Recently my wife and I attended Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math” tour, we were both excited, yet a little nervous. Would we understand the math…would we understand the science? Neither of us have abilities to debate the merits of the endless research papers and reports of scientists in white smocks, this is to be argued by people dressed in fancy suits (somewhere plumbers are not found), but we do understand their decisions will affect us and the world in which our 8 year old daughter will live.
Thankfully Bill made it easy for us, we both got it, we understood the urgency, we understood the math.
Doing The Math is the Easy Part…
A 2ºC rise in temperature is what climate scientist have determined to be the maximum increase without sending the climate into complete chaos. We have already pushed the temperatures up 0.8º and it is expected to rise another 0.8º with the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere. That brings us to 1.6º if we stop burning fossil fuels today - but this is not going to happen.
So how much more can we burn before going over the 2º threshold? Scientists have estimated that 565 gigatons is the most we can burn. Last year we added 33.5 gigatons and at that pace we have less than 17 years to reach the maximum 565. Now for the scary part, the fossil fuel companies already have proven reserves equal to 2,795 gigatons of CO2, this is almost five times the amount needed to reach the 2º thresholds. That means we need to keep 80% of all known reserves in the ground.
A few more numbers to remember: for the last 10,000 years the atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been approximately 270 ppm (parts per million) and have not been over 300 ppm for at least 400,000 years. About 200 years ago levels started to rise, 75 years ago the pace really picked up until we reached our current level of 391 ppm. Climate scientists tell us that if we want to live in a world similar to the era of my childhood, we need to keep the levels below 350 pmm, a level we have already exceeded.
Again, not a subject plumbers are known for, but I remember it being used with great success in the 80’s defeating apartheid in South Africa, but is this something that could work against the fossil fuel companies?
Before the show we met some Kossacks in the parking lot, one of them was Meteor Blades. I was eager to get his opinion on divestment. As he tried to choke down his sandwich, I started with the questions. My takeaway from the conversation was, yes, it could be effective, but only part of the answer to our problems. I’m seeing an annoying trend with him, when you ask him a question; sure he’ll give you an answer, but then he turns it around with his own questions to you. He wanted to know, since divestment is a negative, what would be the positive action? I think he may have been leading us to an answer - divest from fossil fuels, then reinvest in green energy companies. I don’t know if that is the answer he was looking for, but it made sense to me.
Bill’s reasoning for divestment seems simple, the value of the known reserves, 2,795 gigatons worth of CO2 producing fossil fuels are included in the price of a company’s stock. Divesting from those stocks will lower the value of the reserves still in the ground while reducing the profit motives to removing them from where we need them to stay.
Personal divestment is noble, but too small to have an impact. Universities are the targets of choice; one university can have endowments of over $1 billion (which would take a lot of plumbers’ IRA’s to match).
Students and alumni can use the tools provided by 350.org at GoFossilFree.org to start a divestment program at their university. But what are the rest of us to do? Well worry not; Bill has a part for us to play. Universities will not be eager to divest and as history has shown they will fight until pushed… hard. Our job will be to support the students by organizing or peaceful protest. He suggests that if someone is to get arrested, it might be better if it were the older folks, so the young ones don’t have an arrest record when they hit the job market.
Climate change is real and only modern day Flat Earthers would deny its reality. The scientific community has not been eager to blame humans, but common sense led many of us to that conclusion years ago and now science is leading the experts to the same conclusion.
Looking back with the knowledge we have now we realize the extreme weather events of the last couple decades were caused by climate change. 35,000 people died during the European heat wave of 2003; 1,800 people died during Katrina and cost $128 billion (2012 dollars) in damages. Sandy killed more than 125 people exceeding $62 billion in damage. This is really just the tip of the iceberg when you start counting up the damages caused by crop damage, wildfires, droughts, etc…
This is our future; it is not pretty and will not be cheap in the cost of money or lives lost.
Speaking For Those With No Voice
As an American, as an adult, I have a voice that people and our government can hear, but what about those too young or living in a poorer country? They are not heard, yet will bear the effects more and longer than I.
Kinshasa Youth for 350.org : the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Recently I donated propane to the Isabel community, Native Americans who can’t afford to heat their house during the harsh South Dakota winters. This is one of the poorest regions of the US; they are struggling just to survive. There are communities like this all over the world where extreme weather and dwindling resources will hurt them first and most, yet they are not going to be part of the conversation. We must be their voice, the voice of our young children as well as our own.
This war must be won, but this is only one way of fighting it. We must change our lifestyle, we must conserve and move to green energy sources. None of this will be cheap or easy.
Find a group near you ~ Local.350.org