Jan 9, 2013

350.org divest from fossil fuels campaign: 2013 - 'year zero'

350.org fossil fuel divestment - McKibben - Klein
Top: Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein - 2012 'Do the Math' tour

Welcome to 2013 - "year zero" in the battle over climate change.

After the environmental disasters that marked the passage of 2012 - massive Arctic melt-off, Superstorm Sandy, devastating droughts and wildfires - 2013 "year zero" is dawning with a large red warning sign. Yet despite the many climate-change related disasters that have devastated communities worldwide, politicians remain resistant to the change of direction that is required, in part because of the enormous power and reach of the fossil fuel industry.

350.org is taking the fight to a fossil fuel industry that 350 founder Bill McKibben describes as "Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization."

The 'divest from fossil fuel' campaign is paying special attention to university and college endowments/investments. The faq section of gofossilefree.org includes - "We want College and University Presidents and Boards (as well as Religious and Pension funds) to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years."

Stocks, bonds and investment funds considered 'unethical or morally ambiguous' will be targeted in the divestment drive. The aim is to make buying into fossil fuels socially and politically unacceptable.


Divestment isn’t primarily an economic strategy, but a moral and political one. Just like in the struggle for Civil Rights here in America or the fight to end Apartheid in South Africa, the more we can make climate change a deeply moral issue, the more we will push society towards action. We need to make it clear that if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, than it’s also wrong to profit from that wreckage. At the same time, divestment builds political power by forcing our nation’s most prominent institutions and individuals (many of whom sit on college boards) to choose which side of the issue they are on. Divestment sparks a big discussion and — as we’re already seeing in this campaign — gets prominent media attention, moving the case for action forward.

McKibben's 'Terrifying New Math' highlights three critical numbers. The first - 2 degrees centigrade - is regarded as a threshold number, the max to which we can go without risk of devastating climate change.  The second number - 565 gigatons - is roughly the amount of carbon we can burn without going over the 2 degrees Celsius limit. The idea of a global "carbon budget" isn't new. About a decade ago scientists began to calculate how much coal, gas and oil it would be safe to burn. The last number is the one that should concern us most. Companies are currently in possession of an estimated 2,795 gigatons of fossil fuel that they plan to burn and that poses a threat that must be confronted. 

Remedial action has little hope of making serious headway on climate change unless carbon burning is brought under control. It is our potentially suicidal dependence on fossil fuel that has to be challenged on a number of different fronts in the window of time still available to us. The divestment campaign alone is unlikely to secure the results, but it is an important strategy in the overall effort.

Beneath, Democracy Now hosts talk with 350.org's Bill McKibben, and journalist Christian Parenti about the best strategies going forward in confronting global warming: