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November 03, 2014

Breaking Big Oil's Grip

Oil prices have dipped lately. In the short term, that's probably good news (unless you're an oil company or a petrostate). If we look at the big picture, though, it's a lot less relevant. That's because oil prices don't reflect the true costs of extracting and burning oil any more than donut prices reflect what a steady diet of crullers will do to your waistline. Eat enough donuts and your health will suffer, regardless of how much you paid for them. Likewise, the more oil we consume, the worse the consequences will be for our climate, our environment, and our democracy. High prices simply add insult to the ongoing injury.

Unfortunately, though, the real costs of oil aren't just keeping pace with our oil use -- they're outstripping it. The oil industry's increasing reliance on risky, high-carbon, extreme sources like tar sands, fracking, and Arctic and deepwater drilling means that we're paying an ever-steeper price -- not just in dollars, but in disasters. On top of that, it's clear by now that, unchecked, Big Oil will stay on this destructive course like an out-of-control automaton. If we let them, oil industry executives will keep drilling long past the point where the planet as we know it can recover.

And let's stop right there, because we are not going to let that happen.

What's more, the oil industry knows it. They know that people don't trust them. They know that people don't like being forced to depend on oil for transportation. And, most important of all, they know that people have the power to move our country beyond oil for good.

They know it's possible because they can already see us doing it. We are loosening oil's grip, and we're doing it from two different sides: supply and demand.

On the supply side, our organizing is already keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We're relentlessly challenging the oil industry's attempts to exploit high-risk and pollution-intensive oil reserves. Have you taken action to oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport dirty tar sands oil? Then you've already directly affected the economic viability of that disastrous energy source. A new analysis from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis and Oil Change International found that tar sands producers lost more than $17 billion in revenue between 2010 and 2013 as the result of citizen protests. We haven't completely stopped tar sands development (yet), but we but we are well on the way to ensuring that it is one of the first forms of extreme oil to become nonviable as we shift away from oil entirely.

And that's just one of many fights here and around the world to stop irresponsible drilling for dirty fuels.

At the same time (and this is part of the reason for the current decline in oil prices), we're reducing the demand for oil. As The Economist recently put it: "Energy-saving ideas will not suddenly be uninvented." Standards for more-efficient vehicles and consumer adoption of technologies like electric cars and more-efficient engines aren't going away, regardless of what happens to oil prices. Every single thing we do to promote clean energy and sustainable transportation solutions (like renewable energy, electric vehicles, transit, and walkable/bikeable communities) permanently ratchets down the use of oil in our economy. And as I've said before, once we break up with dirty fuels, there's no way we're getting back together.

Want to really keep oil executives up at night? Check out the Sierra Club's new "Pick a Plug-In" website to find out whether a full-battery or plug-in-hybrid electric vehicle makes sense for you. The U.S. already has more than a quarter million EVs on its roads and, this past fall, the fourth annual National Drive Electric Week drew more than 90,000 people to events in 150 cities and 39 states. Governors, mayors, senators, and city councillors from all over the nation participated and announced initiatives that will put even more EVs on the road.

If you do end up behind the wheel of one of those EVs, you'll join the thousands who've discovered that driving one is not only cleaner and quieter but also way more fun. At the very least, you'll have one less reason to worry about the price of oil.


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Michael Brune

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