greenhouse gas emissions don’t start declining steadily by 2016, we’ll pass ecological tipping points that can’t be reversed.
So if we know we need to stop burning fossil fuels, why don’t we? Because fossil fuel companies spend billions to lobby Congress to do nothing and confuse the public about the effects of their products. And it’s working. Their enormous profits and undue power are on track to destroy the planet.
There’s a new movement of individuals, colleges, religious institutions, companies, and cities divesting from — taking their money out of — fossil fuel stocks, bonds and other investments. Investing in oil and coal companies was once a safe bet — and an accepted part of most American’s investment portfolios and retirement funds. But with the immense threat of climate change and a range of new, cost-competitive energy options available, investing in oil, natural gas, and coal is not only financially risky — it’s unethical.
Washington, DC is a national leader in a larger sustainable city movement. In 2011, under the leadership of Mayor Vincent Gray, city agencies organized the Sustainable DC initiative, crowdsourcing a plan to make DC “the healthiest, greenest, and most livable city in the United States.” And in March 2013, the DC government — already a leading national consumer of green energy — signed a contract to use wind power for 100 percent of its electricity needs.
In short, it’s safe to say DC gets it. They just need support and guidance to take this next step.
If the federal government won’t turn off the tap of fossil fuel subsidies that fuel more and more extreme weather, cities like the District of Columbia can and must take their investments out of fossil fuels — providing an example of the courage the White House and Congress need to do the right thing for Americans, present and future.