In the overlapping wakes of Hurricane Sandy and the reelection of a President who boasts of adding “enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the earth,” a divestment campaign led by 350.org is under way across the country. The target: fossil fuel companies.
The day after the election, 350.org, led by long-time environmental writer Bill McKibben, kicked off a 22-city Do the Math divestment campaign. After having some provisional success in winning the denial of a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year, McKibben and 350.org are pivoting from lobbying elected officials to calling on schools, churches and government pension funds to sell off fossil fuel stocks. 350.org is modeling its effort on the South Africa divestment campaign of the 1980s that helped bring an end to apartheid.
The campaign’s start date of Nov. 7 was no accident.
“We know that many people have put a lot of effort into reelecting Barack Obama. But we want to insist on the tremendous amount of work that continues to need to be done,” said Katie McChesney, a field organizer with 350.org.
The tour which continues into December, stopped in New York on Nov. 16.
While it is unclear how much of a dent this divestment effort will make in the bottom lines of fossil fuel companies, 350.org’s strategy is more focused on building a broad coalition of supporters that will pressure these companies over the long term.
The mood has been both high-spirited and intense, with a sold-out audience of 1,600 people attending the tour’s debut in Seattle, Wa., on Nov. 7. Yet he remains solemn, reminding attendees that the way forward will be long and hard. His assessment of climate activism thus far: “It’s not enough. It’s nowhere near.”
The math at the centerpiece of the campaign demonstrates the urgent need to rapidly reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we produce. According to 350.org, almost every government in the world agrees that any global warming above 2 degrees Celsius would be catastrophic. However, fossil fuel corporations currently have five times more oil, coal and gas reserves — totaling 2,795 gigatons — than climate scientists think is safe to burn. Scientists estimate that only 565 more gigatons of fossil fuels can be burned before we lose any chance of avoiding warming that exceeds the 2 degrees Celsius mark.
For the fossil fuel industry to heed the scientists and leave these reserves underground, they would have to write off roughly $20 trillion in carbon assets.
During the tour, McKibben will be joined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, author Naomi Klein and Gasland filmmaker John Fox, among other notable figures, to connect the dots.
But Do the Math is about more than just speeches.
“The tours are also about mobilizing people for further actions and movement-building,” said McChesney, “We’re trying to build a model that people can use and develop autonomously. We’re also hoping that community divestment in fossil fuel companies is on the table and that it becomes a reality.”
To learn more about how to divest from fossil fuels, visit gofossilfree.org.