UPDATE: 5 Examples That Show ‘Keep It In the Ground’ Movement Isn’t Serious About Reducing Emissions


Aug. 20, 2020, 4:15 p.m.

As IPRB noted last week, “Keep It In the Ground” activists groups oppose the mineral mining needed to facilitate the massive renewable energy infrastructure build-out they claim is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.

A prime example of this contradictory stance can be found at the local level, as Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE) has actively opposed proposed rare earth mineral mining at Hicks Dome in Hardin County and, more recently, potential rare earth mineral mining near Marion.

The Shawnee Trails chapter of the Sierra Club also expressed concerns about potential rare earth mining in a 2016 newsletter:

“Geological prospecting was proposed for Hick’s Dome in Hardin County in 2012, and the Forest Service received public comments during April and May 2015. Potential waste containment and health issues are of concern, whether during core drilling of radioactive rare earth elements (REEs), including thorium, or later possible mining. Moreover, IDNR just approved an oil drilling permit in Hicks Dome, which prompts similar concerns. REEs are used in electronics, hybrid vehicles, wind turbines, and cell phones. China supplies most REEs presently. Read the Project Documents and about REEs and environmental issues.”

Any serious transition to renewable energy is going to require some increase in mineral mining in the United States, including in Illinois. Opposition to such projects can effectively be viewed as indirect opposition to renewable energy or an endorsement of “not in my backyard” outsourcing of mining to other countries. IPRB will monitor these group’s stances on such issues in the months ahead.

Original Post: Aug. 13, 2020

“Keep It In the Ground” (KIITG) activists claim a rapid transition to 100 percent renewable energy is absolutely necessary in order to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change. But such a transition would require a lot of mining, lots of natural gas to back up intermittent wind and solar, and dramatic reform of federal permitting protocols to facilitate a rapid renewable infrastructure build-out.

Leaders of the KIITG movement are diametrically opposed to all three of these things.

KIITG movement leaders also show a relative lack of concern about skyrocketing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in China, while one of the movement’s most prominent communities continues to focus on suing energy companies more than actually reducing its own sky-high emissions. Add it all up, and it’s clear most KIITG activists care more about ending all U.S. energy production and making the United States completely dependent on foreign energy sources than reducing emissions and addressing climate change.

Here’s a closer look at the five examples of why the movement deserves far more scrutiny than it gets.

Example #1: KIITG Groups Oppose Reforms That Would Expedite Renewable Energy Projects

It has been estimated that 25 to 50 percent of overall U.S. land mass would be required to facilitate the wind and solar energy infrastructure build-out necessary to achieve the KIITG movement’s renewable energy goals by 2030.

That massive acreage considered, such a build-out is simply not going to happen without major reform of the restrictive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA currently requires extensive environmental reviews to be conducted prior to major infrastructure projects beginning. These reviews currently take an average of more than 4 1/2 years to complete and can delay projects as many as 10 years, as such reviews are routinely challenged by environmental groups. These delays have been a major roadblock for both fossil fuel andrenewable infrastructure projects for years.

That is why President Trump recently signed an executive order to reform NEPA and expedite major infrastructure projects. The wind industry applauded Trump’s overhaul for the reasons noted above. But KIITG groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) vehemently oppose Trump’s NEPA reforms, claiming they will undermine environmental protections. Former Obama-era U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief and current NRDC President Gina McCarthy recently said in a statement:

“These reviews are required by law to protect people from industries that can harm our health and our communities. Getting rid of them will hit those who live closest to polluting facilities and highways the hardest – in many of the same communities already suffering the most from the national emergencies at hand.”

KIITG opposition to NEPA reform is a textbook example of the disconnect between the movement’s pie-in-the-sky idealism and the real-world compromises needed to make its 100 percent renewable energy rhetoric a reality. It is just one reason that the rhetoric has no basis in reality.

Example #2: KIITG Groups Oppose Mining Needed For Renewable Infrastructure

The 100 percent renewable energy transition KIITG groups insist must happen this decade is also going to require massive increase in mineral mining to produce renewable energy infrastructure and components such as batteries and solar panels. But prominent KIITG groups are diametrically opposed to mining – especially mining in the United States.

The Sierra Club’s mining policy states:

“Mining by its very nature is a dirty business and highly disruptive of the natural and human environment… Because of these negative impacts, additional or new mining must be kept to a minimum to meet essential human needs and alternatives to mining undisturbed ore bodies should be encouraged and pursued.”

Earthworks has a similar stance, characterizing mining as “inherently destructive” while stating that mining “devastates communities, clean water and the environment.”

It is because of well-funded campaigns by KIITG groups such as the Sierra Club and Earthworks that United States mineral mining is currently being “kept to a minimum” and far below the levels needed to domestically source the type of renewable energy revolution KIITG activists insist is needed.

Key minerals for the renewable energy transition include cobalt, lithium, natural graphite, nickel and rare earth metals, all of which are essential to manufacture batteries and components for electric cars.

According to a recent report from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia, a 100 percent renewable energy transition would increase global lithium demand 280 percent and nickel demand 136 percent. The report finds that even assuming a high rate of recycling, demand for the two metals would exceed existing reserves by 86 and 43 percent, respectively, necessitating a massive increase in new mining.

Cambridge University Emeritus Professor of Technology Michael Kelly has estimated that replacement of the United Kingdom  internal combustion engine vehicles alone with electric vehicles would require more than half the world’s annual copper production, twice of its current cobalt production, 75 percent of its annual lithium carbonate production and nearly the world’s entire current production of neodymium.

The United States produces just 12.4 percent of the world’s rare earth metals, just 1.2 percent of the world’s lithium and virtually no cobalt and natural graphite.

In contrast, China controls 90 percent of global rare earth production, 90 percent of cobalt refining and 60 percent of global natural graphite production. Sixty-four percent of cobalt mining takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is largely controlled by Chinese companies.

Manhattan Institute senior fellow Mark P. Mills has also noted that:

“America imports some 80 percent of the electrical components (i.e., the key stuff other than the concrete, steel, and fiberglass) used in wind turbines. About 90 percent of our solar panels are imported. And even if solar cells were fabricated here, the U.S. produces only 10 percent of the world’s essential underlying silicon material. China produces half.”

Suffice it to say, the United States would be heavily dependent on China should the 100 percent renewable energy transition KIITG groups are pushing for commence any time soon. Such a situation would likely result in the renewable energy equivalent of the United States being under the OPEC oil cartel’s thumb, as it was for many decades prior to America’s recent oil and natural gas renaissance. As Ashley Feng, a research associate for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently wrote in Scientific American:

“In the clean energy economy of the future, critical minerals will be just as essential – and geopolitical – as oil is today. To avoid making the same mistake twice, the U.S. should preemptively [declare] its own clean energy independence.”

But that would require powerful KIITG groups to suddenly shift policy in support of  domestic mineral mining expansion in places such as Round Top in Texas, which is believed to hold a 130-year supply of rare earth minerals. But don’t hold your breath on that KIITG policy shift announcement.

Example #3: KIITG Groups Oppose Natural Gas and Nuclear Energy

Increased use of natural gas – which emits roughly half the CO2 of other traditional fuels when burned – is the No. 1 reason the United States leads the world in CO2 reductions this century.

Nuclear energy is the only zero-emission power source that has been deployed at scale. An overwhelming majority of the CO2 emissions reductions achieved by the United States and Europe this century simply would not have happened without natural gas and nuclear energy.But KIITG groups oppose both.

A fact sheet that was released as part of the Green New Deal (GND) rollout calls for nuclear phase-out (although unproven “advanced” nuclear has since been tepidly endorsed by more moderate GND advocates). However, the Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, Earthworks, NRDC and many other major KIITG groups outright oppose nuclear energy, as does teen climate activist Greta Thunberg. KIITG groups and activists also overwhelmingly favor banning hydraulic fracturing – the technology that has made natural gas more abundant and affordable than any time in history.

This opposition is baffling, as any serious effort to dramatically reduce emissions would almost certainly need to an all-of-the-above approach including natural gas, renewables, nuclear and some form of carbon capture and storage.

Example #4: KIITG Groups Praise China Despite Its Soaring Emissions

Not only would the United States likely be heavily reliant on China for the minerals needed to facilitate a 100 percent renewable energy build-out, the emission reductions that might result from such a build-out would be far offset by China’s exploding emissions.

As the above IPRB graphic illustrates, CO2 emissions increases in China have outpaced emissions reductions in the top-five leading countries this century by 472 percent.

Simply put, the world has no hope of collectively significantly reducing GHG emissions if China’s current emissions trajectory continues. And chances are, that trajectory is going to continue.

China is building hundreds of high-emitting coal power plants while watching its CO2 emissions skyrocket, the exact opposite of what is happening in the U.S., where natural gas plants have replaced more than 100 coal plants since 2011.

E&E News recently reported that:

“Today, [China] has almost as much new coal generation in planning or construction (206 gigawatts) as the United States has in operation (235 GW at the end of 2019).”

Christine Shearer, who runs the coal program at Global Energy Monitor, a research group that tracks fossil fuel infrastructure, told E&E News in an email:

“China’s coal plant build-out could single-handedly undermine the reductions in coal power use that the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] has said are necessary to keep warming below 2C, even if the rest of the world phased out coal power by 2030.”

Despite these facts, KIITG groups and the mainstream media routinely applaud China’s efforts to address climate change. As Bloomberg reported in 2017:

“The nation that spews the most pollution and is building dozens of coal-fired power plants is also winning accolades from the likes of Greenpeace and WWF for its efforts to fight global warming and steer an environmental path away from fossil fuels.”

Clearly, any serious campaign to reduce global CO2 emissions and mitigate climate change should be focused on China. Instead, KIITG groups either laud China or choose to ignore its skyrocketing emissions while pushing to ban domestic production of fossil fuels that are responsible for 80 percent of our energy mix.

Example #5: KIITG Groups Focus on Suing Energy Companies Rather Than Reducing Emissions

KIITG groups have pushed numerous climate liability lawsuits throughout the United States in recent years, a tactic aimed at forcing energy companies to pay for the impacts of climate change and adaptation measures, with a long-term goal of putting targeted companies out of business.

One of the most infamous climate lawsuits has been filed by the city of Boulder, Colo., which is known for touting its green credentials and being the epicenter of Colorado’s KIITG movement. But it turns out Boulder’s “green” credentials aren’t exactly much to brag about.

The Associated Press (AP) recently reported that a Boulder County zip code has the highest per-capita carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the country. That’s right – the average resident of this “green” KIITG hot-spot uses far morefossil fuels than the typical American. As the AP reported:

“The zip code that produced the most greenhouse gas per person was in the mountains of western Boulder County, where the 23,811 pounds per person is 18 times higher than in the San Francisco zip code.”

Boulder County’s gluttonous fossil fuel consumption even as the city of Boulder sues energy companies is more than just hypocritical. It shows that even if the KIITG the strategy of suing U.S. energy companies out of existence were to prove successful, it is highly unlikely that affluent, energy-hungry communities such as Boulder where the KIITG movement tends to be most prominent will simply continue using energy sourced from foreign sources.


With the KIITG agenda going mainstream in this year’s presidential election, that agenda certainly warrants increased scrutiny. And as the five examples above illustrate, it is clear that the KIITG agenda has much more to do with putting U.S. traditional energy companies out of business and making the United States completely reliable on foreign energy sources than it does with reducing CO2 emissions and mitigating climate change.

Thanks largely to the United States’ oil and natural gas renaissance, America’s energy security is as strong as it’s ever been and once unimaginable energy independence is within reach. The KIITG agenda simply seeks to destroy that energy security by making the United States dependent on foreign sources for oil and natural gas andminerals needed for a massive renewable energy build-out.