Fossilcaholics Anonymous
Rational, spiritual strategies to overcome fossil fuel addiction

Richard Parncutt
February 2017


Giving up fossil fuels is like giving up smoking or drinking (more). People get a kick out of substance abuse. They also get a kick out of things that cause fossil fuels to be burned, like driving fast cars, flying to remote destinations, overheating houses, eating exotic food and so on.

Moveover, both alcohol and fossil fuels lead to violence. The war in Syria was in part due to climate change: an unprecedented drought precipitated political unrest. Of course climate change was just one of several reasons, but its influence cannot be denied. Toward the end of the 21st century, we can expect wars over diminishing resources (especially water) and hundreds of millions of climate refugees violently trying to enter the rich countries and even being slaughtered on the borders as far-right governments claim that they have no choice.

Climate deniers laugh this off. It's just alarmism, they chuckle. That reminds me of the way alcoholics laugh when someone suggests that they should take responsibility for their drinking and the effect it is having on their family. In effect, the alcoholic is saying: "Who cares about my family?", but the fossilcaholic is actually saying: "Who cares about a billion people in developing countries?" Deep down, these are often good, caring people. But addiction has changed them. Everyone is susceptible to addictive behaviors - some more than others. Our strategy to solve the problem should therefore be based on a caring attitude toward the addicted and a general understanding of addiction and how to overcome it.

It becomes easier to give up alcohol or smoking when one is surrounded by people who don't smoke, or drink in moderation. The trouble with burning fossil fuels is that almost everyone is doing it at, and we are doing it a rate that is much higher than might honestly be called "necessary" or "healthy". Today, it seems that most people are addicted to fossil fuels. This may be the best way to explain the almost universal phenomenon of passive climate denial: people who say that they understand climate change and its causes but quietly refuse to do anything about it. This is the majority! Rather than the addicted people being a minority and the rest a majority, the tables are turned.

From a democratic perspective, that makes it especially difficult to put pressure on people to give up. It is hard to see how democracy will be able to solve the problem, let alone neoliberal capitalism. The situation is especially bad news for our children and grandchildren, not to mention a billion children in developing countries.

The solution is not to throw one's arms in horror but to move carefully, rationally, and decisively towards possible solutions. One approach is to consider the general question of how to end addiction, and to study existing methods to achieve that goal.

One of the most successful approaches is Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps. In an article in "The Hill", Erik Molvar brilliantly explained how the connection can be made. 

The Wikipedia page on the 12-step program summarizes the main steps as follows:

1. admitting that one cannot control one's alcoholism, addiction or compulsion;
2. recognizing a higher power that can give strength;
3. examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
4. making amends for these errors;
5. learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
6. helping others who suffer from the same alcoholism, addictions or compulsions.

Each of these points can be applied to fossil fuel addiction.

Point 1 is clear. Given the evident gravity of the situation, either we are taking significant and concrete steps toward freedom from fossil fuels in our everyday life and political behavior, or we are powerless in the face of our addiction. However one might question the wisdom of regarding oneself as powerless. It is surely more true to say that any addicted person CAN give up if they want to. The main thing is motivation, so we perhaps should instead be asking how to create or strengthen that motivation.

Regarding point 2, what might a "higher power" mean in this case? Climate change is affecting the whole planet, and the people inhabiting that planet have very different ideas about "higher powers". Many reject the concept altogether, but no-one can deny the importance of religion and spirituality, both for politics and for individuals and their happiness. Religious traditions are to a large extent about basic morality and knowledge - what is right, and what is true. To crack the climate problem, we have to think carefully about both.
For point 3, countless examples of past errors can be cited. Take for example the failure of the USA to sign the Kyoto accord in 1997, or the 2016 USA federal election. But we can also cite personal errors, such as our personal failure to vote for a political party that takes climate seriously, or our failure to fix the insulation in our house or buy an electric car when it could reasonably have been possible.

Given that background, points 4, 5 and 6 should now be clear.

If we could get some clarity about these things, and regularly and quietly attend Fossilcoholics Anonymous meetings, progress toward a solution would be accelerated. Time is running out.

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