Credit: Students for a Just And Stable Future
In the 1980s, students across the United States pushed their schools to divest from companies that supported apartheid in South Africa. Today, college students are using the same tactic by calling on their universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. This new movement aims to address what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the human rights issue of our time: global warming.
The economic and human cost of the climate crisis is increasingly being felt in the United States and around the world. This summer’s drought across the Midwest foreshadowed the possibility of our nation’s breadbasket turning into a permanent dustbowl. Recently, Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the terrifying consequences of rising ocean temperatures and increasingly powerful storms. Globally, the outlook is grim: some estimates predict that 100 million people are could die in the next eighteen years because of climate change and the impacts of fossil fuel use.
The world is currently on track for a catastrophic 6 degrees Celsius warming, despite three decades of increasingly desperate warnings from scientists. Grassroots efforts to alter individual behaviors have failed to create the necessary scale of change. The fossil fuel industry has shown its willingness to use unimaginable wealth to suppress even the weakest of climate bills. Despite past failures and in the face of new challenges, the student wing of the climate movement has been infused with energy and hope over the past few months as the fossil fuel divestment movement spreads.
Fossil fuel divestment campaigns now exist at forty-seven colleges and universities nationwide. More campaigns are expected to kick off as 350.org’s Bill McKibben travels to twenty cities across the country in November on his Do the Math tour. The tour, which aims to promote divestment and energize the climate movement, originated from an article published by Rolling Stone last August. McKibben laid out the shocking mathematical reality of the climate crisis: the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies own 2,795 gigatons of carbon in their reserves, but if more than 565 of those gigatons are burned, then it will be difficult for the environment to stay under 2 degrees Celsius of warming (the upper limit considered safe by the UN). The battle to prevent the climate crisis is clear: either fossil fuel corporations change their practices soon or more people will find their lives and livelihoods irreversibly and tragically altered.