• April 15th, 2024
  • Monday, 10:54:49 PM

‘The Largest Existential Threat’ to Humanity

Photo: Sierra Club Warrick coal-burning plant, Indiana.


Javier Sierra


Hidden in the back pages of a small newspaper, a tiny article first warned us about the perils of dirty fuel emissions. “[The burning of coal] tends to make the air a more effective blanket for the earth and to raise its temperature. The effects may be considerable in a few centuries,” it wisely alerted us. When was it written? In August of 1912, in the Rodney and Otamatea Times of New Zealand.


Science has been proving this century-old, dire prediction right for decades, only for the dirty energy industry and its lackeys in power to ignore it time and again. The consequences have been catastrophic, for our health, our wallet, and above all, for the planet’s atmosphere.


A study published by The Lancet found that pollution, especially the one coming from fossil fuels, inflicted 9 million premature deaths on humanity in 2019, one out of every six deaths.


“Pollution is still the largest existential threat to human and planetary health and jeopardizes the sustainability of modern societies,” said co-author Philip Landrigan. “Preventing pollution can also slow climate change, and our report calls for a massive, rapid transition away from all fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy.”


The report updates a similar one from 2016 and confirms another one led by Harvard University researchers with very similar conclusions from 2018. The US is the only industrialized country among the top 10 in the recent report, with a total of almost 143,000 premature deaths a year. Remember, we Latinos and other communities of color disproportionately suffer the impact of pollution and the climate crisis it causes.


Meantime, Big Oil is swimming in profits in the middle of a planetary emergency taking advantage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Latino families suffer the consequences of this greed with special intensity, all the while in the first three months of the year, Shell raked in $9.1 billion in profits; BP, $6.2 billion; Chevron, $6.2 billion, and ExxonMobil, $5.5 billion.


We Latinos and other communities of color disproportionately suffer the impact of pollution and the climate crisis it causes.


This profit windfall blows away the green veil the industry publicly wears as a PR gambit. A report by OilChange International revealed that regardless of the industry’s promises to adhere to the Paris Agreement’s climate commitments, eight of the world’s largest oil companies are involved in more than 200 new expansion projects that would add greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of 80 new coal-burning plants.


The dirty energy industry wins some battles but it knows its days are numbered. More and more of its workers are abandoning it, aware of the fact that they contribute to a planetary emergency that threatens humanity’s future, and the industry finds ever more problematic to replenish its workforce.


On the other hand, the clean and renewable industry keeps growing fast. In 2021, humanity installed 168 GW of solar energy, breaking the annual world record for the ninth time in a row, and this year it’s expected to install more than 200 GW for the first time ever.


All eyes are on President Biden and Congress to finally pass a budget reconciliation bill that invests in clean energy and climate action, while ensuring economic equity and environmental justice for all.


Because we all face humanity’s largest existential threat.



Javier Sierra writes the monthly bilingual column Sierra & Tierra.


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