Letter: How can we responsibly reduce the use of fossil fuels?

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The book I’m reading isn’t renewable at the library today because someone else has reserved it. “Great!” I write back to the librarians on the other end of the email chain. It must mean people are paying attention to this issue, hot off the presses, which the Xpress also took a look at in April, at least the campaign toward electrifying everything we ride in and on [“All Charged Up: Is Western North Carolina Ready for the Coming Electric Vehicle Surge?” April 5] and which Matt McClure had some questions about [“How Green Are Electric Vehicles?” April 26, Xpress ].

The book is Cobalt Red by Siddarth Kara, and it takes the wind right out of our battery-powered world, where some of us were just beginning to think maybe we had the fossil fuel issue solved, even if it was going to take another generation or two. No solution is as good as it seems in the beginning! Eventually, some kind of limitation is bound to set in. Let’s take the example of electric vehicles since there’s such a big push for them. And how many of us can live without our laptops and cellphones, for that matter?

While feasting in the gravy train of rechargeable batteries, we have become dependent on a process of mineral extraction — at the moment, it’s cobalt ore — trapped in underground veins, most especially in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kara’s book explains quite graphically how the people of the Congo River and its tributaries have been displaced, impoverished, forced into backbreaking, life-threatening labor, including their children, while the local leaders who learned their cutthroat style from the original predators in the Congo, the armies of King Leopold of Belgium and all the colonizers who followed in their footsteps, ignore the horror.

There are interviews with Kara online — much easier to learn the story than reading the comprehensive study he makes in the book. It doesn’t take much to be convinced. This is what we do, what we are doing. We are plundering the earth and its peoples so that some of us can have it easy for a while.

And one of the ways we try to make it easy for ourselves is to follow ecological choices when we can, like limiting our need for fossil fuels. Not easy, but switching to an electric car, well now, that doesn’t take much “doing” on our part at all. We can vote for electric vehicles for our buses and city vehicles. And we can keep following an endless downturn in resource expulsion, one that we are trying to ignore, instead of setting about the awful, overwhelming, incomprehensible work of redesigning how we live, where we go, who’s responsible — like we haven’t done in millennia, except maybe in small packages of people here and there.

How do we move en masse from our destructive patterns and habits, our expectations that science and engineering will solve it all, that some people will always be at the bottom, oh well …? To reduce the use of fossil fuels, we can try to live near or where we work. Share rides and vehicles. Learn to cook and heat again with wood or, better yet, with modern versions that work on twigs instead of logs. Nourish ourselves on gratitude that we didn’t go all the way to Armageddon riding our Priuses, taking photos with our phones, but learned to settle down and do less, just be less proud witnesses to the beauty of this world and the overwhelming hardships we have managed to endure and allow.

— Arjuna da Silva
Black Mountain


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6 thoughts on “Letter: How can we responsibly reduce the use of fossil fuels?

  1. Keith Thomson

    Cobalt free battery energy storage systems are already taking hold. Efficiency in consuming resources to meet needs is a very good idea.

    Ignoring inefficient use of fossil fuels is the problem with attacking solutions for solving problems by continuously improving a rapid transition away from the products of legacy special interests that are blowing smoke.

  2. Mike Rains

    I think the author hits the nail on the head. Our lifestyle needs to change.
    We need to seriously consume less and slow down.

    The electricify-everything craze is wishful thinking. Study the technology and the limitations (such as battery materials the author points out) and you will realize we’re just trading one problem for another. But it makes us feel good and helps us rationalize continuing our lifestyle. Of course, hope springs eternal and we Americans know that technology can solve every problem in life.

  3. Keith Thomson

    Change your lifestyle. Set an example.

    But quit downplaying the need for decarbonization leadership, by adopting greater thermodynamic efficiency improvements. It only justifies continuing addiction to fossil fuels, legacy special interests, and global warming.

    Decarbonization and DePutinization are complementary.

      • Keith Thomson

        Electric motors and other devices deliver end use purposes with much higher efficiency than competing choices, ie combustion engines, furnaces, water heaters, etc.

        Beneficial electrification of vehicles and buildings will result in less pollution and resource consumption, for those who don’t make choices to live without consumption.

        Continuing improvements in battery chemistry, software management systems, and local renewable energy generation are accelerating the benefits to people and the environment.

  4. Hiram

    We could also stop advertising so much for tourists to drive and fly here. Has anyone done a study about the massive carbon footprint of tourism travel?

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