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Perspective: ‘Just Stop Oil’ isn’t a climate strategy

If we want to tackle climate change, we need more than cans of soup and a bad slogan.

SHARE Perspective: ‘Just Stop Oil’ isn’t a climate strategy

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

Recent climate protests staged by a coalition of groups called Just Stop Oil have made headlines, but have also demonstrated why the climate agenda is doomed.

Just Stop Oil advocates against any new oil and gas projects in the United Kingdom and is infamous for their performative protests. Their recent actions put art and climate at odds when activists defaced famous paintings by throwing soup on them in an attempt to bring attention to their cause. Yet, there’s a fatal flaw in their message: we can’t just stop oil.

It doesn’t take a lot of research to figure out that if we suddenly cut off oil and gas, Utah would lose over 90% of its energy supply, the United States would lose nearly 70% of its energy supply, and the world would lose over 80%. Beyond energy, fossil fuels are responsible for many of the products we use each day — from toothpaste to cell phones to credit cards. As of now, there are few viable alternatives for these products. We absolutely should be investing in clean, alternative energy, but we’re simply not at a place to just stop using fossil fuels.

Now, it’s true that Just Stop Oil isn’t advocating for complete and total abolition of fossil fuels. Still, the average person isn’t visiting their website to understand the nuances of their approach. Similar to how the slogan “defund the police” makes it sound like a group wants to zero-out police budgets, a name like “Just Stop Oil” suggests the group is 100% anti fossil fuels. That lack of nuance in their messaging extends to many of their activists, who told me at a recent protest in London they’re hoping for all oil to be shut down now. That’s a radical approach to the average person. 

Why? Well, energy demand is expected to rise over the next few decades, not decrease. Imagining that we will be able to fuel the entire world without fossil fuels — in the short term, but even looking longer term — is irrational. Fossil fuels greatly contribute to climate change, yes, but they are also responsible for incredible strides in quality of life. When addressing climate change, we can’t create more human suffering. Ending the use of fossil fuels would do just that.

With the conversation around energy and climate change becoming a bigger priority for voters every day, it’s important we find a middle-ground between “drill baby drill” and “just stop oil.” We must decrease our reliance on fossil fuels in favor of clean energy, but we also must stop pitting energy sources against each other. The truth is we need an all-of-the-above approach to energy — renewable energy, fossil fuels, and nuclear power all working together to supply our energy needs in an affordable, reliable and increasingly clean way.

Diversifying our energy mix is crucial and can be cost-positive if done properly. Wind and solar have seen historic drops in cost in recent years, and although traditional nuclear energy infrastructure is expensive to build, new generation nuclear is nearly ready. Rather than relying entirely on fossil fuels to power our world, we can pursue alternatives. Still, fossil fuels will have a place for years to come, so we should work to ensure our fossil fuel production is as clean as possible. By utilizing emissions-reducing technologies like carbon capture and innovative techniques, we can reduce the emissions that current fossil fuel production creates.

While Just Stop Oil activists may have the right intentions, their message sends all the wrong signals. Climate activists should be willing to work with industry to have the cleanest practices possible while still providing much needed energy to the world. Now that the midterms are over, Republicans and Democrats should work together to ensure that our world has affordable, abundant, and increasingly clean energy. Climate-smart Republicans were victorious in the midterms because Americans want a smart, pragmatic energy strategy — but one that also protects the environment.

We need to stop rewarding radical ideas with media attention and instead incentivize the most effective policy ideas. Just stopping oil just doesn’t work.

Benji Backer is the president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition (ACC) and is a Deseret News contributor. Follow him on Twitter @BenjiBacker.