Bill McKibben’s “Do the Math!” tour came to Boston this week, sponsored by 350MA. It was quite a show, with both music and inspiring speakers. The video shows some clips (highlights is too strong a word) from the event. Charles Neville was great.
If you haven’t been following the story, the “Do the Math!” roadshow has been going from city to city since the election. The post-election timing emphasizes the idea that the politicians are almost a secondary concern as compared to the real powers preventing climate action- the fossil fuel companies.
You can read the details here in McKibben’s recent Rolling Stone article, but the simple message of the “Do the Math” effort is contained in three numbers:
- The first number = 2oC. This is the maximum global temperature increase we can allow to occur. A temperature rise of more than 2oC will probably result in catastrophic human impact.
- The second number = 565 Gigatons. This amount of carbon is the MOST we can allow to be emitted over the next 50 years or so. Now a Gigaton (i.e. a billion metric tons) of anything seems like a lot, but we currently use fossil fuels so heavily that we are emitting 31 Gigatons a year. That means we will consume our 565 Gigaton budget in the next 16 years, not 50. (As the 350 website says, 16 years is about the time it will take for today’s preschoolers to graduate from high school!)
- The third number = 2,795 Gigatons, and is the really scary one. The number 2795 Gigatons of carbon is the ‘reserve’ of fossil fuels still in the ground that are identified and claimed by the fossil fuel industry. That means companies like Exxon own the rights to the fossil fuel that will result in 2795 Gigatons of emissions, about five times the limit of 565. To Exxon, these reserves are money in the bank. They are part of the value of the company, and holding those reserves supports the stock price that Exxon can command on Wall Street. Have no doubt, Exxon and its fellows have every intention of extracting and selling that fuel, which will be burned by those who buy it.
Simply put, the business interests of the oil and coal companies is in direct conflict with the survival of a habitable planet.
The proposal of the ‘Do the Math!’ tour is to demand ‘divestment’ of the stocks of all fossil fuel companies. Colleges, universities, churches and local governments should sell any stocks they hold in these companies. The proposal is pretty reasonable: A college (let’s say one that you graduated from, just for instance) could promise to immediately stop buying stock in BP, Exxon, Peabody Energy, Arch Coal or any other fossil fuel company. Further, they could promise to get rid of any current stock holdings within five years. This puts direct financial pressure on these corporations, and it doesn’t take too much to get their attention!
Once you have done the math, the choice is clear.