Researchers concluded in January that humanity has a hope, a 64 percent chance, of keeping the temperature rise below the international target of 1.5 degrees Celsius – if the phaseout of fossil fuel infrastructure begins now and every car, plane and power plant in existence gets replaced by a zero-carbon alternative at the end of its life span.
“We are basically saying we can’t build anything now that emits fossil fuels,” said Christopher Smith of the University of Leeds, the lead researcher.
Meanwhile, the multi-trillion-dollar fossil fuel industry is in the midst of an enormous infrastructure expansion. A 2018 industry report projected that $791 billion in oil and gas pipelines would be constructed in North America between 2018 and 2035.
Already, activists are countering industry influence by blocking pipeline construction, shutting down refineries, mobilizing coal towns against mountaintop removal mining and intervening in global climate talks. But the fossil fuel industry has the advantage of a national politics and a law enforcement apparatus that protect the interests of capital over those of the public.
As Dallas Goldtooth, a “keep it in the ground” campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, puts it: “The oil industry and state collude to keep the status quo.”