Carpe diem. Seize the day. That’s what some American university students are realizing needs to be done. I was in the streets in the early ‘70s protesting the war. I even wound up in jail a couple of times. One of the proudest things I can say about that time is that I was in jail with the legendary peace activist Dave Dellinger for three days. It’s good to be young and to know what’s at stake.
Great, heartening story in the NY Times the other day by Justin Gillis: To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios. Some college activists are taking the lead to divest their schools’ portfolios from fossil fuel companies. These kids know that carbon emissions are going up. They know what’s at stake. Gillis reports: “In recent weeks, college students on dozens of campuses have demanded that university endowment funds rid themselves of coal, oil and gas stocks. The students see it as a tactic that could force climate change, barely discussed in the presidential campaign, back onto the national political agenda.”
One of the drivers behind this new, critically important and timely movement is the activist group, 350.org, led by Bill McKibben. Their Fossil Free campaign has a bunch of irons in the fire, including a comprehensive Divestment Toolkit. McKibben has been on his Do the Math Tour. He wrote what amounted to a manifesto in July, identifying the fossil fuel companies as the enemy: “A rapid, transformative change would require building a movement, and movements require enemies. As John F. Kennedy put it, ‘The civil rights movement should thank God for Bull Connor. He’s helped it as much as Abraham Lincoln.’ And enemies are what climate change has lacked.”
We don’t, truth be told, need fossil fuels anymore. Coal is rapidly losing steam, in the US and Europe anyway, and oil is simply a commodity that needs to be – and in some analyses – is on the wane. (I am, as you may know, ambivalent about natural gas because, frankly, it does more good than harm. In the medium term, in my view and others’, natural gas will reduce CO2 as it displaces coal and oil, while we continue to move to a fully decarbonized world. And that is happening, as I’ve reported here and in my book.)
For now, though, it is past time to cut the fossil fuel companies down to size. They have had too much influence, for far too long, in our politics, in our economies and in our lives. But, we’ve got to work at it, by fighting them, as 350.org is mobilizing us to do, and by coming up with alternatives, as groups like the Post Carbon Institute, the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among many others, are doing. See this from the very good folks at UCS.