The year 2012 marked record low sea ice levels, the most destructive wildfire in Colorado’s history, one of the most destructive hurricanes in New York’s history, severe drought across North America, record breaking flooding in Australia, and thousands of heat records, and it was the overall hottest year in recorded history. If 2012 didn’t scream global warming then I don’t know what will.
Someone who has been at the forefront of the fight against climate change is the American Harvard graduate Bill McKibben. He has written extensively on the dangers of global warming and has received many awards for his work. In 2008 Bill created an organization by the name of 350.org to help build a global movement against climate change.
The organization now has offices in over 150 countries and has led thousands of demonstrations around the world in protest about things such as tar sands, pipelines, coal mining, and deforestation, as well as encouraging governments to develop renewable energy infrastructure. The organization was named after the work of NASA climate scientist James Hansen, whose research suggests that any atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide above 350 parts per million is unsafe for life on Earth. Currently we are at 395 parts per million and climbing.
Merely a day after President Obama’s reelection, McKibben kicked off a 21 city tour in Seattle called Do The Math. The phrase ‘do the math’ came from three important figures, the first being 2 degrees Celcius.
Almost every government in the world has agreed that a temperature rise above 2 degrees would be catastrophic for life on Earth. We have raised the temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, and scientists say that to avoid a rise of 2 degrees emissions must be reduced significantly and soon.
The second figure is 565 gigatons. This is the maximum amount of carbon dioxide scientists say we can release into the atmosphere to avoid a temperature rise of 2 degrees.
The last figure is 2795 gigatons. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that would be emitted if all the known fossil fuel reserves were used, which is about five times more than what is safe to burn.
McKibben has a specific goal on how we can stop companies from extracting every last bit of coal, oil, and gas from the earth.
The Do The Math tour started the campaign to divest from the fossil fuel industry. To divest means to get rid of stocks, bonds, and investment funds that are invested in fossil fuel companies. Since the tour kicked off a few months ago, divestment campaigns have already begun at over 200 colleges and universities in America, and recently this movement has spread to Canada.
Schools such as McMaster, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, and McGill have started campaigns to get their schools to divest from fossil fuel companies. Three schools in the U.S. have already made the move to officially divest.
It should not be a surprise that this movement has gained so much momentum in such a short period of time. Young people like students are the ones who will have to deal with the devastating consequences of global warming that their ancestors will leave behind. It is both immoral and shocking that schools are profiting from the companies that are putting their students’ future at risk.
If colleges and universities want to show their students they really do care about their future, they should invest in renewable energy. Many reports have shown that investing in these companies can be more profitable than investing in fossil fuels.
Over $260 billion was invested in green energy last year alone. By moving college endowments from coal, oil, and gas to wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal energy we can stimulate development and speed up the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
This movement mirrors the one against the South African Apartheid a generation ago. In the late 1970s, students protested on school campuses around America for their institutions to divest from companies doing business in South Africa. By the mid-1980s there were 155 campuses that had divested. This helped bring down the Apartheid government in South Africa and with it brought democracy and equality to the country. Divestment has also been used as a tactic against Darfur and the tobacco industry, among other things.
Sustainable Trent is calling on Trent University President Steven Franklin and the Board of Governors to immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies, and divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. This request must be taken seriously if Trent University wants to be the leader in sustainability that it claims to be. We can green the campus as much as we want, but until we green our financial portfolio we will never be a true environmental leader.
It is important to note that this movement is not going away, but instead will keep growing until the students get what they want. Steven Franklin has a choice. He can listen to the demands of the students and make Trent the first school in Canada to divest from fossil fuels, or he can wait it out until opposition grows substantially and enough schools in North America have divested to make look it bad enough on Trent’s reputation that he has no choice but to divest. It’s now or later; that is inevitable.