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Energy and the economy after COVID-19

Something extraordinary has occurred perfectly timed to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon BP disaster: the oil industry is imploding.

An unprecedented drop in oil demand due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, a global surplus of oil due to Saudi/Russian oversupply, and scarce oil storage availability have caused crude oil prices to plummet below zero for the first time.

The oil and gas industry was already facing structural problems before the coronavirus: highly leveraged (indebted), low prices due to oversupply and mild winters (thanks to climate change) and my favorite: actual competition from renewable energy and electric vehicles.

Ironically, one of the blessings of COVID-19 has been the remarkable resilience of the Earth resulting from stay-at-home orders and the break from our busy lives. We have clearer skies, and the views are longer and brighter. So being less busy, less “productive” (as in the production of stuff) and not jet-setting around has the planet breathing a sigh of relief.

In its infinite resilience for life, the Earth is bouncing back! The birds are singing (finally, not a silent spring); if you listen carefully, you can hear them chirping: “Less pollution – we can live!”

What we don’t want to do is go back to “normal,” where climate and environmental pollution was literally killing us, and where the coal, oil and gas industry was literally buying our democracy. COVID-19 has exposed the rawness of normalized greed, inequity, extreme extraction and racism. Our pre-coronavirus existence did not serve humanity and nature. We can emerge from the current pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever by taking decisive action that protects nature, so that nature can help to protect us.

What to do? We must take bold decisive action:

• No new permits for O&G until the corporations fully bond for remediation (cleanup) of all existing wells (whether in production, idle or plugged). If an O&G company does not have enough money to pay for the cleanup of its (future) mess, then it shouldn’t have the right to make the mess in the first place. We can’t foist these outsized costs onto the public.

• No new fossil fuel projects – staying addicted to fossil fuels is a death sentence. We must encourage the PRC to pass a moratorium on all new fossil fuel investments, which will result in less pollution and lower electricity bills.

• We need to call for resolutions from all our cities and counties, and our state institutions (i.e., State Investment Council, public employees retirement fund, etc.) to divest from banks and insurance companies that back the fossil fuel industry. JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and Liberty Mutual are some of the companies that must be targeted.

This isn’t just a moral position; this is financially prudent, as well. An investment in Exxon has lost money consistently since 2014, a reduction in value by a stunning $184 billion! The financial institutions are sensitive to public pressure and must be held accountable. Check out the Stop the Money Pipeline (stopthemoneypipeline.com), divest yourself and get involved.

• Business as usual will not work. We need to end all subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. We need to divert all monies previously spent propping up these industries to publicly fund solar installations on all public schools, hospitals and libraries, and put people to work in a clean energy economy.

If we don’t make a massive investment in the Green New Deal and address structural inequality, we guarantee the emergence of future pandemics. Our most immediate priority is to invest in the health care sector, but if we are to recover economically, we cannot just recover with investment in the same sectors as before (i.e. O&G, airlines, banks). We have to take this opportunity to think about a more sustainable and equitable development model: investment in environment cleanup (sorely needed) and education, which has historically been a source of prosperity and is aligned with the public’s welfare.

• Open the electric energy market to competition and expose the vision of what’s possible: 100% renewable energy. Local choice energy allows local governments and sovereign Native American tribes to pool their electricity-buying power and decide how their electricity is produced – whether through independent producers, existing utilities, or owning and producing it themselves (or a combination). Learn more and get involved at www.newenergyeconomy.org.

Mariel Nanasi of Santa Fe is executive director and president of New Energy Economy.

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