Year 4, Month 11, Day 5: Gettin’ Better All The Time?

USA Today, on the Power Shift 2013 gathering:

Students from more than 720 campuses and communities attended Power Shift 2013 last weekend in order to discuss climate, energy and environmental justice issues.

Power Shift, hosted by Energy Action Coalition, is a biannual convergence of young activists that seeks to help further the movement to end fracking (the process of fracturing rock layers very deep within the earth in order to extract natural gas or oil), create a clean energy future and divest for fossil fuels.

For the first time, Power Shift was held in Pittsburgh rather than its usual location in Washington D.C.

The weekend offered workshops, keynote speakers and more than 200 panels on how to run campaigns that promote a clean and just energy economy on their own campuses or within their own communities.

For 28-year-old Whit Jones, campaign director for Energy Action Coalition, Power Shift is a time in which the young generation can make its voices heard.

“Our generation has the opportunity to lead our movement and our country into a clean energy economy,” Jones says. “Right now we have both urgent crises around climate change and our economic crisis. If our generation can lead the way into a cleaner economy we can both help stop climate change and also create millions of jobs for our generation.”

Crazy anarchists! October 26:

In the sixties, college students led protests against war and racial bigotry. A few decades later, their campaigned for divestiture from South Africa’s apartheid government galvanized campuses across America. While today’s collegians may at first glance have many possible pathways of activism, ultimately there is only one central cause, and it is exemplified by the young people involved in “Power Shift 2013.”

When you get right down to it, humanity’s been successful because our planet’s climate is pretty benign; letting us feed ourselves and others while still having time to make things better for our society. All our advances — expanding the franchise, gradually eliminating slavery, emancipating women, the crazy notion that children have rights, ending the oppression of LGBT people — rest on a foundation of environmental and climatic stability.

These dedicated young people realize that if we fail on climate, we fail on everything. They deserve our applause and support.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 14: Congeniality

Emily Tucker, in the Bowdoin Orient (college paper, Bowdoin college, Maine) discusses the IPCC report:

For example: climate skeptics often point to the slowdown in global temperature change over the past fifteen years as evidence that climate change has stopped.

This, however, doesn’t account for the abilities of oceans and glaciers to absorb heat energy up to a certain point.

Beyond that point, though, the effects of absorbing all that heat will become eminently clear.

About half a trillion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the late 19th century. In some ways, this is good news.

We haven’t hit the tipping point yet, and there’s still time to change our trajectory.

But let’s not get too comfortable. If we (speaking globally, since most new emissions come from developing nations that rely largely on coal power) stick to our current rates of energy consumption, we’re set to hit the trillion-ton mark around 2040.

By that time, current Bowdoin students will be between the ages of 45 and 50, slightly younger than most of our parents are right now.

It’s interesting to note that the earth’s crust still contains an estimated three trillion tons of carbon-rich fuels.

If we’re to observe the trillion-ton limit, most of these reserves will have to either remain untapped or be harnessed in a way that does emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.

From the right point of view, this situation can be seen as a gateway to revolutionary technological innovations in renewable energy production, greenhouse gas sequestration or (hopefully) both.

The 2013 IPCC report includes very little in the way of new discoveries.

The authors simply note that, as opposed to being 90 percent confident in human-caused climate change in 2007, they are now 95 percent confident.

If this can’t end the so-called “climate debate” and usher us into an era of groundbreaking new green technologies, I don’t know what will.

After all, there are no 100 percent guarantees in science, and we probably aren’t going to get much closer.

All good stuff. October 6:

In the sixties, college students were at the forefront of protests against the insanities of war and racial bigotry. In the eighties, it was the campaign for divestiture from the racist apartheid government of South Africa that galvanized campuses across America. While college students today may seem to have a wide menu of possible choices for their activism, ultimately there is only one central cause.

In the final analysis, all human progress has been made possible by the fact that our Earth’s climate is relatively benign, providing us the ability to feed ourselves and others while still having time left over to figure out ways to make things better. Our social advances — expansion of the franchise, the gradual elimination of slavery, the emancipation of women, the once-radical idea that children had rights, an end to the marginalization of LGBT people — are all contingent on environmental stability.

If we fail on climate, we fail on everything.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 11: Don’t Do As I Say, Do As I Want. Is That Clear?

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel discusses some of the opposition to divestment from our side of the ideological divide:

Not everyone supports the strategy. A local religious leader who’s been battling Exxon Mobil Corp. for years over climate change says he considers divestment the wrong move.

“This approach to this issue is too simplistic in my mind. It generates a lot of enthusiasm among young idealists, but it’s not a good strategy,” said the Rev. Michael Crosby of Milwaukee, a representative of the Capuchin order and board member of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility.

Crosby prefers direct engagement. He traveled to Texas to urge shareholders of Exxon Mobil to adopt a climate change resolution.

The Capuchins’ work of direct engagement with Exxon Mobil has gone on for more than a decade — and during that time the corporation agreed to stop funding groups that were denying the existence of global warming, Crosby said.

Resistance remains. At this year’s shareholder meeting, Exxon Mobil Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson said the company agrees that climate change is a serious issue. However, the ability to forecast the severity of what’s to come is limited.

“How do you want to deal with something where the outcome is unknowable but the risks are significant?” Tillerson said. “We do not have a readily available replacement for the energy that provides the means of living that the world has today.

“What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers in the process of those efforts when you don’t know exactly what your impacts are going to be?” he said.

This was pretty complicated to get down to 150 words. July 21:

When Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson asks, “what good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” his definition of “humanity” pays more heed to the sociopathic corporate “persons” which he represents than to those of us made of old-fashioned flesh and blood. In this context, the notion that divesting from fossil fuel corporations is somehow futile because “the stock would be bought up by somebody else” is an obvious evasion of the moral and ethical foundations of good citizenship.

While Michael Crosby and his Interfaith allies may be using their investments as a point of leverage to confront corporate polluters over their contributions to planetary climate change, that strategy isn’t an option for most of us. It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing, and ending financial collaboration with the multi-national polluters who are fueling the climate crisis is both ethically and environmentally appropriate.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 2, Day 8: I Don’t Want Him To Be Comfortable If He’s Going To Look Too Funny

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that fossil-fuel divestment turns out to hold little or no liability for college endowments:

College-endowment managers who resist the growing call to divest their holdings in fossil-fuel companies may be doing so for little or no financial reason, according to a new report.

An analysis released on Tuesday by the Aperio Group, an investment-management firm that offers its clients a “socially responsible index,” among other investment strategies, found that while divesting from fossil-fuel companies does not necessarily add value to a portfolio, it does not subtract value from it either, and it increases the risk to investors at such a modest level as to be negligible.

In recent months, student groups at more than 200 colleges across the country have begun pushing their institutions to divest from fossil-fuel companies. A handful of smaller institutions, including Unity College and Hampshire College, have recently adopted strategies to reduce their investments in such companies, but most colleges have responded warily to the notion.

No doubt part of that wariness is that fossil-fuel companies are viewed as reliable profit generators, and divesting from them is seen as a financial handicap, even less attractive at a time when endowments have struggled because of the recession.

Because we won’t be responsible if it costs us anything. Sent January 31:

While it’s encouraging to know that college endowments aren’t likely to suffer from shedding fossil-fuel investments, divestment would be a good idea regardless of its economic impacts on university portfolios. The business model of big oil and coal companies is profoundly destructive, relying as it does on reintroducing millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon into the atmosphere each year in a geological eyeblink, without regard for the climatic consequences.

While “bottom-line” rationales are popular and convenient, we must remember that one of the deepest goals of higher education is the inculcation of a broad sense of responsibility to and for the greater social good. We do not teach subjects; we teach human beings — and the quality of our teaching is reflected in our students’ commitment to a better future.

And there is no surer guarantee of a worse future than continued support of fossil fuels. They may be hugely profitable, but fossil fuel corporations epitomize an irresponsible disregard for our shared Earthly heritage and the continued happiness and prosperity of our descendants, and colleges and universities investing in them are abdicating their institutional responsibilities to our common posterity.

Warren Senders