Grassroots movements are turning the tide against oil and gas
This week, something happened that no one could have predicted when Donald Trump took office: three major fossil fuel pipelines — the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dakota Access, and Keystone XL — have been stalled or canceled, marking historic victories for the climate movement.
Basic climate math has long been clear that these projects shouldn’t be built. According to an analysis released last year, continuing extraction from existing, already operating oil and gas fields alone will push us above 1.5 degrees C warming globally, leaving no room in the carbon budget for expansion of new oil and gas drilling. Nevertheless, the industry and its allies in the Trump administration have continued their relentless push for expansion of new drilling, with production plans that would lead us into climate catastrophe while threatening communities, property rights, public health and wildlife.
When each of these pipeline projects was proposed, conventional wisdom was that it was a foregone conclusion that they would be built. Even as they faced growing public opposition from local communities, Trump doubled down, issuing executive orders fast-tracking permits for Keystone XL and Dakota Access and naming the fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline a “high-priority project” during his first week in office.
With the most polluter-friendly president in history in the White House, it seemed there was little standing in the way of the industry’s expansion plans. We’d seen enormous success retiring coal plants, yet oil and gas were industries on the rise with no sign of slowing down. Stopping Trump’s “high-priority projects” seemed nearly impossible.
As it turns out, the climate movement has the power to make the impossible happen.
Through years of relentless organizing and grassroots resistance, national environmental groups and frontline communities worked in partnership to fight for racial justice and climate justice to stop these destructive proposed pipelines.
Together, we challenged them every step of the way, writing letters, protesting in the streets, making our case in corporate boardrooms and the halls of Congress, and taking them to court each time the Trump administration and the companies behind the projects tried to skirt the law and ignore common sense environmental protections.
Each delay and setback dealt by the movement added up to reveal that the oil and gas industry was more vulnerable than it seemed. In fact, this industry has never been on solid financial ground. The fracking boom was driven by oversupply and massive amounts of debt. Over the last five years, hundreds of oil and gas companies have gone bankrupt, and the fossil fuel industry has long been the weakest-performing sector in the entire stock market.
Now, as grassroots activism and legal advocacy continue to stop or shelve major pipeline projects, it should be sinking in for investors that oil and gas just isn’t a good bet, and that’s not going to change any time soon. Life without fossil fuels has always been possible, but now it’s becoming a reality.
Conventional wisdom has long told us that we’d be drilling for oil and gas into the foreseeable future and that it was unrealistic to try to keep pipelines from being built. But if this week has made one thing clear, it’s that an end to fossil fuels isn’t so impossible after all.
Kelly Sheehan Martin is the Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign.