In a Rolling Stone interview this past summer, Bill McKibben, head of 350.org and related tar sands protests, called for investors to dump holdings in oil, gas, and coal companies as a means to fight climate change. McKibben’s call for this divestment mirrors similar action during the latter 20th century against South Africa’s Apartheid government via its state issued bonds and corporate backers.
Now, divestment of fossil fuel company stocks is again being spear-headed by major universities, cities, religious groups, and individuals. In total, over 210 university campuses now host divestment groups — and the number continues to grow. Even major cities have pitched in with the mayor of Seattle ordering the city trust to dump fossil fuel company holdings.
Spurring this large and growing divestment movement are two numbers: 565 gigatons and 2,795 gigatons. 565 gigatons represents the amount of carbon we can dump into our atmosphere without pushing human caused global warming above the catastrophic level of 2 degrees Celsius. 2,795 gigatons is the total amount of carbon that would end up in the atmosphere if fossil fuel companies managed to sell all the oil, coal, and natural gas on their books. Carbon pollution they are doing their best to foist upon a world increasingly damaged by an angry climate.
Making matters worse is the fact that fossil fuel companies are increasing the amount of carbon we pump into the atmosphere at a break-neck rate. Last year alone, 34 gigatons were dumped into Earth’s already riled climate. At the current rate of emission, enough carbon will be emitted to pre-set a 2 degree increase by 2029. But since emission rates continue to increase, that date will likely be closer to 2025. And since the world’s policy-makers are failing to act, divestment activists are attempting to pull the rug out from under fossil fuel industries by denying them public funds via the world’s investment markets.
Now anyone — an individual, an investment firm, any institution or municipality with a trust or an endowment — can take part in the campaign to reclaim a healthy climate by pulling investment funds out of fossil fuel industries. And, so far, the response has been massive — far more rapid than the response to Apartheid. Let’s hope that these direct actions on the part of responsible individuals begins to roll back the tide of increasing fossil fuel exploitation and carbon emission. For my part, I hope you express your right to divest as well.