In September, I’m starting a Master’s program at University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership. It’s my intention to use that degree as a springboard to work with fossil fuel companies — and convince them that it’s in their best and most profitable interest to stop producing fossil fuel and invest everything they’ve got in clean renewable energy.
I’ve talked to a few people about this dream. Most laugh at me. Some think I’m wasting my time and talents on this dream. Some think I’ll never be able to do it.
Here’s why it’s worth trying: 89% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels and industry.
We could do everything else right when it comes to slowing down or, dare we imagine, to reversing climate change and it won’t matter if we don’t quickly and massively reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel production.
What Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. got wrong about the SCOTUS majority opinion on the EPA
The SCOTUS majority ruling in West Virginia v. EPA removed the ability of the EPA to limit emissions by power plants. The majority opinion is a travesty for many reasons. It also happens to be false, or at least incomplete. “There is little reason to think Congress assigned such decisions to the Agency,” Roberts wrote. “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself.”
That last bit about Congress isn’t entirely true. The energy industry could make the choice to limit, or eliminate, its emissions.
I know some of you are laughing at that idea. You know what’s even more laughable? Imagining that Congress will get its act together to make it happen.
I understand why people hate on and rail against capitalism. However, it’s the economic paradigm that powers the world. We barely have time to get for-profit businesses to change their behaviors before the planet faces irreversible damage that will compromise life on this planet. We absolutely don’t have time to reinvent and adopt a new world economy before that happens.
Yes, capitalism is deeply flawed and yes, I wish humans were neurologically wired to act in the best interests of the greater community rather than themselves. I can’t change either of those facts and neither can you, not in time to protect the planet.
We have to work with what we have right now. We don’t have time to lament over human selfishness. We have to use it to our advantage; that’s exactly how nature would solve climate change and it’s exactly what we need to do. Now. It’s what I plan to do by working with fossil fuel companies.
What fossil fuel companies care about
Fossil fuel companies don’t produce fossil fuel because they love it. There is precious little to love about dirty fuel that’s poisoning the planet and poisoning us. Fossil fuel companies love two things: money and power. Their long-term profits and power aren’t in fossil fuel. It’s in renewables for one simple reason — they’re cheaper to produce and are, as the name implies, limitless. Imagine the economics of a business built on inexpensive, infinite raw materials that produces a final product that protects the health of every living being? You don’t have to imagine it. It’s here. It’s renewable energy.
What West Virginia cares about
Why did West Virginia bring this case against the EPA? Jobs. Plain and simple. Money and income. West Virginia and other fossil fuel producing states have no particular attachment to fossil fuel except history and a large number of jobs.
If they could preserve jobs, or better yet increase the number of them and the income those jobs generate, they’d do it. With renewables, they can retrain people, preserve their beautiful land, water, and wildlife, protect workers, increase tax revenue, and promote the health of all beings. But they can’t do it alone. We have to work with them. We have to support them.
The power of legacy
Legacy is a powerful motivator. As Hamilton says, “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” In addition to money and power, fossil fuel companies and those who head them care about legacy and how they will be remembered. In 2019, BP spent millions on an advertising campaign about its low-carbon energy and cleaner natural gas when 96% of its annual expenditure is on oil and gas. This was greenwashing to the extreme, and BP isn’t alone. Greenwashing is a fossil fuel industry problem.
Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, INEOS, RWE, and Shell have all done it. The advertising campaign they all need, rooted in truth, that will send their stock prices soaring, generate priceless innovative partnerships, and cause the best and brightest talent around the world to work for and with them is this: “We will reduce the production of fossil fuel by at least 50% by 2030 and completely replace it with renewable energy by the year 2050.”
I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, met with some of the highest officials in Saudi government, and traveled to the Empty Quarter. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have the geographic space and wealth to be the largest renewable suppliers in the world. Forget greening the desert there. Create the solar fuel farms we need on land that has very little life to disturb.
Fossil fuel companies are fiercely competitive. Once one company does this, the rest of them will scramble to do the same. There’s a first mover advantage here. With this kind of decision, they will rewrite the history of this planet and forever be remembered as the company that protected and saved life on Earth in its darkest hour. Now that is a legacy.
Why I’m built for this work
I’ve worked inside a number of large multinational matrix for-profit companies. Many are populated with enormous egos and deep pockets.
Bureaucracy doesn’t grind me down; it sharpens my resolve.
I love finding out what makes people tick and what they care about most. Then I show them how my projects help them in their pursuits of what matters to them. I learned this skill as a fundraiser and as a product developer who had to internally lobby for project funding. My mentors were the best of the best at this. They showed me how it’s done, and done well.
Being a writer will help
While building a successful business career working with a variety of startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies, I also honed my communications and storytelling skills by building a strong portfolio as a writer, author, journalist, editor, interviewer, public speaker, and podcaster.
This shift from fossil fuels to clean renewables is as much about storytelling as it is about science and business.
Being a writer means I’m constantly inventing characters with motives. I build worlds with words. Now I will use my words to paint the picture of what a clean, sustainable, and healthy world looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like.
While the climate change movement has done an excellent job of describing the grim future we’ll face if we don’t shift away from fossil fuels, they haven’t shown us the alternative of a happy, joyful future on this planet. We need to long for that alternative so much that we’re willing to change and endure the transition, which may be painful, expensive, and inconvenient.
My cancer was environmentally-driven
During the COVID-19 pandemic prior to vaccines, I was diagnosed with and treated for early stage breast cancer. My doctors believe my cancer was driven, at least in part, by environmental factors. We can’t prove this definitively, but when we triangulate all the data we know about my case it becomes clear that the environment was at least a major contributor.
Nothing motivates and activates like nearly dying. My health, your health, and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. And they’re worth fighting for. I’m fighting for all of us, and that means I have to work with fossil fuel companies.
In the words of the late great Babe Ruth, it’s tough to beat someone who never gives up, and I won’t give up until we get this done.
Change is an inside job
While change can be driven by outside pressure, I’ve seen change happen quicker and more extensively when pursued on the inside of an organization. Sometimes to get things done, we’ve got to go into the belly of the beast. We have to walk right into the lion’s den armed with the undaunted courage and willful determination to sit with the lion, understand their perspective, and then show them how you can all move forward together for everyone’s benefit.
I know it’s going to be a steep climb. I know there is a chance it may not work. There is a chance I’ll come home empty-handed with nothing to show for my effort and time.
There’s also a chance that it could work. There’s a chance that this could be the most meaningful, valuable thing I ever do with my life that will make the world a better place for all beings. And so with that hope and that goal, I’m going to give it my best shot.
Allowing climate change to progress unabated is akin to burning down our own house and wondering why we have no place to live. Nothing survives — not a company, a government, nor a living being — if the planet perishes. With that in mind, there is no work more important than getting fossil fuel companies to stop producing fossil fuel. This work is what matters most.