By Bill McKibben and Kumi Naidoo
If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.
We are facing a planetary emergency: climate change threatens the world and our collective future. Business and political leaders know this yet they do nothing. Instead they continue to bet on our future and deepen our addiction to fossil fuels. They abdicate responsibility and allow the deadly fossil fuel giants of the last two centuries to continue to stoke the boilers of global warming.
Now more than ever people need to demand that all financial institutions that we have entrusted with our money and welfare remove their money – our money – from investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Make no mistake we are in a battle for the future with the past, the centuries old fossil fuel industries have roots deep within our governments and other institutions, they know their days are numbered, they know their power is waning, but they will not go silently into the night, they will not give up their power without a fight.
If governments will not bite the hand that feeds, if they will not free themselves from corporate sponsorship then we, the citizens, the concerned and morally driven individuals will have to take a stand, we will have to make sacrifices to challenge the deadly status quo, this is what history teaches us.
There are new ways to meet our needs, to lift people out of poverty and limit climate change, but the path to a brighter future is being blocked by the past, by the vested and invested coal and oil barons.
We know they want to continue to burn more and more carbon, which will lead to irreparable damage to our health, our lives and our environment. If we want to prevent runaway climate change from getting worse we need to leave the carbon reserves we know about – and the ones we do not yet know about – in the ground.
So how can we stop the fossil fuel industry destroy our future on this planet?
The divestment movement is part of the answer. Modeled on the successful campaign in the 1980s to divest from apartheid South Africa, this new fossil fuel divestment campaign revolves around one central moral reasoning: if it’s wrong to wreck the planet, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.
A simple numerical understanding further confirms the urgency behind this moral standing.
As it stands, we can emit roughly 500 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and still stay below 2°C of global warming as highlighted in the UN IPCC’s latest report — anything more than that adds up to catastrophe for all life on earth. Burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times the so-called safe amount. But the fossil fuel companies are planning to burn it all and our governments are going to let them, they are even going to help them– that is, unless we rise up to stop them.
The world is quickly reaching a Point of No Return for preventing the worst impacts of climate change. With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the global fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil and gas projects that would produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire US, and delay in taking action on climate change of at least a decade. One of these 14 projects is in the Arctic.
While the Arctic is melting, courageous people are putting their liberty on the line to confront the fossil fuel companies leading the charge — as in the case of the Arctic 30. Thirty people are still behind bars in Russia following a peaceful protest against oil drilling in the Arctic in September. They took action because they know it is wrong to exploit melting ice to drill for more of the oil that is warming our world. They were first charged with piracy, an absurd accusation. Now the Russian authorities say that accusation is being replaced with a charge of hooliganism – a charge that is just as absurd and carries up to 7 years in jail.
Some are taking direct action, while others are forming massive movements telling Big Oil that enough is enough. We want people everywhere to help undermine the credibility and influence of those companies where it hurts the most for them – their reputational and financial capital.
The fossil fuel divestment movement is growing fast. Since its launch in the US, 100 cities, states, religious institutions and universities, have made a commitment to divest. Now it’s Europe’s turn.
Earlier this month, the University of Oxford released a study concluding that the current effort is the fastest growing divestment campaign in history and poses a far-reaching and serious threat to the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line. While the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, PricewaterhouseCoopers warns of stranded investments should we not limit climate change. The movement needs to reach climax soon.
We’ll be looking to grow the campaign further this month with the Fossil Free Europe tour, a divestment road show with stops in Berlin, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Birmingham, culminating in London on November 1st.
We aim to inspire even more activism across the continent, as well as connect European efforts with the movement in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The fossil fuel industry is one of the most powerful industries on the planet. Now, a global movement is rising up to confront it. Join us tonight in London or tune in online to watch the lecture at 7 pm GMT.