Harvard Eyes Divestment from Fossil Fuels…

Hi friends,

What are your feelings about the fossil fuel divestment controversy that has been circulating on college campuses and throughout the blogosphere?
[Source: http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2012/12/03/divestment-jamie-henn]

For those of you who might be less familiar with the topic, various college campuses have groups now asking that their universities divest from fossil fuel companies. At Harvard, the divestment campaign has been organized through Divest Harvard, the campus chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future. As stated on their website, Divest Harvard is calling for Harvard University to “divest its $30.7 billion endowment from the top 200 publicly-traded companies that own the majority of global fossil fuel reserves and to reinvest in socially responsible funds.”

The reasoning behind the divestment movement was broadly laid out in environmental activist Bill McKibben’s influential piece “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” which I heartily recommend.

In the FAQ section of 350 organization’s “Do the Math” website, it’s summed up as such:

“Fossil fuel corporations have 5 times more oil and coal and gas in known reserves than climate scientists think is safe to burn. We have to keep 80% of their fossil fuels underground to keep the earth in livable shape. Here are the three numbers you shouldn’t forget:

2 degrees— Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the climate dice are loaded for both devastating floods and drought.

565 gigatons — Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 3/4s of the way to the 2 degree target.

2,795 gigatons — The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists, estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies, equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.”

Bill McKibben recently teamed up with Chloe Maxmin, one of the leaders of the Divest Harvard movement (check out her blog here) to write a piece about the “fossil free” campaign for the Scholars Strategy Network. Highlights from the article:

“The year 2012 was the hottest in American history. An epic drought destroyed the Midwestern grain harvest and caused world food prices to increase by ten percent, Arctic summer melting broke every record and led climatologist James Hansen to describe a “planetary emergency.” Then an unusual autumn mega-storm, Hurricane Sandy, flooded the New York subway system and revealed the fragility of power and transportation in one of the globe’s great urban centers. Add to this massive floods in Pakistan, Australia, Thailand, Central America, and the Philippines, droughts in Africa and parts of Asia, and widespread destruction of fragile coral reefs in the oceans. These recent deleterious effects from climate change have occurred after just 0.8 degrees Celsius warming – but we are headed for much worse. A recent World Bank report concluded that, without immediate remedial steps, the planet is on track for 4 degrees Celsius of warming. As the window closes for action before an irreversible climate crisis grips modern civilization, the U.S. government is deadlocked.

The top 200 publicly traded oil and coal companies that own the majority of fossil fuel reserves are planning to burn five times more carbon than the planet can safely endure. Their prospective profits are astronomical, and these industries have mobilized to protect their stake. Compared to renewable energy companies, fossil fuel industry groups spend twenty times more on lobbying and enjoy six times more in federal subsidies. The fossil fuel interests went all out to block carbon controls in Congress, and they have joined with ideological groups to push a massive disinformation campaign questioning the validity of climate science findings about the growing threat of global warming.

…Fossil Free efforts highlight and criticize the reckless business models that make profits and promise outsized future earnings by shifting unsustainable costs on to society as a whole.”

What do you think? Share your comments with us below: divestment or no divestment? Why or why not?

fossil fuel diagram

[Source: “Unburnable Carbon –Are the world’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?” Report from the Carbon Tracker Initiative.]

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