We are in the beginning of the largest crisis our world has seen in almost a century. COVID-19 has rapidly triggered a human health and economic disaster in our fragile modern society, the likes of which we have never experienced before.
Crises are chaotic and disruptive, but in every crisis there is opportunity for positive systemic change. Leading up to the worldwide pandemic, we already knew that our way of life was based on unsustainable habits: our reliance on burning fossil fuels and our attachment to resource-depleting consumerism was destroying our planetary home. We knew we needed to change to renewable energy and drastically reduce carbon emissions. We have made little real progress on this in the 50 years since the first Earth Day in 1970. We may have failed in the past, but in the wake of our newfound global collective awareness of what is essential, we have a new opportunity right now to make the big changes necessary.
Today, worldwide use of oil (the number 1 fossil fuel in usage) has plummeted 30 percent, as a result of 90 percent less air travel, less driving, and more people working from home. The crash in oil pricing yesterday to as low as minus $37 per barrel is the wake-up call to the fossil fuel industry—you are going out of business. No demand and too much production are going to bankrupt the shale-fracking part of the oil business. Shale oil was a 15-year one-shot production spurt that moved the worldwide oil peak from 2005 to 2020. It was based on high oil prices—shale and tar sands oil is no longer profitable at prices less than $40 per barrel. We are now at peak oil production and are headed down, down, down. As production plummets for economic reasons beyond the oil industry’s control, how shall we prepare as a society for the end of cheap oil?
Let’s use this crisis to pivot to increase in-state wind and solar installations. Vermont utilities, regulators, and the governor have in recent years worked successfully to stop in-state wind energy and slow down solar installations. It’s time to write new laws and invest in new infrastructure to support renewables, combat climate change, switch to electric heating, new transportation systems, local food production, local schools, and re-localizing our lifestyles. It’s time to invest in the new future and not to waste money propping up the old ways. We must stop sending our money out of state to support corporations that are killing the planet by not valuing the essential resources it provides for human life.
Phoenixes rise from ashes. Instead of bailing out and trying to save the old ways of doing things, let’s think and act boldly to create and build a “new normal” and not go back to the failed normal we were in. The world is changing, but Vermont has the potential to be a bright new model of how humanity can live within our means, in alignment with our global habitat.
David Blittersdorf is an entrepreneur and engineer from Vermont with nearly four decades of experience as an innovative leader in the wind and solar energy industry. Blittersdorf founded NRG Systems in 1982, and AllEarth Renewables in 2004, and is AllEarth Renewables’ President and CEO. AllEarth Renewables is dedicated to bringing clean, renewable energy to businesses, farms, municipalities, and homeowners to help lessen our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.