We often hear people say how bad Big Oil is for the planet. But do we truly know why they are so bad and how exactly this relates to the outdoor industry? Since the industrial revolution, humans have been drastically increasing the amount of fossil fuels being burned. This is in part to the massive pushes made by Big Oil. As a result, our society is now heavily reliant on oil, in nearly every facet of our lives. Most of us probably live our lives unaware of the disruption that oil companies are causing on a daily basis. So, how exactly is it bad for the planet? Drilling is immensely disruptive and evenly deadly to wildlife. New drill sites in wild landscapes or out in the ocean, have immediate consequences to the surrounding areas. It may be easy for some people to write off this consequence but in recent decades it has continued to go too far. Species can’t migrate, breed, or communicate with others. Our planet is deeply intertwined with ecosystems and the disruption of one region has a ripple effect on the rest of the planet. Threatening species of plants and animals is only the beginning of a chain reaction. Oil spills, like BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill back in 2010, was responsible for the death of “1 million coastal and offshore seabirds, 5,000 marine mammals, and 1,000 sea turtles”. This isn’t just detrimental to animals, but humans as well.
Currently in the United States, there are over 1.3 million oil and gas facilities with 12 million people living within just half a mile of one. The production of oil and gas, and its pollution to the air and water, is known to be one of the world biggest killers according to the United Nations. Burning of these oils release toxic chemicals in the air that are harmful to humans. Thus, living right next to one of these facilities drastically increasing the chance of humans being harmed. The method of fracking produces massive amounts of wastewater that is often not effectively contained. That means that this toxic runoff leaks into lagoons, ponds, and streams, thus contaminating the water in the surrounding region.
The sharp increase in the burning of fossil fuels over the past decades is fueling the climate crisis. Higher carbon emissions trap solar heat and are directly causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Twenty-four percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions can be traced back to extracting on federal land. You don’t have to look far to see the drastic effects that the oil industry has had on our planet. From the most destructive forest fire season ever recorded on the west coast, to rising ocean levels, the impact of Big Oil can be quite terrifying.
But maybe you knew all of this already. Perhaps you’re wondering how the oil industry relates to the outdoor industry. But oil is present is nearly every aspect of the outdoors. From the clothes we wear to the gear we own, to how we get to the trailhead.
CLOTHING and GEAR
A lot of outdoor clothing and gear is made from synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, acrylic, spandex, nylon, and acetate. What do all of these fabrics have in common? They are made from petroleum aka nonrenewable fossil fuels. Not only does the production of these products require an immense amount of oil but they continue to cause problems throughout the life of the product. When we wash clothes that are made from synthetic materials, we run the risk of them releasing microplastics into the water which ultimately ends up in our oceans. When the piece of clothing or gear is at the end of its life, these products are often thrown away. Synthetic materials take hundreds of years to begin decomposing and start degrading due to plastic polymers. This then releases harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, soil, and water. From the moment of production, until it is decomposing, outdoor gear, whether it be a shirt, bag, or pair of shoes, can harm this planet. Outdoor recreation is about spending time outside and enjoying all that nature has to offer. But we must address the impact that simply getting to the trailhead has on this planet. As we know, driving a car is one of the biggest carbon emitters for many individuals. It requires the use of oil and gas which in turn contributes to the climate crisis and negatively impacts the nature we are so desperate to spend time in. All this to say, the outdoor industry is not free from its involvement with Big Oil. Every action we take has an impact on this planet. But we can still enjoy the outdoors and do our part to protect this planet. HOLD COMPANIES ACCOUNTABLE
Ask outdoor brands what they are doing in regards to the environmental impact of their company and products. See if they have a way to responsibly recycle and repurpose old gear. If not, use your power as a consumer and demand that they work towards doing so. Ask them about their involvement with oil, how their clothes are made, and what sustainability goals they are working towards. GET INVOLVED Whether this be voting, protesting, signing petitions, volunteering, or something else, get involved. Work to protect public lands, protest new drilling, and hold companies accountable; both Big Oil and those within the outdoor industry. MAKE GEAR LAST
The most sustainable gear is the gear that is already in your closet, so make it last. Take care of the gear that you have and avoid buying more gear unless you need it. When your gear is past the point of return, donate it to an outdoor company or another organization who works to repurpose it. When you wash your synthetic fabrics, put it in a laundry bag designed to catch microplastics. When you are in need of a new item, try to buy it used or thrifted before purchasing it new from a sustainable and ethical company.
For many people, driving is often the only way to get to a trailhead. Try to minimize the amount of driving that you do, carpool when you can, and explore the trails closer to home rather than driving for multiple hours every time.
It is important that we be easy on ourselves. Big Oil is indeed knowingly contributing to the destruction of this planet. Taking on one of the biggest industries in the world cannot be accomplished alone. But we must not let the fear of failure stop us from fighting for changing. Take action, hold companies accountable, and invite others to join you. Together, united, we hold the power.