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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Green Mountain College to Divest From Fossil Fuels


Students at Green Mountain College. (Courtesy of Divest Green Mountain.)

Kudos to Green Mountain College for its announcement this week that it is committing to divest its $3.1 million endowment from companies profiting from fossil fuels. GMC is the fifth college nationwide and the second in Vermont to commit to divestment as part of a nationwide campaign that has spread to over 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states across the country.

The GMC Board of Trustees voted on Friday, May 10 to immediately divest from fossil fuels and establish a process for aligning future investments with social, environmental and governance goals. GMC has a $3.1 million endowment, only 1 percent of which is currently invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies that own the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. So it’s a symbolic victory, yes, but one that demonstrates the increasing traction of the divestment movement.

“We’re pleased with the conversation that has occurred this semester between students and administration, resulting in the divestment from the list of the most destructive 200 fossil fuel companies,” said a statement issued by Divest GMC, the student group on campus who led the divestment campaign. “As students of an environmental liberal arts college we look forward to continuing the dialogue of authentic sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In this way we are strengthening student voice in all aspects of institutional education.”

Students at GMC began their divestment campaign last February. In March, a number of students participated in Mountain Justice Spring Break, traveling to West Virginia to witness the devastation of mountaintop removal firsthand. In April, the GMC Student Senate voted unanimously to support divestment and more than 50 percent of the student body signed on to a petition supporting the move.

“A heartfelt thanks to the handful of students of Club Activism at Green Mountain College who never lost hope and to the administration and board of trustees at Green Mountain College who listened as the murmur became a broad movement across the college community,” said Dr. Paul Hancock, professor of economics and director of the Sustainable Community Development Center at GMC. “This small place has accomplished so much to sound the alarm about climate change and overhaul the way we work and live. As we blow past 400 ppm let’s hope the folks in our nation’s capital respond to the demands of these young leaders.”

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The GMC announcement provides a boost of momentum for divestment campaigns at other Vermont colleges including Goddard, St. Michaels, Johnson State, Middlebury and the University of Vermont. “This puts huge pressure on Middlebury’s Board of Trustees to divest,” said Middlebury College sophomore Teddy Smyth. “Our school’s reputation for environmental leadership is lagging behind our neighbors at Green Mountain College.”

Activists are also pushing for divestment at the state and city level. Mor than 957 people have signed a petition, to date, calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels.

“Vermonters want to align the state’s financial holdings with our strong environmental ethic,” said Maeve McBride, an organizer with 350 Vermont. “The Vermont legislature has banned fracking and set ambitious efficiency targets, but our state pension funds are invested in companies that frack, drill and pillage. We were the first state to ban fracking, and we can lead again by divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels.”

Over the coming weeks, students across the country will continue to meet with their boards of trustees to push for divestment. This summer, the Go Fossil Free campaign aims to expand the divestment movement and lay the groundwork for an even bigger fall of organizing on campus.

Read Emily Crockett on why the millennial generation isn’t just a bunch of narcissists, as a recent Time article suggests.

Mothers Cry for Justice

The voices of family members of those killed by the NYPD have been surprisingly absent from recent organized calls for police accountability. On May 10, family members who have lost loved ones to the NYPD will come together at Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with elected officials, community leaders and grassroots organizations to call for police accountability and changes to how cases of police killings are handled. The group of mothers is also asking artists to create music dedicated to the parents of those killed by the NYPD. (Instructions here.) Check out the Justice Committee site and learn how you can join and support its efforts to redress and reform police violence against minority populations in New York City.

Bill McKibben's Call at Riverside Church

Bill McKibben's April 28 climate change sermon delivered at New York City's historic Riverside Church was both brilliant and inspiring. But was it too late? In a sane society, his call would be required viewing coast to coast and urgent action would immediately follow. Do your bit and and share this video, then join the growing fossil fuel divestment movement and make every effort to get your school, municipality, company and/or organization on board.

The War on Whistleblowers

I was lucky to recently see a screening of Robert Greenwald’s new film. It was different that what I expected, not just because it’s a full-length feature, different from many of Greenwald’s earlier, shorter political docs, but also because the film doesn’t champion political activists or progressive heroes, as a series which The Nation collaborated on with Greenwald’s shop did. And it doesn’t take on traditional left targets like Fox News, the Koch brothers and Walmart, as previous Greenwald productions have done.

What the War on Whistleblowers does is shine a light on normal people, conservative and traditional people, who acted with extraordinary courage, conviction and clarity when presented with information they just couldn’t live without revealing. These are people who believed in all that America promises and then sacrificed their reputations and livelihoods and risked imprisonment by the very government they swore to protect.

Their names are Franz Gayl, Thomas Tamm, Michael DeKort and Thomas Drake. Their stories have been told in pieces in the press and at least Drake has achieved widespread notice due largely to a magisterial investigative report by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker. But to hear them telling their own stories, not just the details of their whistleblowing and what led them to finally decide to go public, but the ways the state fought to silence them, is both inspiring and disillusioning in equal measure. And it’s infuriating to hear about the the worsening reality for whistleblowers who are being persecuted simply for exposing the truth.

The film is now showing theatrically in NY and LA, and Brave New Films is giving as many people as possible the opportunity to see it by offering a free DVD of the film to anybody who offers to host a house screening with their friends. Take BNF up on its offer, download and share this related Whistleblower Action Guide and help Brave New Films expose the undemocratic and inexcusable way that the Obama administration is treating this current generation of truth-tellers.

One Movement Against Keystone XL

On April 18, people converged in Nebraska to speak out about the Keystone XL Pipeline at the State Department’s only public comment session. Farmers, ranchers, climat activists, and people of all stripes and colors spoke out in opposition to the pipeline.

It’s still entirely unclear if the Keystone XL pipeline can be built and managed safely. Moreover, its construction would delay the critical conversion to a non-fossil fuel based economy on which our future depends. Secretary of State John Kerry, who once spoke out bravely against the Vietnam War and who has stressed the dangers of climate change, could stop it. Sometime soon, the State Department will issue a final environmental impact statement on the pipeline, followed by a determination on whether it is “in the national interest.”

Join Bill McKibben and many others in signing The Nation’s open letter urging Secretary Kerry to consider his legacy and to find the courage to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Richie Havens' Top Ten Songs

Richie Havens was one of the first performers I saw play live back in my pre-teen years when my father took me to see him at the Hudson Valley’s legendary Opus 40. Most famous for stepping in to open up the Woodstock concert, the Brooklyn-born Havens died yesterday of a heart attack at the far too-young age of 72.

Beyond his Woodstock status—he’d originally been scheduled to play fifth but was bumped up because of other acts’ travel delays—and a long, successful musical career interpreting songs as well as writing his own, Havens was a determined progressive who took every opportunity to use his music to help improve peoples lives.

A stalwart ally of the environmental movement, Havens devoted considerable energy to educating young people about the critical urgency of environmental activism. In 1975, he founded the Northwind Undersea Institute, an oceanographic children’s museum on City Island in the Bronx. In the early 1980s, he created the Natural Guard, an environmental organization for children. He did too many benefit concerts to count on behalf of environmental, antiwar, civil rights and anti-nuclear causes.

In tribute, here’s my (highly debatable) list of Havens’s top ten performances.

1. Freedom (performed at Woodstock)

2. Here Comes the Sun

3. All Along the Watchtower

4. Motherless Child

5. Helplessly Hoping

6. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

7. Fire and Rain

8. Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

9. What’s Going On?

10. Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands

The Village Green Preservation Society

Regular readers of this blog should remember über-talented filmmaker/producer/musician/progressive impresario Sarah Sophie Flickr’s recent rad projects like her Get Out the Vote PSA set to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and her anti-fracking ad, “Don’t Frack My Mother.”

This Earth Day, Flickr joined forces with the Rainforest Alliance and convened some of her fabulous friends to exhume The Kinks’ classic tune “Village Green Preservation Society” in a catchy lip-synching medley featuring Sean Lennon, Alexa Chung, Tennessee Thomas, Karen Elson and many others. The song, beyond getting you to bop your head and hum along, effectively promotes the idea that small daily actions can make big change.

It’s a fun sing-along with a deadly serious goal: to boost the ranks of the more than 35,000-strong member Rainforest Alliance, which has a goal of improving lives, livelihoods and lands in more than 100 countries around the globe. So enjoy and share the song and find out more about the Rainforest Alliance this Earth Day.

Do the Math: The Movie

The Do the Math Movie is being screened concurrently at 7:00 pm local time on April 21 at house-parties and screenings across the country. At forty-two minutes, it tells the story of the rising movement trying to change the terrifying math of the climate crisis and fight the fossil fuel industry. Find a screening near you, host one yourself and add your name to The Nation's open letter imploring Secretary of State John Kerry to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Margaret Thatcher vs. British Musicians

Among many other accomplishments, Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain's first and still only female Prime Minister who died today at age 87, inspired a generation of songwriters to devote their talents to assailing her reign. Here are a few of my favorites.

Top Ten Songs About Margaret Thatcher

1. The English Beat, Stand Down Margaret

2. Morrissey, Margaret on the Guillotine

3. Elvis Costello, Tramp the Dirt Down

4. The Specials, Maggie's Farm

5. Matt Johnson, The-The Heartland

6. Sinéad O'Connor, Black Boys On Mopeds

7. Billy Bragg, Between the Wars

8. Billy Bragg, Thatcherites

9. The Specials, Ghost Town

10. Pete Wylie, The Day that Margaret Thatcher Dies

One Million Comments Against Keystone XL

If you know someone who doesn't know about the Tar Sands, this is a good video to send their way.

The Tar Sands, also known as the oil sands, are one of the largest remaining deposits of oil in the world, and efforts to extract the resource from a mix of clay and other materials underneath Canada’s Boreal forest have created the biggest, and by the accounts of numerous scientists and environmental groups, the most environmentally devastating, energy project on earth. For details and background, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has compiled an extensive document that challenges many of the claims made by TransCanada and the US State Department about tough regulatory oversight of the project.

Moreover, as my colleague George Zornick makes clear, there are still too many known unknowns about diluted bitumen, the type of oil that would be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline. As he explains, "we don't know exactly what's in it, and the government hasn't fully studied how safe it is to transport."

The State Department's official public comment period on Keystone XL Pipeline is now open -- and it's a crucial opportunity to inundate officials there with eloquent letter of opposition. The eco-advocacy group 350.org is collecting comments and will deliver them directly to the State Department.

The Keystone tar sands pipeline will create just a handful of jobs, won’t improve US energy security, and just isn’t worth the potential cost to our health and our climate. Make your voice heard today.

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