As the East Coast continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, Bill McKibben and the global climate campaign www.350.org are kicking off a 21-city nationwide Do the Math tour that will connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change, and the fossil fuel industry.
“If Sandy showed us anything, it’s that the hour is late and the need is urgent– but the fossil fuel industry has terrified our politicians and the result has been two decades of inaction. We need that to change.”
The tour will launch a new chapter in the fight against climate change: direct confrontation with the fossil fuel industry. At the heart of the effort will be a new campaign to push colleges and universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuels.
McKibben was driven to organize the Do The Math tour after watching the string of extreme weather events that ravaged much of the US this year, from the devastating wildfires in Colorado, to record drought across much of the country, to the seemingly endless heat-wave that broke over 17,000 temperature records.
While the abnormal weather helped drive America’s concern over climate change to its highest level since 2008– 70% of Americans now say they believe global warming is a reality– the message didn’t seem to break through to politicians. The words climate change weren’t mentioned a single time during the presidential debates for the first time since 1988.
McKibben points his finger at the fossil fuel industry as the key culprit. “The fossil fuel industry has bought one party in Washington, DC and scared the other into silence,” he said. “Unless we can weaken the power of this industry, we’ll never see the sort of climate progress we need.”
The Do The Math tour will make it clear why the fossil fuel industry is so determined to block progress. As McKibben wrote in a groundbreaking article in Rolling Stone this June, the climate crisis can be boiled down into three simple numbers: 2°C, 565 gigatonnes, and 2,795 gigatonnes.
Even the most conservative governments in the world have agreed that global warming should be limited to no more than 2°C. Scientists say to meet that target we can only emit an additional 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the fossil fuel industry has 2795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in their reserves, nearly five times too much– and everyday they spend millions of dollars looking for more. “What this math shows is that the fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry,” said McKibben. “You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet — but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.”
McKibben and 350.org are modelling their new campaign against the fossil fuel industry on the 1980s anti-apartheid movement that used divestment as a key tactic to pressure the South African government. In the end, 155 colleges and universities and a number of pension funds, cities, and corporations disinvested from the country.
In a video he recorded for the Do The Math tour, South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the anti-apartheid movement, explained the rationale for turning to divestment as a key strategy to fight climate change. “The divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa. The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” says Tutu. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue too, of course. Here in Africa we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.”
The campaign has already chalked up divestment victories– Unity College officially announcing its divestment from fossil fuels on November 5 and last year, Hampshire College in Massachusetts passed a sustainable investment policy that effectively divested the college endowment from fossil fuels. “I am proud to be a part of the 350.org program of divestment, and I am especially proud of the Unity College Board of Trustees for their willingness to make this affiliation,” wrote Unity College President Stephen Mulkey in an oped announcing the move. “Like the colleges and universities of the 1980’s that disinvested from apartheid South African interests and successfully pressured the South African government to dismantle the apartheid system– we must be willing to exclude fossil fuels from our investment portfolios.” 350.org will be working with a coalition of groups including the Responsible Endowments Coalition, Sustainable Endowments Institute, Energy Action Coalition, Sierra Student Coalition, and As You Sow to build on these early victories and spread the movement across the country over the coming months.
Taking on the fossil fuel industry is a natural evolution for 350.org, the global climate campaign that McKibben founded with six Middlebury College students in 2008. In 2009, the group organized more than 5,200 rallies in 183 countries that CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.” In 2011, 350.org helped lead a successful campaign to push President Obama to deny the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, getting 1,253 people arrested at the White House in August and then circling the property with 15,000 people in November.
“Over the last three years, we’ve learned a lot about how to use the internet to coordinate a distributed grassroots network,” said 350.org co-founder and executive director, May Boeve. “This year, we’ll be going at the fossil fuel industry from all angles: campus divestment, mass mobilization, and online campaigns.”
The Do The Math tour began November 7 in Seattle, Washington. Beginning the day after the election is intentional explained McKibben, “Congress has essentially turned into a customer service arm for the fossil fuel industry, putting environmentalists on hold for 20 years with the beltway equivalent of cheesy Muzak. It’s time to talk directly to management.”
Bill McKibben, founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since ’09, is the author of a dozen books about the environment. Time Magazine called him ‘the planet’s best green journalist’ and Boston Globe said in 2010 that he is ‘probably the country’s most important environmentalist.’