Keep It in the Ground: The Biggest Story in the World

CANADA ALBERTA FORT MCMURRAY 19JUL09 - View of smoke plumes emitted from the Syncrude upgrader plant north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada.

by Josef Kuhn

Keep what in the ground? Who says this is the biggest story in the world? The ‘what’ is hydrocarbon fuel material in its many forms. Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-chief of The Guardian and Bill McKibben, leader of, got together this past year and from their discussions concluded that ending the mining, transporting and burning of hydrocarbons, also known as fossil fuels, is the biggest story in the world. “Keep it in the Ground” is the key to reversing the catastrophic damage hydrocarbon material produces when it is moved from where it has been placed by natural processes and pumped into our atmosphere as exhaust from our fuels.

Many of the world’s scientists, scholars and journalists, and even some politicians, have expressed grave concerns for several decades now about what is happening in our atmosphere and to life in our waters and on the land as a result of climate change. One just needs to follow the news to see story after story about how climate change is impacting the well being of people all around the world. People, especially young people, are taking to the streets in protest as they see big trouble for their future and the future of their children if action is not taken to reduce the increasing impact of storms, heat waves, melting glaciers, ocean acidification and other effects of global warming. More and more people are seeing that the twentieth century industrial way of life is contributing to a distribution of wealth that results in poor living conditions and poor health around the world.

When Alan Rusbridger had his breakthrough discussion with Bill McKibben, he was looking for ‘the crux of the matter,’ what should journalists, and everyone who cares about this growing crisis, be focusing on if it is to be averted. Keeping the bulk of the hydrocarbons in the ground emerged as the critical, strategic action that people everywhere, in all walks of life, must focus on. All people, not just government and corporation leaders, must take action to insure that the right decisions are made in order for us to meet our present and future energy needs without damaging the health of eco-systems and the well being of people.

There is clearly a backlash against this kind of thinking from industry and government leaders who are arguing that the health of our economic systems must be our first priority and that climate change and ecology must be a lower priority. The question each of us has to address if we are to achieve success in preserving healthy eco-systems is: can we have healthy economic systems if our climate is being disrupted and all forms of life impaired? This is another way of expressing “The Biggest Story in the World.”

My view as an ecologist and Elder is that we cannot have healthy economies if our ecological systems are being damaged and disrupted by climate change. Although the Government of Canada has made it very clear that it does not support this view, many of Canada’s scientists and scholars are supporting the need to recognize that we are moving rapidly into crises. More and more objective, fair minded people are advocating that Canadian business and government leaders join with leaders in the international community who are working to formulate the actions that are needed.

What is emerging from the international conferences that are underway as I write this is that the release of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of hydrocarbons must be curtailed, i.e., “Keep It in the Ground.” The scientists, economists, journalists and others who are contributing factual information and ethical assessment to the national and international decision making processes are making it clear that changing the way our industries develop and use energy will produce economic benefits, like jobs and investment opportunities. We should not be misled by twentieth century thinking and policies which make protecting the carbon fueled industrial development sector of our economy the highest priority of our governments.

“The Biggest Story in the World” involves each of us being well informed and contributing in a responsible way to the critical decision making process that is underway to control carbon emissions. We know that carbon based fuels will be with us for a while. We also know that this energy source must be replaced as fast as possible by clean energy or all life will suffer tremendous damage. The technology to make the needed changes is available. The will has been lacking. Will people work at making it happen? Will people express their concerns and what they want to see happen? Will we as voters, stockholders and consumers support politicians and businesses that will contribute to changing the way we develop and use energy? For the well being of our children and grandchildren, this Elder sure hopes so!



  1. Thanks so much for circulating this exciting and important new twist on the fossil fuel and climate discussion. It’s one thing to keep pumping and use a little less. It’s a whole nother ballgame to leave it in the ground. The more of us who hear the message and spread it around, the greater the chance we have of building that critical mass, and reaching the “tipping point” critical to real, unstoppable change.

    1. Thanks for your support. If enough of us get behind what, The Guardian, the David Suzuki Foundation and others are saying regarding the critical need to reverse the fossil fuel catastrophe, we just might pass on a reasonably healthy environment to our grandchildren. That’s what conservation and stewardship are all about isn’t it?

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