A summit talk in Boulder last weekend encouraged students to focus their actions on divestment in fossil fuels; a timely topic for Colorado College, following student calls for endowment reform on campus.
Renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben stressed the importance of curbing fossil fuel use before global warming reaches dangerous levels.
“We’re going after the fossil fuel industry,” McKibben said.
About 55 CC students were able to attend due to sponsorship from CC’s Sustainability Office. Many of the students were inspired to join CC’s growing movement for endowment reform.
The tasks set by the ‘Do the Math’ campaign were clear for students. The main tool discussed was divestment in the fossil fuel industry. Students should get involved, learn about the issues, and use their power to fight for renewable energy.
“We can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts,” Desmond Tutu said in a video clip at the presentation. Tutu was instrumental in the fight against apartheid in South Africa, where divestment also played a key role.
Students were encouraged to ask their institutions, with decreasing politeness, to freeze new fossil fuel investments and divest from all fossil fuels in the next five years.
At CC, a group of students are pursuing these ideas along with other avenues for endowment reform. They are planning to write letters, file petitions, and officially present student suggestions to the board of trustees this May.
“This just gives a template to do something that other schools are doing. It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s a good idea,” said Nathan Lee, CCSGA president.
Aided by Student Trustee Samantha Barlow, the group is currently trying to organize a clear mission and timeline for action.
“Jill sits on the board, but she’s not a voting member,” Barlow said. “The board is really open to communication and, in the words of Eben Moulten [the board Investment Committee Chair], ‘always interested in the performance of sustainable funds and what other schools are doing.’”
The ‘Do the Math’ campaign focuses on taking action based on three numbers. The first number is 2° Celsius, the increase in average global temperatures, which is internationally recognized as the cause of widespread disasters and destruction. So far, human-caused climate changes have triggered a 1° C increase in average global temperature.
Scientists have calculated that humans can emit about 565 gigatons more CO2 before exceeding the 2° C limit. At our current rate, we will exceed 565 gigatons in about 15 years.
This previous figure leads us to the third number, which carries with it a call for action. The fossil fuel industry currently has enough fuel in reserve to emit 2795 more gigatons of CO2. If all this CO2 is consumed, global temperatures will rise far beyond the 2° C limit.
The fossil fuel industry already treats these reserves like money, and spends billions more each day searching for new sources of fuel.
“If they carry out their business plan, the planet tanks. It is entirely up to political will to get off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy,” McKibben said.
Josh Fox, the director of “Gasland”, spoke briefly about the “extreme energy” with which industries are involved. Hydrofracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands, and deepwater drilling were exemplified as risky methods to obtain fossil fuels.
“This industry no longer deserves its veneer of respectability,” McKibben said.
Another speaker at the event was Winona LaDuke, Native American activist and environmentalist. Her message was similar to that of her First Monday talk at CC last year.
“This is our mother, there are no other places for any of us to go,” LaDuke said.
Civil disobedience as a form of protest was also mentioned. The protest against the Keystone pipeline this summer was the largest act of civil disobedience in the U.S. in 30 years. The final decision on the pipeline was postponed, but construction in some places has already begun and protests continue.
“We hope that our president does what he promised, but we can’t count on hope,” McKibben said. “When we organize and mobilize, we are able to make change happen.”