Tom Friedman is fond of the theory that high oil prices will drive investment in renewables and spur reform in corrupt governments. He’s not alone — some peak oil types believe that oil price spikes will force us to do the very things that will save us from global warming.

This has always struck me as dangerous folly. Nothing good in politics happens automatically. Regress is the path of least resistance. Progress must be fought for.

To wit, I commend you to Drake Bennett’s piece in the Boston Globe, "The new dirty energy." Turns out oil prices are having some perverse effects:

But as oil prices stay high, the real beneficiary often turns out to be a very different alternative-energy industry, one focused on dirty fuel sources such as oil sands, oil shale, and coal. Environmentally speaking, the oil-sand plants of Alberta are no better than petroleum drilling, and in some ways decidedly worse. In North America, in terms of energy output, this so-called "unconventional oil" sector already dwarfs clean and renewable-energy technologies, and is poised to grow even faster in the next decade.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Oil prices aren’t going to save us. No external event or trend — not oil prices, not a housing market crash, not extreme weather — is going to force the changes we want to see.

This in mind, I hereby propose Roberts First Law of Sustainability Politics:

Sustainability is a choice.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.