Midway through his nationwide, one-month Do The Math tour, Bill McKibben — author, environmental activist, and founder of 350.org — attracted a crowd that packed the Warner Theater in downtown Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
Joined both onstage and by video by a diverse group of speakers, including Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, author Naomi Klein, and Archbishop Desmund Tutu, McKibben’s Do The Math tour brings to light the stark numbers of our current climate reality, first brought to the public’s attention in his viral article in Rolling Stone this past summer.
The three main numbers are as follows: 2 degrees Celsius is the maximum level of warming our planet can endure before real catastrophe occurs. To stay below 2 degrees C, we cannot burn more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. But the problem is that the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons in their reserves — five times the safe amount to burn. As is their business plan, to reap the profit from these reserves, the fossil fuel companies plan on burning all of it, “unless we rise up to stop them” states the 350.org website.
Inspired by the anti-apartheid movement and the successful divestment of the South African state by academic institutions of the 1980s, this new strategy of 350.org is going after the fossil fuel industry head-on. They are calling for organizations, colleges, universities, and institutions of all kinds to divest from their fossil fuel industry financial ties. The first victory is already logged: Unity College in Maine has pledged to sever all financial ties it has with fossil fuel corporations. It’s a great first step, and many more will need to follow to make a bold statement to the fossil fuel industry that we will not participate in your climate-destroying business plan any longer.
To respond to this call-to-action, the crowd followed McKibben out to Freedom Plaza for a rally and march around the White House asking President Barack Obama to stop the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline for good. Less than two weeks after re-electing President Obama, there is no time for our “hero-worship or honeymoon phase,” McKibben said. If Obama is serious about dealing with climate change — as he mentioned in his re-election night speech —he has to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if developed, would be “game over” for the climate, as NASA scientist Jim Hansen and many others have said.
Several hundred people marched carrying a blocks-long inflatable pipeline, chanting “Barack Obama, yes we can, stop the dirty pipeline plan!”
It was a year ago that the president put a hold on development of the pipeline, claiming to need more time to do environmental assessment. Well, a year has passed, and it brought the hottest summer on record, extreme drought across the country, massive Arctic ice melt, and superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the New York and New Jersey coasts.
And if we want to maintain an atmosphere reminiscent of what human beings —and the rest of creation — have survived on so far, we cannot continue burning fossil fuels, especially the dirtiest of them all, tar sands oil, any longer.
Martin Witchger is Mobilizing Assistant for Sojourners.