Climate change is becoming a daily topic in the news and on campus. Bellevue College faculty, staff, and students are asking how they can engage the issue. A critical point of engagement is how the College invests.
Members of the Bellevue College community joined their peers for a Seattle Town Hall event hosted by Bill McKibben – the “Do the Math Tour.” With 70 members of the Bellevue College community attending, the values of students, faculty, and staff are clear. Climate change is an issue we cannot ignore.
Mr. McKibben has become a well-recognized voice on the issue of climate change. His non-profit 350.org and his written works are acknowledged worldwide. On campus, his presence is heightened by the book Deep Economy, the BC Reads! 2012-2013 selection.
The November 17th event was packed. The message was serious. Bill wanted to convey three main points.
First, we’re in trouble. Oil companies intend to burn all reserves. The result is a catastrophic increase in temperature. The average global temperature has already increased 1 degree. A 2 degree increase could mean monumental change. The amount of CO2 it requires to increase the global temperature another degree is well below the amount of reserves oil companies have.
As Mr. McKibben says, “Do the math,” so here are some numbers:
2 degrees – Almost every government in the world has agreed that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe. We have already raised the temperature .8°C, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the climate dice are loaded for both devastating floods and drought.
565 gigatons - Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. Computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees above the 0.8 we’ve already warmed, which means that we’re already 3/4s of the way to the 2 degree target.
2,795 gigatons - The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts, estimates that proven coal, oil, and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies, equals about 2,795 gigatons of CO2, or five times the amount we can release to maintain 2 degrees of warming.
(figures taken from www.gofossilfree.org/faq)
Second, oil companies are the target. Production and consumption are problems, but in a video interview with Naomi Klein, the audience heard “before we have the opportunity focus on altneratives, oil companies need to stop pushing their political agenda.” Oil companies influence the political progress of green technology and cleaner energy alternatives. The message was clear. In order to progress, Big Oil needs to step aside and create some space.
Third, there are strategies that curtail investment in oil companies. A key issue is investment in fossil burning technologies and companies. Institutions of higher education play an important role in investment, and Bill called on students, faculty, and staff to confront their administrations about their investment practices. Bill plugged gofossilfree.org as a resource for tackling this issue. (check out the FAQ page for facts on figures Bill presented last week.)