BY THE FRESNO BEE EDITORIAL BOARD
DECEMBER 07, 2022 5:30 AM
New research on climate change has found that worldwide carbon emissions in 2022 will reach an all-time high.
Climate change is considered a key driver of the droughts that dry up California’s water supplies. Among those most affected by lingering droughts are farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
So there is definite irony in a new local campaign to support California oil producers and their related industries. The “My Job Depends on Oil” campaign launched last week by the Central Valley Business Federation is modeled after the better-known crusade, “My Job Depends on Ag.”
The slogans are promoted on stickers that feature an outline of the state of California. The farming version is, logically, colored green. The oil one is, predictably, black. Both efforts share the goal of supporting industries that provide jobs to thousands of Valley residents and earnings to hundreds of businesses.
But while farmers rely on petroleum-based products to plow their fields, fertilize crops and ship goods to market, ultimately growers depend most on good weather for their livelihoods. They must have rain and snow for water.
The changing climate is upsetting long-held assumptions about water supply and availability. Researchers at UC Merced and the Public Policy Institute of California reported last month that California growers fallowed 750,000 acres this year and have had $1.2 billion in financial losses. Industries that process crops into food products, like making pasta sauce out of tomatoes, had another $845 million in losses. About 19,400 farming jobs have been cut this year.
“We need to more fully invest in building climate resilience in our rural, agriculture dependent communities as they are on the front lines of climate impacts to their economic base,” said UC Merced Associate Dean for Research Joshua Viers, a report co-author.
So it doesn’t make sense to campaign for one industry — oil — when the continued use of its products mean hurting an even more important industry, agriculture.
But, sadly, the oil industry and groups that back it like the business federation seem to live in a bygone era that denies climate-change realities. They want to believe the drought now being experienced is just part of nature’s cycles. But tell that to a farmer who just uprooted acres of trees because there is no water.
OIL VS. AG
A 2019 study for the Western State Petroleum Association determined that 3,000 workers are employed by the oil and gas industry in Fresno County. More than four times that many work in Kern County, the heart of California’s oil pumping.
In announcing its “My Job Depends on Oil” campaign, the Central Valley Business Federation said converting California to nonpolluting power supplies like solar and wind is going to leave oil workers without jobs. Hence, the need to show how many Californians actually work in the petroleum industry and try to do right by them.
The federation’s Central Valley territory runs from the Grapevine through Fresno County. So it makes some sense to rally up the oil industry — in Kern County. But whatever the oil industry contributes to Fresno County, it pales in comparison to farming.
Fresno County’s 2021 crop report shows that, all told, farmers produced $8 billion worth of farm goods. Fresno County is one of the nation’s top agricultural producers. The Fresno County Farm Bureau estimates 20% of the local work force is tied to agriculture.
Farming is critical both to the present as well as future economy of the region. So a campaign to back oil is, at best, a distraction.
In fact, oil-related marketing efforts are underway nationwide to try to blunt the move toward sustainable energy. The New York Times has reported about a Texas-based nonprofit organization that files lawsuits, proposes legislation and wages influence campaigns to stymie renewable energy policies and projects throughout the nation.
Among the business federation’s key founders are oil companies like Chevron and Aera Energy. Federation CEO Clint Olivier said that is no secret, and he defended the call to support the petroleum industry.
“Even the most ardent environmentalist owes his or her life to oil,” Olivier said. Petrochemicals are used to manufacture nearly everything Americans use, he noted — from clothes to household goods to cell phones to personal transportation.
Besides, without gas or diesel, how will farmers produce, harvest and ship their crops, he asked.
Olivier indicated in an interview that it is naive to imagine cutting off oil use anytime soon. Oil “will play a part of our lives for decades to come.”
Droughts, heat waves and wildfires in California, made worse by climate change, would beg to differ.
There is no question our society is in a transitional phase and it is not yet apparent how it will work out. The era of burning oil as a fossil fuel, thereby fouling the atmosphere, is what needs to end most urgently. Will it take a long time, as Olivier suggests, or can it proceed quicker? Each of us will play a role in answering that question.
Oil industry employees would not be the first American workers to have to switch to different jobs. With determination and some “just transition” help by government, they can do it.
The real question is, will California remain a state worth living in if the big change is not made? A trip up into the Sierra from Fresno, to forests full of dead and dying trees, answers that question.
Really, the sticker offered by the federation should say this: Our lives depend on clean energy.