Diridon: Societal suicide by carbon combustion is not ethical at any price
Image courtesy of Pixabay.

    A headline in the New York Times on Oct. 28 reads, “Exxon and Chevron Racked Up Giant Profits.” Is it ethical to charge outrageous prices while selling huge volumes of polluting gasoline, to maximize profits, when the world is fighting climate change and inflation?

    The November 2015 issue of National Geographic pulled the climate issue together in demanding “COOL IT” across the cover. Three years later, the first landmark report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that only a dozen years may remain to eliminate the combustion of carbon or the worst impacts of climate change may become irreversible.

    The panel’s objective scientists and Nobel laureates updated the warning in 2022 when U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared a “climate code red” at the U.N. climate conference in Egypt. He warned the world is on the road to oblivion with our foot on the accelerator. Many world leaders, though not all, joined in that emergency declaration.

    More than 20% of U.S. greenhouse gases come from energy generation and transmission. Why have world leaders not all demanded massive solar, wind, geothermal and other sustainable energy generation systems, and an upgraded electric distribution network? California did just that using last year’s one-time fiscal surplus. Recent national policy, notably the U.S. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, attempts to do the same.

    Transportation accounts for an additional 27% of greenhouse gases in the U.S. How could anyone ever again purchase a gas-powered car or truck, bus, train or short-hop plane ticket? Or allow gas-powered lawn mowers, leaf blowers and other smaller but still serious polluters? Is it ethical to continue to use gas stoves or water heaters in our homes and businesses?

    There is a cleaner, less expensive way. Electrically powered, often less expense alternatives, encouraged by grants and tax credits, exist for all of those uses. Indeed, more support for the least fiscally capable among us must also be created to assist all to enjoy a carbon-free future. But now is the time to begin.

    Why won’t the oil companies, with their hundreds of billions of dollars in profits, invest in shifting to sustainable energy generation and then sell the electricity? If they don’t, at the rate electric vehicles are penetrating the market, most oil companies will be, thankfully, out of business in 25 years or so.

    The October 2021 issue of National Geographic shared hope, encouraging the shift to only sustainably generated energy. Our family has two electric cars and 45 rooftop solar panels. We’re not wealthy but have found a way, with the help of state and federal tax credits, grants and refinancing repaid by energy cost savings. The result is a more sustainable, less expensive lifestyle.

    With the help of our home solar, we pay little or no household electric costs and keep the two cars charged for free. In our 26 years driving EVs, we visit gas stations only to inflate the tires… no pistons, spark plugs, carburetor, generator, radiator or oil to change. Just a permanently lubricated electric motor that turns on when you push the accelerator and becomes a recharge generator when you lift your foot. The batteries have a 12-year life, during which the energy, maintenance and other cost savings more than pay for the average electric vehicle’s total purchase price.

    Tomorrow might be a very ugly environment for our children and theirs. Will you be able to tell your young adults in a dozen years that you tried hard to fight for their future? Sustainability depends on all of us trying hard, right now.

    Rod Diridon, Sr. chairs the SV Ethics Roundtable. He is past chair of the National Research Council’s Transit Cooperative Research Board and national Council of University Transportation Centers, and retired executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute. 

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