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Global warming, meet global drinking: a rant by Bob Ramsey

This article was originally published in RamsayWrites, November 9, 2021. It is posted here with permission of the author.

Last week I fell across a funny Australian news site, The Shovel, whose top story was headlined, “Man announces he will quit drinking by 2050.”

I got it, as do you. This lovely piece of satire was about climate change. Greg Taylor would be able to continue to drink for the foreseeable future before reducing consumption in 2048 when he turned 101. He’d also be able to bring forward drinking credits earned from the days over the past 40 years he has drunk nothing.

As someone who doesn’t drink alcohol because of my own addictive tendencies, this got me to thinking about “our addiction to fossil fuels” and whether that’s just a lazy phrase, or if it’s true. In other words, do we behave like addicts when it comes to our oil and gas consumption? And, can how we treat alcoholics and addicts help us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels – and save the planet?

So, short answer?

Yes, we are addicted to fossil fuels the way an alcoholic is to liquor, beer or wine.

I learned in treatment that alcoholism isn’t about the amount you drink or drugs you use. It’s about their effect. An alcoholic or addict suffers ‘repeated negative effects’ from their use. It’s not hard to view the leaders at the COP26 conference in Glasgow – drowning us in their wildly different numbers of what it will take to keep the temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees – from sounding like a bunch of alcoholics arguing over how many beers it takes them to get drunk but not falling-over-drunk.

Alcoholics also need more and more alcohol to reach the same physical effect.

You may have got a buzz after a couple of beers when you began drinking, but now you need four beers to get the same buzz. So it’s no surprise to learn that despite the end-of-the-world predictions about using fossil fuels, our actual use of them has not fallen; in fact, it’s risen.

The reason has nothing to do with the cost or efficiency of gas at the pump. As Carroll Muffett, CEO of the Center for International Environmental Law, told NBC News last week: “It is not a matter of the absence of the technology or the inability to do it. If you actually look at what are the cheaper sources of the energy supply right now, it is not really even a matter of economics. It is much more about embedded power structures and continued support of a dying industry,” he added.

Those three words, “embedded power structures”, speak to how so many alcoholics and addicts are able to function even though “everyone knows” about their problem.

This is especially true of high-functioning alcoholics and addicts.

I was one of these. Most addicts we know, including those in our families, are high-functioning too. Most industrialized countries were once also high-functioning, as were addicted states like Texas and provinces like Alberta, whose economies were built on extracting and refining fossil fuels.

They hold down jobs, care for their families, pay their bills.

I knew a TV producer years ago who drank an entire 26-ounce bottle of scotch every day. He got promoted (which speaks to another issue), always took cabs, and never behaved ‘badly.’ But then, one day he went to his doctor who diagnosed all kinds of liver problems – and his health fell catastrophically and he soon died.

The same holds true for countries hooked on fossil fuels. For years and years, nothing happens, nothing happens, nothing happens. Then one day, suddenly everything happens.

We seem to have reached that day with fossil fuels.

What makes this long slow decline and sudden fall even worse, is because our political leaders are, by definition, high-functioning, their denial is even higher than that of a plain old alcoholic or addict. They’ve got away with it for so long that they think at some level they can do it forever. That words are actions.

But because they only drink expensive wine, just try taking it away from them and hear them protest.

And speaking of protest, the best to come out of COP26 is from the character who plays the role of the professional interventionist when you’re trying to get an addict to stop. They’re outsiders who guide the conversation, cut through all the clamour and make the addict focus on getting the help their families and friends have so far failed to get them to reach out and grab.

Welcome Greta Thunberg – and thank you for coming.

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