What Keeping Oil in the Ground Can Do for Economic Inequality

Our lifestyle is inextricably linked to fossil fuels. We pay the industry to heat our homes and power our cars. Though driving might be optional where public transit is available, heat is not during harsh winters. We know about the effects on the climate of burning oil, gas, and coal for energy, but we don’t know what turning our backs on them will do to our economy. Some worry that closing our oil refineries and shutting down our mines would throw the market into a dangerous vortex. That doesn’t need to be the case. A successful energy transition could actually benefit the economy and reduce inequality.

The economy relies on a number of things, including spending, manufacturing, trade, and personal income. The availability of fossil fuels has largely driven these for 150 years. “[Oil] is the world’s first trillion-dollar industry in terms of annual dollar sales,” environmental author Jack Doyle wrote in 1994. In North Dakota, a major oil- and gas-producing state, an oil boom created the $53.7 billion gross domestic product the state sees today.

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