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FOR A JUST AND HUMANE WORLD: Seattle University Continues to Work for Divestment

Guest post from Ashlan Runyan, First Year, Seattle University

This past Monday, Sustainable Student Action (SSA) – the student environmental group at Seattle University working on divestment – held a rally with over 125 students and community members in attendance.

That sentence continues to blow me away as a speaker at the rally, a member of SSA and a student at Seattle University. The rally was held in response to the official no to divestment received six weeks ago by our administration. We are by no means taking no for an answer and we needed a way to tell them that in a big way, one that would also bring the larger community together so that in one voice we could remind them that we are committed to divest.  This Monday, we certainly succeeded in doing that.

SeattleU_Rally

The no that Seattle University has received from our administration is wildly contradictory to the mission of our school, especially one so connected to the Catholic Church. We are supposed to be an institution rooted in social justice and the creation of a “just and humane world” and, simply put, rejecting divestment rejects this sort of world. Saying no to divestment and no to the political and moral statement that this action would make is, in many ways, saying no to the world we want to see, the world we need to see. My university has taught me to work tirelessly for a world that is truly sustainable and just, meaning a world that includes economic justice, racial justice, and climate justice. The intersectionality of divestment is something that is essentially written into the mission statement of our university. The support at the rally from our community reminded me in a very tangible way that the people working directly on divestment are not the only people who realize this. We all see it. We all know that divestment must happen. We all know that this conversation is far from over and that there is an incredible amount of work to be done.

I know that divestment is possible, it has to be. I know that the world needs to change and that we cannot wait. The urgency of it all is energizing and motivating, but in light of a “no”, it can also be incredibly daunting.  Even then, we cannot allow the no’s that our administrations have given us, instead we must maintain a posture of hope and dedication. As Bill Moyer, co-founder of Backbone Campaign and speaker at the rally, said, “We are co-creators of this universe and we need to be co-authors of this world and that’s what we’re doing as a divestment campaign, we are authoring the future.”  This action was essential in re-grounding our movement in collaboration, solidarity, energy and hope for a world that we know needs to exist.

Activists call on investors to ditch shares in Europe’s biggest CO2 emitter

RWE AGMAt the AGM of German energy giant RWE today, Fossil Free activists called on investors to ditch their shares in the company. The activists argued that the high risk that much of RWE’s assets will become stranded, and the company’s business model that is wrecking the climate make investments unacceptable, especially for local governments.

Fossil Free activists unfurled banners that read, “Leading the way means accepting responsibility! Divest from fossil fuels” referring to a marketing message of the corporation. They also addressed the audience with speeches and confronted the board of directors with questions. The AGM was accompanied by load protests from various civil society groups outside the venue.

RWE AGMRWE has seen major losses over recent years. Chairman Peter Terium admitted that this is RWE’s own fault since the company has bet on its fossil fuel portfolio for too long. RWE is the single biggest emitter of CO2 among energy giants in Europe. Almost 80% of RWE’s electricity is generated from fossil fuels, mostly coal.

RWE’s dramatic losses have hit local governments that invested in the company hard. They had to depreciate their assets by millions. It’s time for cities to divest from RWE and other fossil fuel corporations. Their public money should be invested in local, community-led renewable energy projects that will create local jobs and benefits
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A Fresh Boost of Energy for Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaigns on US Campuses

Written by Daniel Adel and cross posted from Earth Island Journal

At the 2014 Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence, students renewed their pledge to dig deep, link up, and take action

Last Thursday, anti-apartheid icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu came out with an article calling for an “apartheid-style boycott to save the planet.” Tutu says we can halt climate change if we use the tactics that worked in South Africa against the worst carbon emitters: fossil fuel companies. This was followed by news on Saturday that Pitzer College in Southern California had come up with a breakthrough climate action plan that included divesting its holdings from fossil fuels by the end of the year.

hand-written notes about an ideal world to aspire for

Another world is possible!

It was colleges and universities that spearheaded divestment during the apartheid era. Today, in the face of catastrophic climate change, the tactic is once again being championed by colleges and universities. Over the past two years, students on hundreds of campuses have launched campaigns demanding that our endowments no longer be invested in the fossil fuel industry. The movement has garnered success at numerous institutions and has fostered collective planning and action between campuses.

Earlier this month, from April 4 to 6, more than 200 students from across the United States and Canada gathered at San Francisco State University (SFSU) for the 2014 Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence. It was a time for to us to dig deep, link up, and take action. These three threads were the core threads weaving through the fabric of our convergence. This gathering was second annual student-led Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence. The first took place at Swarthmore College early last year.

Coordinated by the Fossil Fuel Divestment Network — which was formed just over a year ago as a platform for building solidarity across campuses — and the California Student Sustainability Coalition (an Earth Island Institute project), the event was organized to cultivate youth organizing capacity and leadership on climate justice. The convergence featured diverse speakers and panels on social justice and environmental and new economy communities that helped guide us as climate organizers and showed us how to challenge prevailing assumptions about the fossil fuel divestment movement. Organized around “collective liberation” and economic transformation, the convergence was testament to a new kind of momentum in the climate movement, and to the radicalizing pull of the call to divest.

Day one began with cheerful and excited young faces gathered before a stage during the welcoming ceremony. Students and recent alumni, each representing their own campaigns and strategies to address the growing climate crisis, introduced themselves to share their wisdom with one another.

Activist Tim DeChristoper speaking at event

The future of young people has been put at risk for the sake of short-term profits, said Tim DeChristopher, one of the key motivational speakers at the event.

The evening plenary featured an array of motivational speakers, closing with a speech by Tim DeChristopher, founder ofPeaceful Uprising. Saying that the future of young people had been put at risk for the sake of short-term profits, DeChristopher had some harsh words for the baby boomer generation, whom he called “complacent” and too vested in “compromise” over the well being of the planet and future generations. “The job of students in the climate movement is to be the uncompromising moral of truth,” he said. DeChristopher challenged the crowd to share their anger and to confront those standing in the way of climate justice. “This anger is really a manifestation of love,” he said. “Anger that something isn’t right and that we want to fix [it]”

Day two hosted hosted workshops and panels pertaining to environmental justice and solidarity organizing.

Henia Balalia, an organizer and former director of Peaceful Uprising, led a workshop rooting the climate crisis on overlapping systems of oppression. She stressed that environmental degradation was being exacerbated by existing economic, racial, and social injustices — an interconnectedness that should define our understanding of the climate crisis and our response to it. We must build movements across issues and beyond divisions based on race, class, and gender and elevate voices that have been historically marginalized. Doing so, she says, will lead to a profound “decolonization of minds and institutions.”

Bay Area activists Barnali Ghosh and Anirvan Chatterjee led a similar workshop. They stressed that the effects of climate change are global, yet profoundly unequal. Countries like Bangladesh and Maldives risk going underwater despite having contributed very little to the crisis. Ghosh and Chatterjee spent a year traveling around the world aviation-free in an effort to report on and learn more about the impacts of climate change across the world and possible solutions. Ghosh connected their and other environmentalists’ fight to curb aviation pollution to students’ divestment campaigns. Divestment challenges the “monolith” that is the fossil fuel industry, she said.

A second set of workshops featured speakers and panelists on issues pertaining to organizing strength.

students at a conference workshop

More than 200 students from across the United States and Canada gathered at the three-day convergence.

Gopal Dayaneni of the justice and ecology group,Movement Generation led a workshop called “Weaving the Fabric of the Next Economy” where he challenged the framing of the divestment movement. Rather than to look to the atmosphere as the source of our troubles, we should look down at ourselves — our human labor and military-industrial complex — to understand the climate crisis, he said. “Our job is to realign our economic well being with the principles of Mother Earth,” he said. As we oppose and expose the forces that are driving climate change, our job is to make a “just transition” away from an economy based on extraction and towards ecological restoration. Dayaneni urged us to invest in an economy that is “decentralized, democratized, and diversified,” one in which consumption is reduced and wealth is redistributed.

Later in the day, Christine Cordero of the Center of Story-based Strategy led all-convergence training on narrative power analysis. Dubbed “Winning the ‘Battle of the Story’ for Climate Justice,” the training could be summed up by one line: “It’s not about what we don’t know; it’s about what we already know.”

“Humans are narrative animals,” said Cordero, who addressed the power of the stories in shaping our understanding of the world around us. People have a tendency to take what’s meaningful over hard truth. Indeed, when it comes to the climate, the reports we read or see often shroud the negative impacts to frontline communities and the threat to future generations. Cordero says understanding how to win the “battle of the story” for public opinion is critical to all our efforts as organizers, advocates and communicators to make positive change.

Day three was themed around the next steps for the divestment movement. Students divided up into affinity groups to network and strategize, with the goal of laying foundations for long-lasting networked relationships between campaigns and organizers. As the day came to a close, many left with a shared feeling of optimism.

Prianka Ball, a Bryn Mawr College student who’s originally from Bangladesh, says her experiences back home mobilized her around climate issues and led her into the fossil fuel divestment movement. Ball has previously worked with the Bangladesh Youth Environmental Initiative, a group that promotes awareness of local and global environmental issues, especially climate change adaptation, among Bangladeshi high school and university students. She said attending the convergence made her feel “more hopeful because there are other people working on the same issues as me.”

As a second-generation American whose family is from Bangladesh, I was especially moved upon learning of youth-led climate activism happening there. The efforts of Bangladeshis aren’t often heard of in the United States, even though it will be hit the hardest by the crisis.

Organizing around the looming climate crisis can be overwhelming. It can amount to days of slow, often, thankless work. Often, it feels lonesome — as though you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. But the convergence reminded us that we are not alone in this fight. It was inspiring to see so many peers organizing around similar issues across the continent and the world.

Daniel Adel, Contributor, Earth Island JournalDaniel Adel photo
Daniel Adel, a former Earth Island Journal intern, is studying Environmental Studies, with concentration in Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice, at San Francisco State University.

IPCC: Divest from fossil fuels for a safe climate

“It does not cost the world to save the planet” — Ottmar Edenhofer, co-chair of the IPCC Working Group III 

The Working Group III contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report released yesterday provides a comprehensive assessment of all relevant options for mitigating climate change through limiting or preventing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as activities that remove them from the atmosphere. The previous two reports outlined the underlying science and the impacts of climate change.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change at the lowest cost, the report envisages an energy revolution ending centuries of dominance by fossil fuels.

The IPCC concludes that to reach the two-degree target (a target still attainable according to the IPCC),  major changes would be needed to energy systems ending the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.

A clear relevance to the growing divestment movement is found in this statement:

“[M]itigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets, and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters.”

In other words, time to DIVEST if you haven’t already.

The inevitable move to a more equitable and sustainable energy economy as governments regulate emissions in order to meet their stated goal of limiting global warming below 2°C, means much of the known coal, oil and gas reserves of the fossil fuel industry will need to remain unburned, turning them into stranded assets and creating a large financial risk for the companies that own them.

The world’s political, business, and financial elite need to heed to the reality of the carbon bubble and commit to disinvest from fossil fuels.

Just last week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu added his voice in support of the growing divestment movement and called for an anti-apartheid style campaign against fossil fuel companies, which he blames for the “injustice” of climate change.

In his words: “It makes no sense to invest in companies that undermine our future. Already some colleges and pension funds have declared that they want their investments congruent with their beliefs.”

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The solutions to make the shift from fossil fuels to renewables are clear. We need to stop pumping money into a rogue industry that is determined to maximize its profits at any cost. Divestment is the means to shift investments away from coal, oil and gas companies and into a more equitable and sustainable energy economy.

Investors have scientific evidence that if you put your money into fossil fuels you are complicit in wrecking our future.

We now know that catastrophic climate change can be averted without sacrificing living standards. The IPCC WGIII report concludes the transformation required to a world of clean energy and the ditching of dirty fossil fuels is eminently affordable.

Furthermore, the report states that diverting hundreds of billions of dollars from fossil fuels into renewable energy and cutting energy waste would shave just 0.06% off expected annual economic growth rates of 1.3%-3% [1]  Moreover, the analysis did not include the benefits of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which could outweigh the costs. The benefits include reducing air pollution and improved energy security.

Fossil fuel companies and their financiers take note: the era of fossil fuel energy is ending.

 

[1] The Guardian IPCC Report: world must urgently switch to clean sources of energy

Pitzer College Divests From Fossil Fuels: Students Reflect On Our Victory And What Comes Next

Cross posted from Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign

University Press Release: http://bit.ly/1hJCbl1

The Claremont Colleges Divestment Campaign is proud to announce that the Pitzer College Board of Trustees has committed to fossil fuel divestment as part of a holistic climate action model. In addition to divestment, the plan establishes an Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) investment policy, a segregated environmental fund, and a 25% carbon reduction by 2016. The plan also includes investing in renewable community projects, developing a green revolving fund, joining the Billion Dollar Challenge, and the establishment of a campus sustainability task force.

Driven by a vision of social and climate justice, our team has committed countless hours towards this victory through educational campaigns, actions, formal reports, and negotiations with the Board of Trustees. This decision is a testament to the power of student activism and Pitzer’s thoughtful process, and displays our institution’s commitment to aligning its endowment with its core values of social responsibility and environmental sustainability. We are proud to be part of a community that is capable of critically analyzing our role as members of a global society, and understanding the moral and political weight of our endowment.

Pitzer_win3

With privilege comes responsibility, and we believe that this action will effectively leverage Pitzer’s position as an institution of higher learning and a leader in sustainability. This commitment is meaningful because of the way it can influence those around us to take action. We hope this announcement will inspire a cascade of victories throughout the divestment movement and motivate further action towards climate justice.

As the movement for fossil fuel divestment gains strength, it will become increasingly unacceptable for colleges and other institutions to remain invested in such a destructive industry. These fossil fuel companies corrupt our democratic political process, prevent the transition towards a renewable economy, and value short-term profits over a creating a sustainable future.

Therefore, as students, we are grappling with what it means to inherit an earth that is becoming ever more unstable. There is clear evidence that current emission trends will lead to a global temperature increase of 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, creating a planet that is drastically different from the one on which “civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted” (Hansen). We are the first generation to look into our future and reasonably conclude that changes in global climate may make large parts of the planet uninhabitable within our lifetimes.

The climate crisis has no end in sight: we will be fighting for the rest of our lives and for generations to come. We need the passion of young people, the wisdom of our parents, the imagination of artists, and the ingenuity of innovators. We need continued and sustained action, because we are in this for the long haul. We need our anger, and we need love. But most of all, we need to bring our whole selves to this movement.

As we think about this victory, we know it is only the beginning. Pitzer’s commitment is something to be celebrated, but we are deeply aware that a crisis of this magnitude will continue to demand bold action from all of us, especially those with disproportionate influence in society.

We see this decision as a jumping-off point for us to engage with local anti-extraction, health, and labor struggles in the surrounding Los Angeles region. Climate change affects all of us, but we recognize that it is other communities who are being hit the hardest and bearing the brunt of the impacts.  These fights for justice are all interconnected, and we know there is a long way to go. As we stand on the brink of an uncertain future, we commit ourselves to this fight, and to working towards a common vision of sustainability, justice, and collective liberation.