Our Fossil Fuel Addiction

Feb 1, 2021 | Environment, Health, Politics/Policy

Addiction is defined as a disease in which a person or persons find themselves unable to stop using a substance or engaging in a particular behaviour. Our relationship to fossil fuels is a perfect example of this. However, this is no simple disorder. It is complex and its unraveling is going to take a lot of will and hard work.


The addictive substance is fossil fuel represented by coal, oil and gas.

The producers or suppliers are companies involved in the process of discovery, extraction and processing of the various fossil fuels and support industries (i.e. the associated coal or oil patch).Virtually all industries, most notably the automotive industry, including the vast majority of the transportation industry, all aspects of the agricultural industry and the manufacturing industry are the so-called “users.”

The financial institutions are the “enablers.” This includes not only banks, insurance companies but also investors such as foundations, private trusts, individuals, universities, etc. They provide the fuel or rather the investments for the fossil fuel industries to flourish. In turn, of course, they earn large dividends. This is a very substantial percentage of the entire economy. And this shows how serious and difficult the addiction really is.

Many politicians are dependent on all of these entities to remain in office and therefore put forward policies which favour the fossil fuel chain and thus allow the addiction to continue. In a very real sense, while these politicians have a whole set of responsibilities to the electorate, they are, unfortunately, as addicted to fossil fuels as any of the aforementioned suppliers and enablers.


As with many addictions, we are dealing with real life and death situations. Global warming and climate change are existential threats. In the short term, we may experience climate events that destroy cities, forests and agricultural lands. That is events which may cost hundreds of billions to remedy. Just think for a moment of the devastation caused by climate change. Such losses are simply not sustainable.

The London School of Economics and the Blackrock Financial Group have estimated that climate change could reduce the value of global financial assets by as much as $24 Trillion if nothing is done. In the long term, such dollar figures may not matter. We have to consider the implications of even more devastating events and even our own extinction.


As it happens, the solutions are not as complicated as one might first think. We will need some very serious commitment by all of the members of the fossil fuel chain which is, in fact, all of us.

Acknowledge and Educate

As is the case with any form of addiction, if the addict is not willing to acknowledge the problem, effective solutions will not occur. We must be proactive in teaching our society about the sources and implications of climate change and the essential role that fossil fuels play in this. Because the fossil fuel chain is so extensive, the breadth of acknowledgement and education required must also be extensive. These are not partisan issues. Seeing them as such will only delay the realization that we have a very serious addiction that we have to overcome.


Because fossil fuel addiction is a national and indeed global issue, we need major leaders in the industrial, financial and political arenas to: firstly, admit in an open and public fashion that we are all suffering from this addiction; secondly, commit to quickly banning the burning of fossil fuels as our primary energy source; and lastly, begin to invest heavily in alternative energy sources. President Biden is correct in suggesting that we have to take military-style action just as we did to defeat the Nazis in the Second World War.


Coincident with the rapid implementation of a ban on the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels (The Withdrawal Phase), major trillion-dollar investments have to be made in renewable energy — the most immediate sources being solar, nuclear and wind. The good news is that these technologies are all presently in place. The levels of investment required to rid ourselves of our fossil fuel addiction are very much in the same range as the investments that we’ve had to make to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

Addictive behavior is a disease. Like many other addictive diseases, if we don’t solve it, we will succumb to it.

Now available: Saved by Science, my critically acclaimed, easy-to-understand book that examines the many crises facing humanity while offering the promise of an emerging solution: synthetic biology. Find out more.

Image courtesy of Unsplash