Our Choice: Live in a World on Fire or Stop Drilling for Oil

September 12, 2020

Watching the west coast burn brings up a certain level of anxiety in me. I share the experience that too many around the world have, that of evacuating my home as a raging wildfire accelerated down the mountainside, eating everything in its path. Twice.

I was lucky, I only had to run and I had a place to come back to. I lived in Santa Barbara for 23 years (leaving in 2015) and in that time, ten fires caused various parts of town to pack up and GTFO. And that was before it got really bad.

2017’s Thomas Fire not only burned the area, because of it, the town of Santa Barbara drowned in the ensuing 2018 winter flood that claimed 23 lives. The American Riviera, as it is known, was physically cut off from the rest of the world as the fluid mountainside filled the freeway and side streets with debris piles and mudflows. It took weeks to find all but two of those who perished and clear the town to make it passable. The rebuilding continues today.

Fires have ravaged the west with intensifying strength, due to the abundance of kindling in the forests, brought on by extreme drought and beetle infestations – all of which are red flags of climate change. Some of these fires were only made worse, an in the case of the Thomas Fire, started by poor management of infrastructure from utility companies. Entire towns have literally been wiped off the map. Paradise, CA – burned to the ground, and is just barely starting to come back a year later. And now so goes Phoenix and Talent, Oregon. And it’s not just here in the US. Australia, Europe, Siberia. SIBERIA!!! This can’t be acceptable.

California is one of the largest economies on the planet for many reasons, including its major business in fossil fuels. According to the US Energy Information Administration, “California has the fifth-largest share of US crude oil reserves and is the seventh-largest producer of crude oil in the nation. Overall, California’s crude oil production has declined of the the past 30 years but the state remains one of the top producers of crude oil in in the nation, accounting for about 4% of total US production in 2018.” 

During my relatively easy experiences of evacuating, it was frustrating to know that the very experience we were having was in effect brought to us by the copious amount of toxic greenhouse gases from the fossil fuel industry. Santa Barbara has such a bounty of natural oil seepage, that you can smell oil when you open the door in the morning if the wind is right. The blight of rigs onshore and off, not to mention the massive oil spills, are a constant thorn in her side.

Yet, it is so impressive how hard Santa Barbarans have fought and won – getting Platform Holly shut down, pushing back on oil tanker trucks and trains from passing through. And recently Ventura county pushing the very first policy in the state for rig setbacks from populations. But still Big Oil keeps its grip.

Governor Newsome is on record yesterday saying that climate change is the culprit of this disaster. The media is starting to amplify the message that this crisis is real and must be managed without further delay. The International Energy Agency says that there is no one solution to fixing this emergency, it must be an holistic approach.

For me, the most vital part of this approach must be to accelerate the reduction of, with the goal of eliminating, fossil fuels from the global energy equation. We can’t clean up the planet if we continue to actively pollute it. California is a national leader in green energy yet still hangs on to fossil fuels. Although a global leader in EVs and hydropower, Norway has plans to build nine new sites for Arctic oil, and the US administration has blazed the biggest fire of all through the environment, rolling back over 100 regulations, and opening leases in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge for drilling.

Activists have had amazing success this year in getting the Atlantic and Dakota Access Pipelines shut down, as well as the Keystone pipelines. And they are fighting the US over the AWR already. There are armies fighting for the planet’s survival and we need to support them by pressuring our local leaders to enact and stick to policies that protect rather than further disrupt the environment.

The fossil fuel industry, utilities and politicians on both sides of the aisle have to be treated for this massive uncontrollable addiction that is actually killing the rest of us. Yes, the way the system is set up, we cannot just flip a switch and turn on a brand-new world without any hit to the economy. Yet, I won’t believe that we can’t fix this problem. Yes, massive investment is needed, but the cost of the New Green Deal is NOTHING in comparison to the billions, if not trillions of dollars that will have to be spent to put out the over 100 fires currently raging and rebuild homes and lives. Unfortunately, no amount of money can bring back the lives lost.

Things are being done, but we must, each one of us, do more. Most of all, we must put pressure on our politicians to handle this like the national and global security threat that it is. The planet isn’t waiting for us any longer.

Sally Barr for Love Your Mother Earth

Sally Barr