A Call for Energy Realism: When Immanuel Kant Met the Keep it in the Ground Movement

46 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2018 Last revised: 3 Jul 2019

Date Written: April 15, 2018


The “Keep it in the Ground” Movement (the “Movement”) is a coalition of environmental groups that seeks to end fossil fuel extraction by, inter alia, halting oil and gas development on federal lands. Supporters of the movement demand a safer climate future and transitioning to a renewable energy economy. However, the Movement is premised on the notion that the United States can divest fossil fuels, particularly petroleum hydrocarbons, from its energy economy and terminate oil and gas development in the near-term future. The Movement disregards the possibilities of serious economic impacts with respect to domestic revenues and infrastructure framework and geopolitical risks tied to energy independence and regional stability. This Article examines the rise of the Keep it in the Ground Movement and analyzes the challenges that would follow its evolution and implementation if it continues to ignore the reality of American energy use and reliance. It promotes the adoption of Energy Realism in two forms.

The first form of this realism, Pragmatic Energy Realism, addresses the realities of actual petroleum consumption and reliance. The second form, Philosophical Energy Realism, borrows philosophical concepts arising from Kant’s theories of realism to develop the theory that there is only one uniform reality of energy. Application of these theories highlights the flaws of examining the issue from solely an environmental perspective. In fact, the author hypothesizes that such an evaluation is not correct. Rather, this Article asserts that there is only one reality with respect to energy, environment, poverty, and other aspects of energy consumption and environmental impact. It is therefore impossible to isolate any single perspective without fundamentally dismissing reality and instead embracing a subjective perspective.

This Article also proposes initiatives that the Movement could adopt to affect changes in consumer demand and energy consumption including: energy efficiency measures, implementation of a carbon tax, and addressing energy poverty. The author intends that understanding and adopting Energy Realism will provide new directions and goals for the Movement and further the necessary dialogue between stakeholders on the interrelationships between energy and environment.

Keywords: energy, oil, natural gas, gas, realism, Kant, pragmatism, hydrocarbon, philosophy

JEL Classification: Q2, Q3, Q4

Suggested Citation

Ehrman, Monika, A Call for Energy Realism: When Immanuel Kant Met the Keep it in the Ground Movement (April 15, 2018). 2019 Utah Law Review 435 (2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3179055

Monika Ehrman (Contact Author)

UNT Dallas College of Law ( email )

106 S. Harwood Street
Dallas, TX 75201
United States
(214) 743-1758 (Phone)

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