Citizen Action Monitor

350.org kicks off 21-city campaign targeting Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal

Bill McKibben aims to connect dots between extreme weather, climate change, and fossil fuel industry

No 606 Posted by fw, November 8, 2012

“Do the Math” tour, which began November 7, will launch a “Last Big Chance” Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign modeled on 1980s anti-apartheid movement.

Bill McKibben & 350.org Kick-Off Nationwide “Do The Math” Tour to Connect Extreme Weather, Climate Change and the Fossil Fuel Industry

SEATTLE – November 6 – As the East Coast continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, leading environmentalist Bill McKibben and the global climate campaign 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.

“It’s time to start holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for the wholesale damage they’re doing to our planet,” said McKibben. “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 the fossil fuels. 

Part TED-talk, part old-time revival meeting, the tour has already sold out stops in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Boston. Hundreds of students will be attending stops in big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, Durham, North Carolina, and Boulder, Colorado.

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 percent 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 logic 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 its first divestment victory, with Unity College officially announcing it would divestment from fossil fuels on Monday, November 5.

“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.”

Last year, Hampshire College in Massachusetts passed a sustainable investment policy that effectively divested the college endowment from fossil fuels. 350.org is looking 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 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 will begin on 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.”

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WHY THE TOUR

  1. The climate crisis is the biggest problem facing the world.Unchecked climate change means more natural disasters, more outbreaks of disease, more food shortages, and more sea level rise.
  2. We need to make large-scale changes. The climate crisis is so big that we can’t solve it with small, personal actions alone. We need to think bigger and bolder.
  3. Large-scale change means changing policy. We need laws that rewire the way the world produces and consumes energy so that clean power is cheap, dirty power is expensive, and people everywhere can live sustainable lives.
  4. Getting strong climate policy won’t be easy. It means fighting the wealthiest and most powerful group on the planet: the fossil fuel industry.
  5. We can win with a people-powered movement. We’ll never have as much money as the fossil fuel industry, so we need to overpower them with our numbers and our determination instead. From the Civil Rights movement to women’s suffrage, social movements have changed the course of history—so we’re building a movement of people to solve the biggest problem in the world.

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350 is the red line for human beings, the most important number on the planet. The most recent science tells us that unless we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, we will cause huge and irreversible damage to the earth. But solutions exist. All around the world, a movement is building to take on the climate crisis, to get humanity out of the danger zone and below 350. This movement is massive, it is diverse, and it is visionary. We are activists, scholars, and scientists. We are leaders in our businesses, our churches, our governments, and our schools. We are clean energy advocates, forward-thinking politicians, and fearless revolutionaries. And we are united around the world, driven to make our planet livable for all who come after us.

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