California’s fires are getting worse with each year, due in large part to the irresponsible exploitation of fossil fuels. Big Oil dependence has become a Big Problem that is incredibly difficult to solve because it has been designed into how communities function. Most cities aren’t walkable and require cars or other kinds of motorized transportation for residents to conveniently get around. While individual actions like carpooling, telecommuting, biking, or driving electric vehicles chip away at reducing fossil fuel use, coordinated action at all levels—local, regional, and federal, is necessary if the existing fossil fuel infrastructure is to be replaced with infrastructure that prioritizes clean, renewable energy.
Petaluma, California, is trying to meet the problem of Big Oil head-on by being the first town in the US to ban new gas station construction as well as new pumps at existing gas stations. This is part of a movement that seems to be expanding across the state of California, that is working to generate community opposition to the ongoing implementation of fossil fuel infrastructure, which means enacting community-wide bans and actively protesting individual gas station developments.
CONGAS—Coalition Opposing New Gas Station, one of the groups that are leading the movement outlines why its efforts are crucial:
“In every drop that comes out of a gasoline dispenser, there is a trail of devastation for communities and the environment around the world that leads all the way back to the point of extraction of the crude oil from the ground. Low-income communities of color in the US and around the world, ‘frontline communities’ are poisoned and/or displaced by effluent and emissions from these operations; low-income communities along rail and roadways are threatened by the hazard of oil and gas transportation; similar historically disadvantaged communities of color near refineries and gas processing facilities, ‘fenceline communities,’ face respiratory disorders, cancer, and death rates much higher than the national average. Indigenous communities around the world are severely impacted by pumping and pipelines.”
While critics of the movement will say that groups like CONGAS are hypocritical because its members likely still rely on fossil fuel to get through their days, move around, and transport goods, these arguments are inherently weak because, as was mentioned earlier, dependence on fossil fuels is a problem of infrastructure and design. It will take collaborative efforts to reconfigure this design and implement sustainable and lasting infrastructure to replace what already exists.
Groups like CONGAS are careful to highlight that they are not simply against the existing fossil fuel-focused infrastructure but uses gas station bans as a tool to promote reconceptualization of society’s priorities. “We are not just against new gas stations,” they say. “We support smarter land-use planning that reduced the need to travel in the first place, improvements in clean, frequent, affordable public transportation, improved bicycling and walking infrastructure and amenities, and expanded electric vehicle charging options.”
If you would like your community to enact its own gas station ban, check out CONGAS’ model ordinance.
As the effects of climate change make themselves harder and harder to ignore, communities from coast to coast will hopefully be motivated to rally against Big Oil and innovate practical, functional, and sustainable new strategies to exist in harmony with nature. Our collective future depends on it.