A group of activists set up camp in March Point, Washington on May 13, subsequently shutting off the exportation of petroleum from the March Point refinery as part of what is being called the largest environmental action to date. The organization that is spearheading this is known as Break Free Pacific Northwest, and their mission is to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground. The refinery, according to Break Free is “the largest unmitigated source of CO2 emission in the northwest United States.” Throughout the month of May, six different continents took part in the movement.
The scale of this action illustrates that the desire for change is strong. But with current corporate personhood laws and a worldwide economy that is heavily based around fossil fuels, a complete shift to sustainable energy is seen as a very complex matter.
Joseph Casacca, a current student at Portland State who is studying electrical engineering, explained his view on fossil fuels and the impact a switch to sustainable energy would have. “It’s very important to discontinue the use of them as soon as possible, but I’m not sure how far along sustainable energy is in order for it to completely power an entire country,” Casacca said. “We should move in the direction, but it’s a goal that is a distance away.”
“Continuing as we are will continue to change the way the world works as we know it, reducing the quality of life and general species diversity,” stated Kiran Oommen, a student at Seattle University and one of the individuals who risked arrest at the March Point protests.
Casacca mentioned the potential disadvantage of discontinuing fossil fuel use. “The main drawbacks would be a lack of efficiency and power to be used,” Casacca said. “I think it would cost many countries a huge amount of money to switch over. There will be resistance, but I could definitely see cities like Portland wanting to go that direction.”
The job market is something that Casacca is not worried about. “Electrical engineering would work a lot more with power systems, so in that regard I think there is still a lot of untapped potential in maximizing its efficiency,” he said. “I think companies would need electrical engineers.”
To Oommen the long-term impact of fossil fuels is more important that the short term economic effect of moving to sustainable energy. “It would mean potentially less money for the obscenely rich; a slight decrease in job opportunities in that specific sector in the short term, [but] an increase in jobs in many other sustainable sectors and an overall increase in jobs in the long term.”
As Oommen puts it, “No jobs on a dead planet.”