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Picturing the End of Fossil Fuels

Picturing the End of Fossil Fuels

Bill McKibben

When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, writers rebel (or they write 1,500 words). I mean, pictures are great, but they can’t get across complicated concepts. Except when they can.

I think these pictures suggest one word: “ENOUGH!” For those with more verbosity, I’ll suggest two words: “NO MORE!”


As long as we continue to use their products, they are going to retain the power to do what they want.

If you want to change the world, stop using fossil fuels.


Candace’s comment, while simple, states a very complex and scary proposition.
Who is responsible for the monstrosity called the Shell Drilling tower to be used in the Arctic?

Shell Oil Company? or…the folks who use Shell products.

It’s so easy to blame others,the big ones. What Candace is prosing is that it is “WE” who are responsible for the existence of Shell…OMG!!!

WE are responsible for the existence of Walmart, Big Oil, Tar Sands etc…by supporting and buying their products. Stop buying Shell products for one week and they’ll go crazy with fear and trepidation. They’re there only to make money for their stockholders, who are also “WE”!!! and US!!!

Shocking, we are the enemy…not Shell, not Walmart, not Big Oil…they exist because of we, because and for us!!!

Thanks Candace…



It is not “either / or” it is “both / and.” Narrowing the analysis to focus on consumers as “the cause” is an ineffective and limiting way to understand the holistic and synergistic human processes that have led to this assault on the Earth.

WE need to look to all the ways in which we can exercise power. Consumer action in the marketplace is one such area, but certainly not the only one. Direct action, blockading and interfering with operations, grassroots community organizing, are key areas of organizing resistance to the extractivists.

And maintaining an ongoing focus on the “interests,” strategies, tactics, propaganda and political corruption of the extractivists is also key to developing a holistic solution. Not “either / or” but “both / and.”



The title of this article led me to believe it would help me picture a world that no longer needed or used fossil fuels. I have a hard time picturing how people would survive. How would food get to the marketplace? How would people get to work or school? How would electricity be generated in sufficient quantities? How would people heat and cool their homes and places of business? This article answered none of these questions, and was a disappointment.


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I think people go for the easiest, the cheapest and what is most available, not necessarily for what they should. These demonstrations help to educate and change people’s attitudes. Thanks to all those activists that put their ass on the line to do just that.

I picture a solar future now that it is economically competitive.

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And that goes for elections and money. If the one who has the most money usually wins…

¡Basta Ya!

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What do you think about massive reductions in pointless consumerism, and focused uses of far less energy in areas of genuine utility? In theory, could a society of solidarity and cohesion manage a non-catastrophic transition off fossil fuels?

Many in for example the Permaculture community are seeking to imagine and carry out such a ramp-down. Frankly i think there’s such a lack of cohesion and solidarity that it can’t happen. But in theory… i think we could.

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Fossil fuels are only some of the vast range of natural resource materials that are irreversibly running out. When will society wake up to that reality?

What will society do without liquid fuels for land, sea and air transportation vehicles? Many people need to use cars to get to work.Tourist destinations depend on airlines bringing in visitors and conference attendees often come from around the globe in airliners. Trade globalization is carried out by a multitude of container vessels.

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IMO, much of the “needs” you speak of are not needs. If society and people were oriented toward taking care of each other, we could reorganize to enable working and income without the need to “drive to work.”

Realistically, if you can allow yourself to recognize this, all that vehicle travel powered by liquid fossil fuels will end, soon, one way, or another. Travel to tourist destinations and conferences will be recognized as trivial compared to having a living Earth. Actually it will not be recognized for long, since collapse will put an end to most people along with those modes of transport.

Or are you saying we simply must continue extracting and burning fossil fuels, despite the now inarguable and transparently obvious disastrous consequences?

To me, giving up an airplane ride to a conference is truly trivial compared to being alive on a living planet. And much of what is transported for “trade globalization” is either worse-than-useless plastic crap; is substitutable by more local products in a rational economy; or can simply be done without.

People who lived in past centuries did not have the vast majority of the “needs” that we seem to believe we cannot live without. But we truly cannot live without the ecology. What can’t you imagine yourself giving up, in which the integrity of the Earth’s ecology is part of the equation?


Try these equations on for size:

No Ecology = No Economy

No Ecology = No Humanity

Grow up. That truly is the challenge for humanity.


Actually, it was the industrial revolution produced by the discovery that burning fossil fuels could produce steam to drive industries that resulted in demographic transition. As countries industrialized, the rate of population growth decreased (Russia and Japan actually have negative growth rates).

The industrialized west (and Japan) have low birth rates and are not contributing to population growth, but they are burning fossil fuels and contributing to climate change. Third world countries that don’t burn fossil fuels don’t contribute to global warming but they have high rates of population growth.

So, there is a paradox, we need industrialization to limit population growth, but when countries industrialize it is because they burn fossil fuels to obtain energy.

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Burning fossil fuels will not lead to the death of humankind because humans use technology to change the environment to suit us (we live in the Arctic because we build structures that protect us from the hostile environment. The level of carbon dioxide on the earth was much higher before life evolved, yet life evolved even though the earth was much warmer than than it is today. Once photosynthesis evolved, plants removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produced oxygen. This allowed the evolution of organisms that respired aerobically and generated carbon dioxide. A steady state with lower carbon dioxide and oxygen in the atmosphere resulted.

Since the Industrial revolution, the level of carbon dioxide has increased causing global warming. This will affect all species negatively (except for humans) because only humans can used technology to change the environment to suit us. All other species must adapt genetically to a warmer planet and this takes a long time. The result is that many species will go extinct.

So, the issue is not what will be the effects of global warming on humans (we will simply use technology to create an environment that suits us–when it gets hot in the summer, I turn on the AC)? The issue is: what moral obligations do humans have to all those species that will go extinct because we changed the environment by burning fossil fuels?

Using fossil fuels to construct things does not cause global warming because it does not add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels as a source of energy does increase the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere causing climate change.

If we want to combat climate change we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as a source of energy.


Global warming will not destroy the earth. If conditions on the earth change (become warmer), then natural selection will change the species complex that exists.

It was climate change that wiped out the dinosaurs (a catastrophic meteor impact caused so much dust and debris in the atmosphere that the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth decreased and the earth cooled). But mammals rapidly evolved to fill the niches that were occupied by reptiles. Climate change was bad for the dinosaurs, but good for mammals and humans (we are mammals).