Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels

Illustration by nik harron.

Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels

Love is universal, and so is climate change. Read the winning entries in the Divest Waterloo letter writing contest.

It’s Global Divestment Day on February 13th, 2015, a day of worldwide climate action and recognition of the growth and reach of the fossil fuel divestment movement, created by the Go Fossil Free campaign.

It’s Global Divestment Day on February 13th, 2015, a day of worldwide climate action and recognition of the growth and reach of the fossil fuel divestment movement, created by the Go Fossil Free campaign. Among hundreds of events planned worldwide for Global Divestment Day in 48 countries wordwide, Divest Waterloo celebrated Global Divestment Day – and Valentine’s Day – with a love letter writing contest. Except these aren’t your regular, sappy love letters – contestants were to “write a love letter to renewables or a break-up letter to fossil fuels.”

Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a challenging task, but a necessary one if we are to mitigate the prevalent effects of climate change. Divest Waterloo is approaching this divisive issue in a positive and accessible way, and the winners did a great job of conveying important information in an engaging and entertaining manner, which is just what the environmental movement needs.

Read the winning entries below, as well as a letter submitted by Elizabeth May, federal Green Party leader.

My dear Exxon shares,

I don’t think you’ll be surprised by what I have to say in this letter. We both know that things just haven’t been working lately.

Climate change has been the elephant in the room, and it’s time we face up to it, cut our losses, and move on. We may have been able to smooth things over in the past: you’ve been good about increasing your dividend payments to me, and I’ve tried not to think too much about the rising sea levels. I’ve even maintained my enrollment in your Dividend Reinvestment Plan, because I know it helps keep your financing costs down.

You may be wondering if there’s another oil company involved. The short answer is no. You know I have a long history with the Shell shares I inherited from my mother. But they never meant anything. And those BP shares were just “a thing” in my Tax Free Savings Account.

Exxon, you have always been my largest oil holding. In the beginning, I think I was mostly attracted to your popularity and dominance. You seemed to be such an important player in every country’s GDP, with the very best exploration, refining, and distribution facilities. What investor wouldn’t be tempted?  With time, I became dependent on your big reliable dividends. I loved watching them grow. And then, when you started your share buyback program, it’s no surprise that I chose to ignore the havoc that our relationship was wreaking on the planet. It all seemed so theoretical and distant.

But now, with undeniable changes in weather patterns and glaciers shrinking, I just can’t take the guilt anymore.  My therapist has helped me recognize the truth that ours is a destructive relationship.

Ultimately, for a relationship to be sustainable, it needs shared values, and I now realize we never really had that. I won’t minimize the way you help let people live indoors without sweaters, or give people the freedom to live far from where they work, or even fly to Las Vegas for the weekend when they need a break. That used to be enough for me, but now it’s not. I believe there must be a better way to harness the power of capitalism and our human ingenuity without killing our planet and, in turn, ourselves.

 I hope that, with time, you begin to really think about why shareholders are always leaving you, and muster the courage to make the necessary changes. Exxon, you are big, you are strong, and, at some level, I believe that you too want to make a positive impact on the world. You, more than most, are in a unique position to make a difference.

Anyway, I think it’s better for us, and for the planet, if I divest totally of you for now. I’ll drop off your 2002-2014 Annual Reports next week. And I have to ask you to stop all interim reports and other shareholder communication.  At least for now.  I hope you understand.

 –Your ex-shareholder

Dear Fossil Fuels,

For so long we’ve been together.

I searched the whole world over, and when I finally found you it seemed to be a dream come true! You were dark and mysterious, deep and enchanting, smooth, suave…alluring… With one spark our love took off! You dazzled me with promises of luxury, greatness, a brighter future. You offered me all the wonders of this world — everything I could ever ask for — in an instant! That immediacy was so enticing, so… addictive. Mon char-ie, you made me insatiably hungry.

I couldn’t help but chase you, and oh, how thrilling you made that chase! It seemed there was always something new to unearth!

But the thrill of the chase is over, mon feu. Your mysteries are running dry and now I see you for what you really are. You’re like a poisoned apple — shiny and beautiful to the eye, perhaps, but toxic at the core. In your presence I feel stifled, oppressed, smothered. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. And the longer we’re together, the worse it gets.

I know you’ve been under so much pressure. But, char-ie, I refuse to be an outlet for you any longer. I wanted Mr. Right, but all you are is Mr. Right-Now. You superficially attend to my immediate wants and needs, but your promises are all empty; there is no future for us.

Alas, it saddens me, for you used to be so vibrant. But, when the heat is on, you transform into something I do not recognize and cannot love. You become cold, bitter… lifeless.

The spark has gone out, char-ie. The flame cannot be renewed.

Fossil fuels, you are dead to me.

Yours no longer,

My love I do fear, I do worry and fret,
With this world called our love, we are playing roulette
Our love could fuel trains, planes, cities no less
But these toxic by-products I need to address
Coming into my sphere, truly changing my life
I built my world around you, I made you my wife
But I always craved more, couldn’t get my fill
I’d have dug to the core, I’d ignore any spill
Blazing in fire, leaving our smokey trail
I cared not what I left our earth to inhale
My world became clouded, fumes covered the view
There could be no other, it must all be untrue
But alas, it all cleared, I saw a new light
It was from another, and could shine just as bright
So I slowly crept, made myself a new path
This other new spark, it could repair our wrath
You’re no longer welcome, you must quickly depart
For the effects of our love, are not just on my heart
We’ve polluted the lives of those all around
It cannot persist, it’s just no longer sound
So I bid farewell to our burning hot passion,
Though I’m powered by love in a similar fashion
This other runs clean, and our love will sustain
No more oil scene, no more acid rain
Our love will be stronger when its sources renew
The effects of its power won’t leave the world askew
For if we do wish, for our children to flourish
Old habits need breaking and our earth we must nourish
So I’m saying to oil, coal, all fossil fuels
Our love and our power must follow new rules
The story ends here, from you I divest
I’m sick of the turmoil, we’ve caused such unrest
As this is our end, I must say goodbye,
Though I say it with cheer, not a tear in my eye
For I’m on to much better, cleaner, happier things
Sustainable joy that no longer stings
The feeling’s electric and clears the pollution
We must make the change, this is the solution
Good riddance old friend, this really is it
I’ve found a new someone, and I’m not sad one bit!

I can’t believe how long I’ve put up with you. I should have stopped seeing you once I knew you were using me, except you stole my heart in the process. I never knew how much you could manipulate me against my own values. Now every time I go to the gas pump, I can’t see the beauty and how much you have made my life easier. I can’t even drive in my own car without feeling guilty. Until I found out that it was your fault all along. You always say that the reason why we can’t cope together is because I’m making this world so corrupt and that I’m using you beyond your limits. I don’t understand why I feel so guilty about being with you; how could I have been a better girlfriend? Should I have rode my bike instead of the car, or dimmed the lights a little lower? But after soul searching and statistical analysis, I found out that I’m way better off without you, because it was your fault all along. Your industry is the reason why I cry every night, why my environment has been broken so badly. You were never supposed to walk into my life, and you should stay underground where you can’t hurt any others. It’s better for both of us to be simply apart.

Is there such a perfect energy source for me out there? People like you in the fossil fuel industry only have short term plans for humanity. Is there nobody out there for the long-run who can heal my pain? I need someone who won’t break my heart, or my environment, and who will be reliable and will keep our relationship fresh until I grow into ripe age, and – till death do us part. I want my happily ever after, and I’m sorry, but I can’t see into the future with you. We aren’t meant to be together, but this time, it wasn’t my fault. It was yours. You ruined it for me, and it will be hard to trust another energy source again – will he have my same values of clean air and low sea-levels? Will he have the same drawbacks as all the others? There’s an energy source down my street – yeah he’s a bit ugly, but Windmill is a good guy. My friend heard about these guys who live near rivers and naturally make energy through water! Basically what I’m saying is: I just can’t see my future with you Fossil Fuels, and it’s not fair for you to further steal my heart like a bad habit. I hope all bad energy sources like you, who only focus on the short-term, will stay underground where you belong. I won’t wish you love like Frank Sinatra, I want you gone. And I hope all of us broken hearted/environment and girls will find a way to break up the habit with you guys – quickly – because we are running out of time for our happily ever after. 

Dear Bitumen,

I must be blunt – I don’t know what we ever saw in you. You seemed popular, like all of the countries wanted to be with you. We thought maybe your exports could support us financially. We wanted to believe that a future with you would be prosperous.

Oh Bitumen, how very wrong we were. Our dreams of a happy future have been dashed by an ugly, sticky, polluted reality. Just getting you to open up has required so much energy – you’re one of the most carbon intensive resources I’ve ever met!

You are so high-maintenance. And for what? All those “benefits” you promised turned out to be a lie. Just to get you to market, we had to mix you with toxic diluent. Even after all that work, you had a corrosive effect on everything around you. You always mired us in expensive messes that were impossible to clean up. You are just too unpredictable – leaking and spilling, sinking and floating at the same time, destroying entire ecosystems. You’ve been an ecological disaster!

Now, you’ve come crawling back with another round of promises. You say if we would only ship you through the proposed Northern Gateway, Kinder Morgan, or Energy East pipelines that you’ll do better. You won’t hurt our environment like you have in the past, you say. The tankers carrying you won’t destroy our fragile Pacific Coast. You’ll create real long-term employment and economic growth, you promise!

But Bitumen, you can’t fool us again. The jobs you would bring are few, and short-term. You would crush our innovation and turn us into a resource colony. And you’ll destroy our lands and waters.

I have to be honest with you – we’ve met someone else. Clean Technology will support us in a way you never could. Even with just one per cent of the $1-trillion global market, Clean Technology has created over 52,600 Canadian jobs in 700 companies. He’s not stuck in the past, or in a pipeline – he’s growing. Clean Technology was worth $10-billion to Canada in 2013, and is projected to be worth $60-billion in 2020 – a six-fold increase in just seven years.

With the right support and investment, Clean Technology will provide for our energy needs, protect our environment, and generate real economic growth like you never could. The truth is, Bitumen, you were always too unrefined and expensive. We’ve got better options now.


Elizabeth May, O.C, M.P.
Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands
Leader of the Green Party of Canada