Fossil fuels and climate change

By Robert and Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

The scientific community overwhelmingly considers climate change as real, resulting primarily from human activities, especially increased fossil fuel consumption and deforestation. If these existing trends prevail, severe environmental problems will increase.

Concerns about the potential of carbon releases to change the climate were a topic of discussion among a group of oceanographers in the 1950s.  We became aware of them around 1970. In the late 1980s Hansen addressed the climate threat to Congress, bringing it to the public’s attention.

Andrew C. Revkin pointed out that by 1995 fossil fuel interests supporting the Global Climate Coalition sponsored an internal scientific study which indicated that the scientific basis for linking climate change to carbon emissions from human activity could not be refuted. Rather than proposing actions consistent with the science of climate change fossil fuel interests chose to mount a campaign of denial to delay taking action. Those interested in the details of the campaign can either read the book or watch the film “Merchants of Doubt”.

As public pressure builds to address climate change, fossil fuel interests and their allies in Congress and some state houses continue to support policies favoring fossil fuel consumption. Michael T. Klare, Professor of Peace and World-Security Studies at Hampshire College, puts the ardent support of the Keystone Pipeline into a global perspective.

After losing control over the majority of the world’s oil and gas reserves, international oil companies such as BP, Chevron and Exxon Mobil launched a successful effort to increase their production in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico from fracking, horizontal drilling and deep water drilling.

Klare describes an effort to promote North American energy independence by increasing U.S. participation in the energy industries of Canada and Mexico while eliminating barriers to cross-border pipelines and reducing environmental regulations. An abundance of fossil fuels is seen as strengthening U.S. dominance in key areas around the globe. He expects that energy abundance and national security will be major platform issues in the next presidential campaign.

An aggressive expansion of fossil fuel resources runs counter to actions needed to address climate change and environmental deterioration.  As extreme weather related events including storms, droughts, forest fires, floods and rising sea levels increase, global pressures on governments to deal with climate change are intensifying.

With cost effective energy efficiency measures and declining costs of wind and solar energy, an effective option to expanded fossil fuel consumption exists and is being widely implemented. Some interests indicate it is essential to leave the remaining reserves of fossil fuels in the ground and move toward an aggressive effort to cut consumption and waste. The scale of action called for is similar to what was done to shift industrial production away from consumer goods to providing military supplies for World War II.

As an apostle of hope in a fear driven world, Paul Gilding in “The Great  Disruption” outlines what he calls “the one degree war” against catastrophic climate change. He envisions ending our addiction to growth and accepting the need to change as a business opportunity in which new companies will reshape our economy.

Some elements of Gilding’s view of new business opportunities to address climate change are included in the proposal of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl can be reached via e-mail at

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