Students Call for Fossil Fuel Divestment
Recently, 48 people were arrested outside of the White House, including president of the Sierra Club, Allison Chin. The detained represent 48 out of thousands of climate activists who descended on Washington D.C. in order to tell President Obama through protest — and a little civil disobedience — that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is a raw deal for the United States, and for our warming climate.
The Sierra Club, along with 350.org, fear the global warming implications that would result from connecting Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico. Extracting crude from sand, it turns out, is an exceptionally dirty process involving enormous energy input to get the stuff out of the ground and even more energy to refine it. Then, there is the issue with transporting the oil to market. In order to avoid shipping crude oil by rail or across highways in an endless chain of trucks (which is quite expensive to do), the 1,700-mile XL pipeline will come to the rescue — or so industry spokespeople say. With their track record of spills and cracks, however, pipelines are not an easy transportation solution.
And halting one single source of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions is not going to wholly solve a warming planet, either. While Sierra Club’s and 350.org’s activists battle Keystone XL on the ground, students on college campuses across the United States are beginning a climate battle fought somewhere less physical, but just as important: in the investment portfolios of their universities.
Over 230 campuses across the country have joined the Fossil Free campaign from 350.org calling on colleges and universities to divest their endowments from the fossil fuel industry, estimated at a total of $400 billion nationwide. From big state schools like the University of Michigan to small liberal arts colleges like Amherst, students have taken up the cause.
“All we’re asking for is for the type of planet we were born on. It’s not radical,” Bill McKibben, 350.org creator and climate activist superstar, told Rutgers University students on Feb. 4. “Radicalism is the scientists of fossil fuel companies who are altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere more than any human has before them,” he added. McKibben shocked the world by shining a light on the numbers that spell gloom and doom: the 2 degrees Celsius atmospheric warming that we’re well on our way to experiencing, the 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide the atmosphere can handle before the heat gets unbearable, and the 2,795 gigatons of carbon-dioxide we still have in the ground in the form of fossil fuels.
However, McKibben will be the first to tell you that there is finally a shred of good news: We know who the enemy is and we know how to go after them. A handful of trans-national companies own the majority of these fossil fuel reserves (see the list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies). We just need to make sure they don’t pump it out of the ground. Taking cues from the move to divest from apartheid South Africa, fossil fuel divestment targets big money in a big way. You can get involved! Tell your university or alma mater to cleanse their investment portfolios of polluting companies. Broach the topic at your next student senate meeting. Even if you aren’t a student any longer, you can still write a letter to the editor of a college or university newspaper, letting them know you’re giving will be withheld until they divest. Find letter templates and more resources here.
In the meantime, do not be discouraged by pipelines and dirty investments. You can strive in your personal life to be fossil fuel-free. The way we transport to work and school, the foods we choose to eat and home improvements we make all come with a fossil footprint. Take a few small steps toward fossil fuel-free living, and a giant leap will surely follow.
Related Care2 articles:
- Be a Locavolt: Benefits of Community-Owned Energy
- Home Energy Facts: Start Saving!
- 3 Smart Green Transportation Options
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