Recently Bill McKibben (350.org) wrote a short note to readers of Tikkun magazine that serves as a good update on the fossil fuel divestment movement as a tool for combating climate change and shifting us toward a renewable energy economy.
Over the past year I’ve met with a number of groups discussing “the divestment strategy,” comparing it to the anti-apartheid divestment movement (see Loosing the Bonds by Robert Massie). In those conversations I’ve seen very good people come out for and against the use of this tool.
I’m avowedly “pro.”
Those who are “con” usually get there because 1) taking on financial industries is outside their area of expertise so it seems impossible or 2) it will divert too much “people energy” away changing federal policies.
My next Keystone resistance court date is on Valentine’s Day!
The “ERM 54,” as we are called, were arrested last July (photo at left) in the lobby of corporate headquarters of Environmental Resources Management, the company hired by the State Department to conduct the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Keystone XL pipeline. In addition to providing a very flawed report, the company failed to include key conflict of interest information in its State Department application.
Below is Bill Moyers interviewing Bill McKibben on the most recent State Department report on the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a good summary of where the Keystone fight, called “the Woolworth’s lunch counter of the climate change movement,” is now and is headed.
From Moyers and Company:
After the State Department issued a long-awaited environmental impact statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline last week, environmentalists and those opposed to the 1,179-mile pipeline have intensified their push for the Obama administration to reject the project.
This week, Bill Moyers talks withBill McKibben, an activist who has dedicated his life to saving the planet from environmental collapse, about his hopes that Americans will collectively pressure Obama to stand up to big oil.
“Most people understand that we’re in a serious fix,” McKibben tells Moyers, “There’s nothing you can do as individuals that will really slow down this juggernaut … You can say the same thing about the challenges faced by people in the civil rights or the abolition movement, or the gay rights movement or the women’s movement. In each case, a movement arose; if we can build a movement, then we have a chance.”
The people are moving. Our elders are asking us to take action to return the earth to a life-giving path. This 3 minute video provides a glimpse of this summer’s Healing Walk for the Earth at Ft. McMurry, Alberta. It’s incredibly well-done footage. Approach it as an icon — with the sense that God is looking at you through the images.
The United Church of Christ, a reformed Protestant denomination of with more than 5,200 congregations and one million members, voted yesterday to divest from fossil fuel companies as a step toward serious action to combat climate change. They are the first church body in the world and the first national body of any kind to call for divestment from fossil fuel companies as a way of addressing climate change.
[This report is compiled from several news sources.]
“This resolution seeks to use movement toward divestment to increase awareness of the damage to our environment and to create public pressure on fossil fuel companies to leave 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” UCC pastor Vicki Kemper said at the annual meeting of the Massachusettes UCC region that sent the resolution to the General Synod. “That’s right – we’re essentially asking them to walk away from $20 trillion in resources.”
Kemper acknowledged that if all religious groups and colleges and universities – where the divestment movement began – divested, only 2 percent of fossil fuel stock would be impacted. But, she said: “The only power we have in this challenge is the moral, spiritual power to revoke the social licenses of these companies to continue to profit from wrecking the earth. The question is – will we exercise that power?”
According to the news report: The resolution, brought by the Massachusetts Conference and backed by 10 other conferences, calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil fuel-free investment vehicles and the identification of “best in class” fossil fuel companies by General Synod 2015.
It’s been more than two years since the oil industry predicted an easy win on permitting the Keystone XL pipeline and still no new tar sands pipeline has crossed the Canadian border. Bill McKibben gives an update (Keystone: What We Know) on this quintessential David vs Goliath climate fight:
… Gradually, the silliness of the arguments for the pipeline has begun to erode their credibility. It’s possible that somewhere in America someone believes the American Petroleum Institute statement this week that approval of KXL would lower gas prices this summer, but it’s hard to imagine quite who. By now most people know that the project’s jobs have been routinely overstated, and that the oil is destined to be shipped abroad.
7) And gradually the horror of climate change is convincing more and more people what folly it would be to hook us up to a project that guarantees decades more of fossil fuel use. Since we started, the U.S. has seen the hottest year in its history, an epic Midwest drought, the largest forest fires in southwest history, and oh yeah a hurricane that filled the New York subway system with the Atlantic ocean.
8) One more thing — since it’s entirely clear that stopping Keystone by itself won’t solve the climate crisis, the green movement has shown it can go on offense too. Charged up in part by the KXL battle, student groups around the nation have launched a full-scale campaign for divestment from fossil fuels that has spread to over 300 campuses and inspired city governments from Seattle to San Francisco to explore selling their stocks.
There’s still that one thing we don’t know, however, and that’s what Barack Obama will do. Congress isn’t going to take this decision off his hands; a shoddy State Department environmental study, which even his own EPA rejects, won’t be much help. The decision will be the president’s. If he blocks Keystone then he’s got himself a climate legacy as well as a bargaining chip — he’d be the first world leader to block a big project because of its effect on the climate. If he doesn’t — well, no beautiful speech on the dangers of climate change will convince anyone.
It was two years ago that the National Journal polled its 300 “energy insiders” and 91 percent of them predicted a quick approval for the project. Since then we’ve kept half a billion barrels of the dirtiest oil on earth in the ground. The smart money still says we’re going to lose, but it’s not quite as sure: the Canadian business press is reporting this week that no one wants to buy tarsand leases or finance new projects — prospects for the future have become “uncertain.” And it’s not just Keystone — analysts said earlier this spring that in the wake of the KXL battle it’s likely every new pipeline will face a battle. Tarsands barons like the Koch brothers still have all the money, and they’ve still got the odds in their favor. But the smart money has lost a few IQ points. —Bill McKibben
“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynch pin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.
As many of you know, I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.
Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.
Lorne Stockman, Research Director for Oil Change International, announced new research that shows that the emissions from tar sands oil are worse than originally believed. This is because the climate emissions from a byproduct of tar sands, petroleum coke which is made in the refinery process and is used in coal-fired power plants, have not been previously considered. “If Keystone is approved,” says Dr. Danny Harvey, professor at the University of Toronto, “we’re locking in several more decades of fossil fuels and higher levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.”
“Climate change is the story related to Keystone. The drought and heat wave in Texas cost Texans $5.2 billion. Hurricane Sandy cost us $70 billion,” says Dr. John Abraham, climate scientist at the University of St. Thomas. “Some people say it’s too expensive to develop clean energy. I say it’s too expensive not to.”
After the largest climate protests in U.S. history were held in Washington, D.C., in 2011, the fight against the Keystone XL went back to the regions along the pipeline route.
Hundreds have been arrested in their attempts to block the bulldozers. There are farmers engaged in numerous local law suits against TransCanada’s pressure on local governments to use “imminent domain” to force them to give up their property to the corporation. There are First Nations and American Indian communities in treaty battles to keep TransCanada’s massive machinery off their lands.
There are Buddhist nuns walking the pipeline route in prayers for the earth and her people. A 92-year-old Lakota grandmother stood in front and blocked the giant rigs hauling pipe. Twenty-somethings are launching “tree sits” in the construction path. A Baptist church in Nacogdoches, Texas, near the pipeline route, has launched a new young adult and youth ministry specifically for and with Keystone XL activists.
In the fall of 2011, during two weeks of public demonstrations at the White House in Washington, D.C., 1,252 Americans ended up in jail, the largest and most sustained protest of its kind in decades. They had one purpose: that President Obama reject the Keystone XL pipeline. (See #NOKXL)
Why? Not because they hate oil companies. Not because they don’t want people to have good construction jobs. For one reason only: It will push us off the climate change cliff, from which there is no manageable or inexpensive way back.
During 2012 the fight to stop the Keystone XL went local. Everywhere along its route in both Canada and the U.S., citizens have been praying, blockading, chaining themselves to earth-moving equipment, sitting in trees, fasting. In other words, doing everything they can think of along the route to stop the pipeline. (See Tar Sands Blockade.)
Now it’s 2013. Hurricane Sandy provided a tipping point in the American conscience on just how disruptive climate change is going to be. It’s not just a climate disruption; it’s a climate eruption.
Now is the time to come back to Washington, D.C.
There will be at least 15,000 people on the National Mall on February 17, 2013, to demand that the President take clear and effective leadership to address climate change and start by nixing the Keystone pipeline project. If we take him at his word from his second inaugural address, then he’s willing … if there is enough public pressure.
[If you still have questions about whether the Keystone XL pipeline is a worthy target or if opening up bitumen tar reserves in Alberta is any different than any other kind of oil drilling, the read the most recent article from Scientific American “How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?”. It’ll set you straight and answer all your questions in detail.]
On the one hand, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). I trust completely in the abiding love of God here on earth and in the life to come. What happens is what happens when it comes to breaking God’s fundamental earth covenant and the cycles of human life.
On the other hand, the role of the prophets is to continually make plain to the people where they have broken covenant with God, what they need to do to turn around, and what is promised them when they do.
When it comes to addressing global climate change, both hands are in motion. I need to act with all risk and passion of the prophets and all the joyful confidence of one who strives to walk humbly with God.
On February 17, 2013, God’s people are called again to carry a message to President Obama: Take meaningful action to reverse climate change now.
… With climate change, unless we act fairly soon in response to physics’ timetable, it will be too late.
It’s not at all clear that President Obama understands this.
That’s why his administration is sometimes peeved when they don’t get the credit they think they deserve for tackling the issue in his first term in office. The measure they point to most often is the increase in average mileage for automobiles, which will slowly go into effect over the next decade.
That’s precisely the kind of gradual transformation that people — and politicians — like. But physics isn’t impressed. If we’re to slow the pace of climate change we need to cut emissions globally at a sensational rate, by something like 5% a year.
It’s not Obama’s fault that that’s not happening. He can’t force it to happen, especially with Congress so deeply in debt to the fossil fuel industry. But he should at least be doing absolutely everything he can on his own authority. That might include new Environmental Protection Agency regulations, for example. And he could refuse to grant the permit for the building of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. …
…The president must be pressed to do all he can — and more. But there’s another possibility we need to consider: Perhaps he’s simply not up to this task, and we’re going to have to do it for him, as best we can.
Those of us in the growing grass-roots climate movement are moving as fast and hard as we know how (though not, I fear, as fast as physics demands). Thousands of us will descend on Washington on Presidents Day weekend for the largest environmental demonstration in years. And young people from 190 nations will gather in Istanbul, Turkey, in June in an effort to shame the United Nations into action.
We also need you. Maybe if we move fast enough, even this all-too-patient president will get caught up in the draft. But we’re not waiting for him. We can’t.
This week MTV’s Sway Williams got President Obama to break the climate silence, asking him a tough question about global warming. Obama says he’s “surprised it didn’t come up in the debates.”
Unfortunately, Obama’s answers are based on trying to get the U.S. to the Copenhagen carbon target, which scientists around the world resoundingly agree are woefully inadequate.
According to UK’s The Guardian, “The pledges made by governments resulting from the Copenhagen climate conference are nowhere near enough to hold global temperatures to the summit’s agreed goal of no more than a 2C rise, researchers have calculated. The results, which are the most rigorous analyses yet made of pledges submitted to the UN …, will increase pressure on rich countries to make far deeper cuts in negotiations over the next year.”
The key climate defense strategy right now is three fold (read more at Why Bill McKibben is the New Noah). If we do these three things, there’s a possibility that we can reverse climate change, restore health to our skies, earth, and oceans, and move forward into a future where our grandkids can not just survive, but thrive.
Here’s the plan (and look for Bill McKibben’s “Do The Math” tour this fall):
1. Divest or get active regarding all stockholdings in these six corporations: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Peabody, Arch, and BP. These are the primary oil, natural gas, and coal companies operating in or through the United States that top the charts as carbon polluters. If Americans focus on U.S. companies, then we can be the tipping point for a transnational shift. If you — or the portfolio you influence — own stock, then get rid of it and tell the company why. If you don’t want to divest, then you need to decide now to become a shareholder activist. If you’re not a stockholder, then pressure your faith institutions, universities, and local governments to get out of “planet-killing” profits. This is the economic part of the plan.
2. Push for carbon “fee-and-dividend” laws on corporate carbon emitters at the local, state, and federal level. No more free rides for oil, gas, and coal companies. You pay taxes to have your garbage hauled away. Why shouldn’t they? The fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas, and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned directly to the public in monthly dividends to individual taxpayers, with limited-to-no government involvement. Australia initiated this legislation in June. We can learn from them. This is the legislative part of the plan.
3. Take personal responsibility. Everyone can continue to limit energy consumption, use renewable energy sources, and build out a sustainable footprint for our homes and churches. But we also need people to step up and put their bodies on the line to stop the mining of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and prevent the construction of the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines that are being built to transport Alberta’s unconventional “tar sands” oil. Scientists around the world say that opening the Alberta tar sands and pumping this non-traditional oil through these pipelines will put the planet on a one-way road to climate disaster. That’s why fighting the Keystone XL Pipeline in the U.S. and the Northern Gateway Pipeline in Canada is critical. This is the direct action and personal responsibility part of the plan.
Thanks to all who sent notes to the Senate in the 24-hour blitz to stop the Keystone XL pipeline from rising, zombie-like, from the dead. More than 800,000 messages went to the Senate over 24 hours, which is really impressive. Here’s a last image that you should take a moment to savor, showing our messages walking into the Senate on Valentine’s Day. This put a big smile on my face:
“The last 24 hours were the most concentrated blitz of environmental organizing since the start of the digital age,” explained McKibben. “Over 800,000 Americans made it clear that Keystone XL is the environmental litmus test for Senators and every other politician in the country. It’s the one issue where people have come out in large numbers to put their bodies on the line, and online too: the largest civil disobedience action on any issue in 30 years, and now the most concentrated burst of environmental advocacy perhaps since the battles over flooding the Grand Canyon ….”
Senate Republicans tried to saddle the transportation bill with an amendment that would reverse President Obama’s decision to block the controversial pipeline project. The Senate will begin wrasslin’ the transportation bill today.