New ideas for addressing climate change

July 27, 2012

Bill McKibben, one of the leading environmentalists of our time. has a real talent for taking the latest developments in climate science and explaining their significance in terms that the average person can easily understand. His latest piece in Rolling Stone magazineis no exception. In it, he gives compelling, fact-based reasons for why the prospects for containing global warming are very dim. But he also presents a new idea that just might provide a glimmering of hope. McKibben suggests that the divestment campaign that helped to end the South African apartheid may provide the model for a public campaign to contain global warming. He writes:

The fossil-fuel industry is obviously a tougher opponent, and even if you could force the hand of particular companies, you’d still have to figure out a strategy for dealing with all the sovereign nations that, in effect, act as fossil-fuel companies. But the link for college students is even more obvious in this case. If their college’s endowment portfolio has fossil-fuel stock, then their educations are being subsidized by investments that guarantee they won’t have much of a planet on which to make use of their degree. (The same logic applies to the world’s largest investors, pension funds, which are also theoretically interested in the future – that’s when their members will “enjoy their retirement.”) “Given the severity of the climate crisis, a comparable demand that our institutions dump stock from companies that are destroying the planet would not only be appropriate but effective,” says Bob Massie, a former anti-apartheid activist who helped found the Investor Network on Climate Risk. “The message is simple: We have had enough. We must sever the ties with those who profit from climate change – now.”

There are of course important differences between South African apartheid and global warming, the most important of which is that the colleges and college students who one would want to see divest from the oil companies are at the same time customers of those companies. And until they can manage to wean themselves away from the consumption of oil it doesn’t seem that the divestment campaign would really get anywhere. But if individuals and institutions can overcome their addiction to oil, a boycott and divestment campaign would be a potent weapon for those trying to save this planet. Another strategy that also makes a lot of sense, at least as a method for persuading to take this problem seriously, is to link it to responsible parenting. Many people seem to care little about the environment or future generations or indeed anything beyond their immediate material well-being. But of course there is one other thing that many people do care passionately about–and that is their children.  Mark Hertsgaard appreciates this point and has therefore organized a group called Climate Parents which is trying to mobilize people around the shared value of a decent future for their children. In this Democracy Now interview, Hertsgaard admonishes Obama and Romney for not acting like responsible parents when it comes to climate change, the most important challenge of the century. It’s the most effective and appropriate shaming strategy I’ve seen yet.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Democracy Now