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McKibben Must-Read: The Case For Fossil-Fuel Divestment

By Joe Romm

"McKibben Must-Read: The Case For Fossil-Fuel Divestment"

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How Long Will Colleges Keep Investing in Companies Whose Stock Price Is Based on the Destruction of a Livable Climate?

CO2 emissions by fossil fuels [1 ppm CO2 ~ 2.12 GtC, where ppm is parts per million of CO2 in air and GtC is gigatons of carbon (via Hansen). Significantly exceeding 450 ppm risks several severe and irreversible warming impacts. We are headed toward 800 to 1,000+ ppm, which represents the near-certain destruction of modern civilization as we know it – as the recent scientific literature makes chillingly clear.

Climate hawk Bill McKibben has another terrific new piece in Rolling Stone, The Case For Fossil-Fuel Divestment.” The founder of 350.org explains:

The logic of divestment couldn’t be simpler: if it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage. The fossil fuel industry, as I showed in Rolling Stone last summer, has five times as much carbon in its reserves as even the most conservative governments on earth say is safe to burn – but on the current course, it will be burned, tanking the planet. The hope is that divestment is one way to weaken those companies – financially, but even more politically. If institutions like colleges and churches turn them into pariahs, their two-decade old chokehold on politics in DC and other capitals will start to slip. Think about, for instance, the waning influence of the tobacco lobby – or the fact that the firm making Bushmaster rifles shut down within days of the Newtown massacre, after the California Teachers Pension Fund demanded the change. “Many of America’s leading institutions are dozing on the issue of climate,” says Robert Massie, head of the New Economics Institute. “The fossil fuel divestment campaign must become the early morning trumpet call that summons us all to our feet.”

This article builds on McKibben’s viral piece from the summer Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” which he summarizes:

By now, most activists know the three numbers I outlined in this magazine last summer, in a piece that immediately went viral: If we’re to hold planetary warming to the two degrees that the world’s governments have said is the absolute red line, we can only burn 565 more gigatons of carbon – but the fossil fuel companies, private and state-owned, have 2795 gigatons of carbon in their reserves. That is, they have five times the coal and oil and gas needed to roast the earth, and they fully intend to burn it – in fact, a company like Exxon boasts about spending a hundred million dollars a day looking for more hydrocarbons, all the fracking gas and Arctic oil and tar sands crude they can find. “The math is so irrefutable,” says Klein, the veteran anti-corporate activist who’s been helping lead the fight. “The fossil fuel companies haven’t even bothered to dispute it. And coming to the issue with numbers like that, putting them in an academic context, that’s radical. It makes it hard for the boards of trustees – who after all are supposed to be numbers people – to deal with. Suddenly it’s the students who are the number crunchers, and the idealistic fantasists are the bank presidents on the board who don’t want to deal with the reality staring them in the face.”

The good news is that:

  1. Divestment would likely have no significant penalty on portfolio return.
  2. Divestment would hedge against the inevitable collapse of the market capitalization of fossil fuel companies when the world wakes up to climate reality.
  3. The money would be far better invested in colleges’ own green improvements, which have a high return and very low risk.

As McKibben puts it:

College trustees, of course, are thinking about their endowments. They worry that they’ll lose money if they do divest – that if they can’t park their money in Exxon et al., their yields may dwindle.

The fear is almost certainly overstated – energy stocks have outperformed the market index the last few years, but lag if you take the last 30 as a whole. Stephen Mulkey is president of Unity College in Maine, which became the first college in the nation to officially divest its fossil fuel holdings. He stood up to give the news in front of the thousands that crowded into Portland’s State Theater for that stop on our roadshow, an electric moment that brought the throng to its feet. “You don’t have to do it overnight,” he pointed out – indeed, campaign organizers have asked only that colleges pledge to sell their shares, and then spend the next five years winding down their positions so they don’t have to sell in a fire sale. “There’s abundant academic literature showing that social screening such as this, given the most likely market conditions in the near future, will not result in poor performance. You’re not divesting and then just forgoing those profits – you divest from BP and invest in something else. You reanalyze your portfolio.” In fact, there’s been one academic study of the effects of divesting, and it shows the “theoretical return penalty” at 0.0034 percent, which is the same as “almost none.”

At some schools, some of the money can be re-invested in the college itself – in making the kind of green improvements that save substantial sums. Mark Orlowski, head of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, just published a report showing that the average annual return on investment for a thousand efficiency projects at campuses across the country was just under 30 percent, which makes the stock market look anemic. “College trustees often think of a new lighting system as an ‘expense,’ not an investment, but it’s not,” he says. “If you invest a million and can expect to clear $2.8 million over the next decade, that’s the definition of fiduciary soundness.” At colleges – and elsewhere – the potential for significant reinvestment is large: the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, for instance, is considering urging its pension fund to divest a billion dollars. That could do some serious re-greening.

The collapse of the stock price of major fossil fuel companies is made inevitable by the increasingly dire nature of climate science (see literature review here):

Meanwhile, the scientists keep pushing their research forward. Twenty-five years ago, they were predicting the trouble we’re seeing now; when they look forward another quarter century, things get truly scary – and academics get much less academic. In the past, just a lonely few, like NASA’s James Hansen, were willing to go to jail, but in November, the premier scientific journal, Nature, published a commentary urging all climate scientists to “be arrested if necessary” because “this is not only the crisis of your lives – it is also the crisis of our species’ existence.” In December, at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union where most of the year’s cutting-edge climate studies are released, one panel examined the question “Is Earth Fucked?” The scientist leading the session finished by saying probably – but “if a global environmental movement develops that is strong enough, that has the potential to have a bigger impact in a timely manner.” Make of it what you will: The American scientist who has spent the most time on the melting ice of Greenland, Ohio State’s Jason Box, took to the stage at our Columbus tour stop to demand OSU and other colleges divest.

Colleges have a duty to protect the health and well-being of their customers — future generations. The time to divest is now.

‹ The Navy Goes Green: Mother Jones And The Climate Desk Highlight A Major Energy Transformation In Our Military

Suppressed South Carolina Climate Change Report Warns of Big Impacts ›

91 Responses to McKibben Must-Read: The Case For Fossil-Fuel Divestment

  1. BillD says:

    Shouldn’t be difficult to have a diversified portfolio while leaving out fossil fuel companies. Is there are way to invest in electrical utilities in a way that spurs the transition from fossil fuels? There are mutual funds that divest from alcohol and weapons manufacturers. What are they called? There should be a demand for mutual funds that exclude carbon emitters. One problem is indices, such as the S&P 500. A good chunk of my retirement funds are in the S&P 500.

    • Sasparilla says:

      There are some Green Energy Mutual Funds and ETF’s (Exchange Traded Funds), however any investment in them could be very risky (as in consider any money you put in these as a true gamble) until the transition in the U.S. to a carbon free energy has started in earnest – they are very susceptible to the winds of politics (many were riding high into the election of 2008 and then decimated afterwords, not recovering fully yet, unlike most funds).

      This was a year ago: http://www.thestreet.com/story/11423844/2/top-10-alternative-energy-etfs.html

      This was 3 years ago: http://www.smartmoney.com/invest/funds/going-green-with-mutual-funds/

    • Paul Klinkman says:

      My favorite low-risk stock is Allete.

      - They avoid nuclear.

      - They’re pioneers in High Voltage Direct Current, a leukemia-free way of shipping power from the wind fields of South Dakota to their customer base in Duluth.

      -They signed a 100 megawatt agreement with Manitoba Hydro. When the wind blows they’ll send power north. When the wind doesn’t blow, Manitoba Hydro will send power south.

      -They have some of the lowest electric rates in the United States. This puts the lie to alternative energy being pricey.

      -Their negative is their longstanding reliance on coal, but as I said, they’re out front in the move toward wind power.

  2. catman306 says:

    And while you’re at it, divest of the big media companies. They lie. They shouldn’t be making money on that, either.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      I second your suggestion, Catman. Problem is, activists and climate bloggers all hope that their statements and protests get picked up by MSM. As a result, there is little criticism, and what’s there is muted.

      Media companies won’t change until we put pressure on them, including public attacks and advertiser boycotts. Pleading with them by appealing to their consciences will continue to fail. In this world, that’s a sure path to be not taken seriously. Money, on the other hand, causes people’s heels to click and hands to salute.

      • I think the near-term answer to MSM near-total-uselessness is the parallel network (aka parallel hierarchy) strategy for news and information.

        And here we are doing it, hooray for us!

        • Mike Roddy says:

          Yeah, there has been a lot of progress here, Kevin, and it would be nice if the big media companies could just be put out of business. I still would like to see a way to reach people in the central and rural areas of this country, though. For now, they get their news from TV and conservative local papers, and have little idea of the dangers we face.

  3. Superman1 says:

    PART 1 OF 4
    The 2 C target he mentions is meaningless. As I have pointed out elsewhere, 0.5 C is a far more realistic target, and with some safety factor, 0.2 or 0.1 C should be the target. We don’t have 565 Gtons of spare carbon capacity; we’re far into the danger zone already; take a close look at the Arctic. The carbon emissions and concentration have to be brought down today!

  4. Superman1 says:

    PART 2 OF 4
    Typical McKibben: all tactics; no strategy! The demand for fossil is unlimited, as are the profits. There is no real competition on the horizon. The stocks are valuable. If the universities disinvest, the hard-right billionaires will jump in. This is not South Africa of four decades ago; what worked then is irrelevant in this case.

    • Typical “Superman1″ comments.

      All impossible goals, and criticism of any actually feasible forward movement.

      Provocateur alert.

      • Superman1 says:

        My metric for ‘forward’ is reduction of CO2 emissions and concentration. How will that metric be impacted in any way by the investors changing hands?

    • Joan Savage says:

      Surely you jest.

      Institutional investors by far predominate stock holdings in the oil companies. The right wing billionaires don’t have the resources to buy out the institutional holdings that might come on the market, even at discount prices.

      Corporate fronts for foreign governments are a different kind of risk, one which I take more seriously than a few billionaires.

      The BP stockholder profile is a case in point.
      http://www.bp.com/extendedsectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9010453&contentId=7019612

      • Superman1 says:

        The point is, Joan, as long as the demand holds, and the profits hold, there will be investors ready and able to jump in when the universities divest, whether they are American investors (individual or corporate) or foreign investors (individual or corporate). As long as demand holds, there will be organizations ready to supply the product and investors ready to finance it.

      • Superman1 says:

        “The right wing billionaires don’t have the resources to buy out the institutional holdings that might come on the market, even at discount prices.”

        Well, if we just look at the Forbes 400, where the entry fee is $1.1B, the total net worth is $1.7T. That’s over four times the endowment of the colleges and universities in the USA. Add in the remainder of American shareholders, and the foreign individual and institutional shareholders, and it seems to me there’s more than enough to take over the reins.

        • Joan Savage says:

          Disagree.

          The $1.7 trillion figure is a red herring. Many of the billionaires count their wealth in the industries they own, not in cash accounts. Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, Koch brothers, or Bill Gates aren’t about to sell off all their assets in Oracle, Berkshire Hathaway, Koch Industries or Microsoft just to have cash on hand to buy oil companies. Some of the hedge fund managers might do with theirs, but not the whole lot.

          Meanwhile, more fact finding: The GAO found that in 2008 colleges and universities had $400 billion in endowment investments of all sorts.

          http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10393.pdf

      • Solar Jim says:

        Thanks for the website. Appears that friend-of Obama Jamie D’s JP Morgan/Chase has substantial ownership of BP. We will see what liabilities they manage to escape.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Dimon et al are Obama’s Masters, not ‘friends’. This is a pure master-servant relationship.

      • Superman1 says:

        From another perspective, the market valuation of the four top oil companies alone is ballpark $1T today. So, even if the college and university endowments of $400B all were invested in just these four companies (which they are obviously not), they would still be a minority share. When one adds all the oil, gas, coal company valuations, and compares it to the fraction of the $400B that is invested in these companies, I suspect there’s no comparison.

        • wili says:

          Do you think McKibben and the others in this movement don’t know this?

          • Superman1 says:

            I don’t want to speculate about what his real motives and objectives are, and about what he knows or doesn’t know. I deal with what is on the table, and to me, it is a useless diversion of precious resources.

    • SecularAnimist says:

      Superman1 wrote: “There is no real competition on the horizon.”

      That’s an outright lie, which the fossil fuel corporations are glad to have repeated.

      • Superman1 says:

        Read the EIA, IEA, et al global energy projections for the next two-three decades. They have renewables going up, but fossil not going down. But, obviously they don’t have the same objectivity that you do.

        • Sasparilla says:

          Both the EIA and IEA have shown a very obvious tendency to not forecast change throughout the last couple of decades (whether its forecasting ongoing lowball oil pricing or massive oil production expectations) only to be forced into changes when reality doesn’t match up with their forecasts.

          They tend not to forecast big changes till reality smacks them upside the head and forces changes in their forecasts.

          • Superman1 says:

            Oh, now I see the light. Especially when GingerBaker has shown us in #11 how solar will out-compete fossil: “provide all our new renewable energy to all our citizens and businesses free of charge.”

          • Sasparilla says:

            That reply doesn’t have anything to do with my noting of the historical inaccurate performance of the EIA and IEA forecasts when it comes to future oil production and rollout of future technologies.

          • Superman1 says:

            Sasparilla, In this case, I suspect these agencies, and the oil companies as well, are actually downplaying the fossil numbers for 2030, for political reasons.

      • Sasparilla says:

        Very true – the oil industry is scared to death of what plug-ins could do to a huge chunk of their sales….with battery prices constantly falling at about 4% a year and expected to continue for this decade and beyond (without huge breakthroughs, which do happen), by 2020 plug-in’s will be a no brainer for $20k vehicles and higher (and battery prices expected to continue falling during the 2020′s as well). Durability and battery capacity are expected to continue getting better during this time as well.

  5. Superman1 says:

    PART 3 OF 4
    The first step, if we are serious and there is any time left, is to end all non-essential uses of fossil fuel. Prohibit vacation travel that involves fossil fuel as a primary or secondary source. Now, we’ll really see how serious those three million students are who go on Spring Break every year, and generate plenty of carbon in the process, as McKibben noted. Here’s a chance for them to actually do something tangible to ameliorate climate change. Include all other non-essential uses.

    • Sasparilla says:

      Superman1, you sound like you’re writing script for Exxon and the Koch’s here?

      • Superman1 says:

        You got me; I’ll admit it. I get a seven-figure check every month from the fossil boys for these messages. They know that, without these messages, you and the others would give up your big homes, your SUVs, your quarterly long-distance flights, your processed goods and foods, and move to a commune in a temperate climate. There, you would live without heating or cooling, and would spend your days foraging in your organic garden. But, my messages are so negative that you have given up and will live out your years in your energy-intensive lifestyle.

      • Superman1 says:

        Yes. Exxon pays me very well to recommend prohibition of all non-essential uses of fossil fuel.

        • wili says:

          Sup, I actually come pretty close to doing this–I have not flown for about a decade, or really made any long distance trips powered by fossil fuels. I mostly bike or walk to places I go. I eat hardly any meat, and I have a very small house that I keep very cool in the winter and rarely use any ac in summer.

          I encourage others to follow my example, but it is an uphill battle–going against everything the rest of society is saying is ‘normal’ and desirable.

          But I still think McKibben has a good parallel strategy–we need to take the fight to those most responsible for perpetuating the destruction of the planet.

          Why can’t we do both? Avoid unnecessary use of ff, and engage in various kinds of economic and political action?

          Do you think we can’t chew gum and walk at the same time?

          • Superman1 says:

            Wili, The CO2 emissions have to come down now; time is not on our side. McKibben’s efforts are a pure diversion from this goal.

          • Superman1 says:

            Kevin Anderson’s projections to stay within 2 C require CO2 emission reductions ~10%/annum for decades. But, even he states 2 C is a useless target; 1 C is better. To get anywhere near 1 C (which I believe is way too high), the emissions trajectory slope becomes vertical. In other words, any further emissions for any purpose places us further out on the limb. We should be working around the clock to decarbonize and eliminate fossil fuel use.

        • Sasparilla says:

          The issue I’m referencing are the scare ploys the fossil fuel industry rolls out every now and again to say how horrible everything would be without them – like that article Joe had the other day with the advertisement from some fossil fuel group saying “Can you imagine a world without fossil fuels?” or something like that.

          This would fit right in there “Prohibit vacation travel that involves fossil fuel as a primary or secondary source. Now, we’ll really see how serious those three million students are…”. That’s all.

          • Superman1 says:

            Suppose we decided to convert from fossil to renewables in a generation globally, as some people have suggested. Suppose we do it linearly: 5% the first year, 10% cumulative the second year, etc. If we keep our standard of living during that 20 year time, then we will have generated ten years of full-time CO2 emissions plus CO2 emissions required to build the renewables plants. I don’t believe we can afford it; if we haven’t gone over the cliff yet, that level of atmosphere CO2 addition will surely drive us over.

  6. Superman1 says:

    PART 4 OF 4
    To prevent the global economic collapse that would result from the above, impose a Special Assessment of 50% on the net personal wealth of the top 1% in the USA and other countries. This would yield $16T in the USA alone. Partially reimburse those industries impacted by prohibition of non-essential uses of fossil fuels. If no one is willing to take this first step, bye-bye before 2100. The clock has run out for fooling around.

    • wili says:

      Great. Get someone to do this. It is a strategy without a tactic. It calls up the age-old question: “Who will bell the cat?”

      • Superman1 says:

        View this as a requirement. Kevin Anderson believes we need ‘planned austerity’ and Tim Garrett believes we need economic collapse to solve the emissions problem. This might, and I emphasize ‘might’, ease the pain.

        • wili says:

          I know. I’ve watched those pieces. I think they are probably optimistic.

          But please, please give us some inkling of any kind of tactic you may have of how to get there, besides sitting around and hoping that Obama declares himself an eco-dictator (not that I would necessarily be against such a move–but it’s not really an actionable plan).

          The fact is that one of the main things keeping our leaders from moving us in the right direction is that the richest industry in the history of money is exerting their considerable clout to constantly influence legislation.

          The main goal of the divestment program is to delegitimize ff industries. If that is successful, it could go a long way toward emboldening our leaders go move in the right directions–those you rightly point out we need to get going on.

          Let’s try to avoid shooting our allies.

          And again, please tell us your strategies. If they make sense, I will be happy to join you to implement them. But you have to _have_ a plan in order to implement one.

          What is your plan?

          • Superman1 says:

            PART 1 OF 2
            “Wili, You are one of the few voices of sanity on this site, who is obviously searching for a solution to the climate change problem. I have stated the requirements for possibly avoiding the impending catastrophe: terminating fossil fuel use ASAP; instituting low fossil fuel-based carbon recovery ASAP; instituting low-risk geo-engineering to quench the positive feedback mechanisms ASAP.” These are requirements, not a plan.

          • Superman1 says:

            PART 2 OF 2
            As I have stated previously, the first part of this is not salable. The plans that may be salable, e.g. converting to renewables while maintaining our energy intensive lifestyle, will take us over the cliff due to cumulative emissions during (and after) the transition period, as per Kevin Anderson. If it takes e.g. twenty years to transition to renewables, we will have in effect ten years of full-time fossil fuel use. No way that can happen without driving us over the cliff. In my view, there is no compromise here with Mother Nature. Any plan that increases the atmospheric CO2 levels above the danger zone of today is not acceptable by myself, and more importantly, by Mother Nature. So, as should be evident from my posts, other than the harsh, very harsh, medicine, I see no way out.

          • Superman1 says:

            An analogy. I’m an oncologist, I see spots on your lung x-ray, and tell you to stop smoking if you want to live. You state that’s too harsh, and ask if I can’t give you a pill. I respond that if you don’t stop smoking I can’t help you. If you want a pill, go to Dr. Secular or Dr. GingerBaker; they will give you one, and charge a good price. That’s where we are with climate change.

          • wili says:

            Great, sup. I agree. There is no time. We need strong medicine now.

            I just don’t know how one might get the patient to take the required medicine.

            Any insight toward first steps that could actually be acted upon would be most appreciated.

          • Superman1 says:

            Wili, I’ve been working in science and technology for over fifty years, including grad school, and this is the first quasi-technical problem I have encountered for which I do not see a feasible (forget about optimal) solution. The technically feasible solutions are not salable, and I don’t believe the salable solutions will solve the problem. I’m looking for compromises with the proposals on these blogs, but the first step has to be ‘eliminate all non-essential uses of fossil fuels now’. Can we survive if we convert to renewables and still maintain even essential uses of fossil fuel? Given that we’re way beyond what I believe is a safe temperature, I would need hard proof that even essential uses of fossil fuel won’t drive us over the cliff. I’m usually optimistic about the ability to solve technical problems, but so far, I don’t see a way out on this one.

          • wili says:

            Sup said:

            “The technically feasible solutions are not salable, and I don’t believe the salable solutions will solve the problem.”

            Very nicely put! A very succinct statement of the situation, the conundrum

            It certainly strikes me that the renewables folks goals all become much more feasible much sooner if we first reduce energy demand by 75% or more. And as Anderson points out, this is what is physically possible to do in the time frames we still may have available to us.

            I just don’t have a clear idea how to get there from here. The Transition Town movement is hopeful, but still very tiny, and ultimately we have to go beyond such purely voluntary efforts.

            I do think if the general perception was the accurate one–that we are facing an existential threat more threatening than any but all out nuclear war. In the face of such threats in the past, such as in WWII, we have and as a society accepted all sorts of personal sacrifice. (Note that it would be the height of absurdity during that war to claim that someone that was calling on sacrifice to support the war effort was somehow supporting the Gerrys!)

            But this threat is still not perceived as being as enormous as it is, and we have also grown a culture that seems to be allergic to any kind of personal sacrifice for any kind of greater good.

            So again, I really would appreciate any light you can throw my way about how to proceed in the kind of world Anderson and others have laid out for us.

            Give me a first step, and if it sounds reasonable, I will happily do it.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) provides a bevy of information about energy-efficient capital improvements for colleges and universities.

    http://www.aashe.org/

    • Joan Savage says:

      Bill McKibben’s statement is, “At some schools, some of the money can be re-invested in the college itself – in making the kind of green improvements that save substantial sums.”

  8. prokaryotes says:

    How many days will pass since fossil fuel business must pay for the destruction they cause on the environment ,health etc etc. let alone the c l i m a t e impact.

  9. Paul Magnus says:

    How Long Will PEOPLE Keep Investing in Companies (and banks and governments) Whose Stock Price Is Based on the Destruction of a Livable Climate?

  10. Polymerase says:

    Cognitive Dissonance Alert: Every time anyone of us puts gasoline or diesel into our car we are making an investment in fossil fuels. How many of you commenting on this blog today have not done this in the last month?

    I think that McKibbon’s efforts and everyone else’s would be better applied in campaigning for a carbon tax.

    The phrase “Carbon Tax” should be coming out of everyone’s mouth (and blog) every day, 24/7.

    Where are the leaders who will unite us and focus our efforts on this explicit and critical goal before the political winds shift out of our favor yet again?

    • Sasparilla says:

      While a carbon tax would be a great thing – there is no chance of it actually happening right now in the U.S. or for the foreseeable future (the GOP will not vote for a tax increase or climate legislation with the threat of a well funded primary challenger if they do courtesy of Grover Norquist / Other groups & a good chunk of Dems from the fossil fuel states will vote against it as they did when the House passed the Cap-N-Trade bill in 2009 that required GOP votes to pass and the current administration actively choose to let die in the Senate at the time).

      I believe Mr. McKibben is building support among the young (looking long term) on currently achievable goals (very worthwhile goals). These young folks will have a big part to play when climate change action is finally forced on the forces and politicians in D.C.. Guessing the timescale will be towards the end or after the end of this decade.

      • Polymerase says:

        McKibbon’s work to help young people organize on college campuses is a good thing that I don’t want to discourage. As I understand, his campaign is modeled after the successful anti-apartheid divestment campaigns of the 80s and 90s. I don’t see any real harm in his doing this, but the fact that 99.5% of us are currently using (and thereby investing in) fossil fuels every day seems to create a massive cognitive dissonance barrier for the public at large if you try to make putting gas in your car to get work the moral equivalent of supporting apartheid. It gets logically and morally messy when you drive your car on fossil fuel to attend a rally to demand that your university/employer/insurer divest completely from fossil fuel stocks.
        A carbon tax is a clear, simple, positive action that we can take to discourage fossil fuel use and encourage the use of renewables. Given the progress we have made in securing near-universal healthcare and advancing human rights in the USA in the last couple of decades, I do not believe that it is politically impossible for a carbon tax to pass the Congress, especially if the GOP/tea party continues on its current politically suicidal path.
        I do not suggest that a carbon tax and divestment are conflicting objectives. I just think that, if given the choice, working for a carbon tax is a better use of my time and attention.

    • Superman1 says:

      “I think that McKibbon’s efforts and everyone else’s would be better applied in campaigning for a carbon tax.” You need to understand this site; if it sounds-good and feels-good, that’s all that is required. Forget about tangibly impacting climate change.

    • BobbyL says:

      Last I heard Republicans don’t like the word tax. They called cap and trade a tax even though they invented the scheme to deal with acid rain. The best we can probably hope for is the EPA regulating carbon emissions. That would not require the approval of Congress.

    • John Hollenberg says:

      That’s why I bought a Leaf 20 months ago, which is powered with renewable energy. I divested from 500 gallons of gas a year to 100 gallons a year. That’s an 80% reduction, and the fuel savings over 100,000 miles will be about $12,000 (unless gas prices increase). It isn’t an all or none choice where gasoline use is concerned.

      • Polymerase says:

        DIsvestment we can believe in! Thanks for buying the Leaf. I want one, too. Would you buy a Leaf again, or instead another of the EVs that are coming out?

  11. Gingerbaker says:

    The first step, if we are serious and there is any time left, is to end all non-essential uses of fossil fuel. Prohibit vacation travel that involves fossil fuel as a primary or secondary source.

    The phrase “Carbon Tax” should be coming out of everyone’s mouth (and blog) every day, 24/7.

    Aaaargghh!

    There is no need to take on the oil industry. There is no need – and it is a terrible idea – to even propose draconian and painful measures to reduce fossil fuel use.

    Our transition to a fossil fuel-free future should be, and can easily be, not painful at all, heck it can be less than painless. It can actually increase our standard of living, give us more money in our pockets, and make our lives more comfortable than our fossil fuel economy.

    Fossil fuel use will disappear when – and only when – we deploy the renewable energy infrastructure to replace it. We can even afford to – and I believe we have an ethical obligation to – provide all our new renewable energy to all our citizens and businesses free of charge.

    We are accustomed to paying and paying and paying for our fuel and energy, because fossil fuels cost money to dig out of the ground, money to refine them, money to distribute them, money to store them, money to purchase and maintain the equipment that burns them, and money to clean up the environment because of them.

    But sunlight and wind are free of cost. You don’t have to to dig them out of the ground, or refine them, or store them or transport them on boats and trucks. You don’t burn them with equipment, and there is no cost to clean up their effects on the environment. They are free, once you pay the one-time cost to build the infrastructure to harness and distribute the resulting electricity they produce.

    Stop worrying about the fossil fuel industry. Stop trying to control it! Concentrate your efforts on deploying enough renewable energy infrastructure to completely replace it, and it wither away on its own.

    If we invest in large-scale Federal renewable energy infrastructure, we can provide all our energy at no cost to the people – they have paid for it already when they fund the construction of large-scale renewable energy projects.

    We simply need to get out of the mindset that our energy future has to be played according to the same rules as our fossil fuel past.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      We don’t have time to allow market forces to take over, Ginger. There is no carbon tax on the horizon, and plenty of coal and gas power plants are paid for or have little remaining debt.

      Be careful you don’t drift into the Revkin/Breakthrough “more research” meme. Be more like your namesake- I recommend Beware of Mr. Baker. The oil companies continue to push us around. Time to punch back.

    • Superman1 says:

      “provide all our new renewable energy to all our citizens and businesses free of charge.” The siren song of nuclear in the 50s was ‘too cheap to meter’; that same mantra was adopted in the 70s by fusion. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

      • Gingerbaker says:

        What is your point?

        That solar and wind power are as unrealizable as fusion? That solar and wind are as inherently as dangerous and expensive as nuclear? Your negativity apparently knows no bounds.

        • Superman1 says:

          When anyone proposes giving away energy for free, I put a tight grip on my wallet. If the fossil boys are reading proposals like yours, they must be grinning from ear-to-ear.

          • Gingerbaker says:

            They are grinning because I propose we replace them? What are you smoking!

            It is your cynical attitude that warms their heart, your negativity that makes them smile, your glib non sequitor responses that pleases them. Get bent.

          • Superman1 says:

            “I propose we replace them”. Your statement is not a ‘proposal’; it is a sales pitch, pure and simple, same as the sales pitches of SecularA. No evidence at all that your sales pitch won’t drive us over the cliff, for reasons I have stated above.

  12. SecularAnimist says:

    Gingerbaker responded to Superman1: “There is no need – and it is a terrible idea – to even propose draconian and painful measures to reduce fossil fuel use.”

    However, it is a “good idea” to constantly tell people that phasing out fossil fuels will require “draconian and painful measures” — IF, that is, you want to discourage them from doing anything.

    “There is no hope, there are no alternatives, eliminating fossil fuels will require you to live in a cave in poverty” — these are the fossil fuel industry’s talking points.

    Which Superman1 repeats, incessantly.

    • Gingerbaker says:

      Yes – a strange thing for a purported environmentalist to say.

      • Superman1 says:

        If we fully converted from fossil to renewables within a generation (20 years) without cutting our lifestyle, as has been proposed, we will have generated what amounts to ten years of present-day CO2 emissions in the process (plus CO2 required in the building of the new plant). We are well in the danger zone now, and that will certainly spell ‘game over’.

        • Gingerbaker says:

          Quite an assertion! Citation available? Or is it just another statistic you have pulled out of…. thin air?

    • Superman1 says:

      My priorities are saving the climate first, and making the renewables investors happy a distant second; yours are just the reverse.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    I live near Syracuse University which last fall welcomed Bill McKibben for a rousing standing-room only speech about divestment.

    One thing Bill McKibben explained in the speech – which bears repeating now – is the recommendation that divestment take place gradually over several years.

    Students and faculty have been carrying the initiative forward, and not too long ago an SU faculty group rated an article in the Nation.

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/172382/syracuse-faculty-group-support-fossil-fuel-divestment-campaign#

  14. Solar Jim says:

    Maybe the world should divest. Oil Change International identifies 3/4 trillion dollars of annual global fiscal subsidies (not including off-book health costs, etc. which are much larger in total). One can imagine how quickly a clean energy conversion would happen by changing the tax sign – from a negative carbon tax to positive sustainable redevelopment. Now that would be revolutionary (in keeping with America’s first principal, opposing servitude).

    • Solar Jim says:

      ALL fossil and fissile “fuel” technology investments in this century are ultimately based on unsustainable (i.e. bankrupting and harmful) permanent debt, which are temporarily avoided through schemes of limited liability, indemnification and socialized costs.

  15. Sasparilla says:

    I thought it was a great article and I salute Mr. McKibben in this push to actively bring our young college folks (who will be most affected by climate change and most important when it comes to changing this dangerous course we’re on) to become part of the solution.

    Having achievable goals that these young men and woman can work towards is very important and smart – as we’ll need them all when the time comes when its realistic to force action to happen in D.C. some years down the road.

    I’m rather surprised and taken aback at the venom sprayed at Mr. McKibben and his activities here. While I know the fossil fuel industry’s and their lackeys wouldn’t like what he’s doing (can you imagine what Sen Inhoffe would say about this?) – I see no downsides to this action whatsoever, only upsides and believe it should be encouraged. More sand in the gears of the fossil fuel industry…

  16. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    If you look at the energy return for energy investment, then the entire fossil fuel industry will be in trouble far sooner than most realize. If we have not developed alternatives prior to then then we all will be in deep trouble.

    We will have a fossil fuel free future absolutely guaranteed. The question is: will we have the alternatives ready in time?

    The stated reserves are not nearly as rosy as we seem to believe. All rely on cheap coventional oil to be viable. Even tar sands need conventional oil products.

    Fracking is very energy intensive and has surprisingly quick depletion rates. The financials say bubble.

    The choice is not renewables or fossil fuels. The choice is renewables or nothing.

    • Superman1 says:

      “then we all will be in deep trouble”. Why the future tense? Take a hard look at what is happening in the Arctic, especially with the recent finding of methane clathrates at a depth of 290 meters. Depending on the reserves at shallow depths, the problem may already be out of our controol.

  17. atcook27 says:

    Surely all that needs to be done is to invent a means of producing electricity cheaper than that prodced by coal fired power plants. Bjorn Lomberg is boarderline retarded but he has a point on this one. He advocates research until we have technology that is cheap enough to compete ( although I’m sure his motives are actually sinister ). My personal experience is a great example. I took part in a generous rebate scheme set up by our highly corrupt state governmtent a few years ago in Australia. My 5.0KW solar system cost me a whopping $25 000. My brother just installed a 2.0KW system and it cost him $2500. It pains me to say it but we live in a world where economics rules supreme. It is fruitless to play it by anyone but the umpires rules!

    • Sasparilla says:

      Fortunately the prices for Wind and Solar are projected to just keep on falling…it would be helpful if they were further along, but they’ll get there.

      The biggest driver to lower these costs isn’t R&D however as good ol Bjorn posits, its actual large scale implementation (which is happening now and helping to drive costs down).

  18. BobbyL says:

    A strategy to reduce fossil fuels has to go hand in hand with energy efficiency. To get off fossil fuels without extreme suffering a large of majority of buildings in the US have to be retrofitted for energy efficiency. Also, the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles has to be greatly increased. And such efficiency measures would have to take place world wide. The problem of course is that while energy efficiency generally saves money in the long run the up front costs are a barrier. The technology exists, particularly when it comes to retrofitting buildings, but how many people are willing to spend the money?

  19. Paul Klinkman says:

    I think that tobacco company stockholders should pay for all the lung cancer that they wantonly create. I think that BP stockholders should pay for ravaging the Gulf of Mexico and also for chemically disabling some residents. I think that all fossil fuel company stockholders should pay full price for wrecking the earth. A nice class action lawsuit should do the job. How’s that for taking on risky stocks?

  20. SecularAnimist says:

    Superman1 wrote: “You need to understand this site; if it sounds-good and feels-good, that’s all that is required”

    You need to understand Superman1:

    Solutions that are now available and proven to work must be denigrated and disparaged.

    Exaggerated and baseless claims that reducing emissions will require “draconian measures” to impose “painful sacrifices” and a near-poverty lifestyle must be repeatedly made.

    The problem must be portrayed as hopeless and an attitude of defeatism and despair maintained at all times.

    Any form of public protest or activism must be mocked as pointless and futile.

    • Superman1 says:

      We are well past the danger point in terms of atmospheric GHG concentrations. Any additional emissions place us further out on thin ice. These proposals for large-scale conversion to renewables while keeping our lifestyle represent the final raid on the Titanic’s pantry as she is going down.

      • Gingerbaker says:

        What nonsense! Getting to 100% renewables asap is a “raid on the Titanic’s pantry”?!?

        In what sense does harvesting free sunlight and using the electricity it provides doing any harm whatsoever?

        If we build extra capacity into the system, what does it matter how warm we heat our houses? The sun is free!!

        If we convert gobs of sunlight into gobs of electricity, would it matter if we keep extra lights on in the house? Drive as many miles as we want in a fully electric car?

        -> It doesn’t matter how much electricity we use if it comes from the sun or from the wind! It is pollution free, cost-free.

        You are sounding more absurd by the minute, Superman1, and you are parroting all the talking points of climate deniers. I no longer believe that you are acting in good faith here.

        • Duncan Noble says:

          I totally admire what McKibben is doing. He is inspiring a whole new generation of climate activists, and some, like me, are not young! And he is well aware that we are running out of time. Divestment is very strategic, as is NoKXL. We need to stop investing in new carbon infrastructure, now. AND we need to do a whole bunch of other things.

          Lets also be mindful of our rhetoric. NO technology is pollution free or cost free, when you consider its full life cycle. Perhaps orders of magnitudes better than fossils fuels, but certainly not impact free. Making wind turbines and solar panels requires energy. The payback is fast, and the environmental benefits are huge, but don’t confuse that with impact or cost free.

          BTW, a recent study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance indicated that “Unsubsidised renewable energy is now cheaper than electricity from new-build coal- and gas-fired power stations in Australia”. Details are available at:

          http://about.bnef.com/press-releases/renewable-energy-now-cheaper-than-new-fossil-fuels-in-australia/

        • Superman1 says:

          “In what sense does harvesting free sunlight and using the electricity it provides doing any harm whatsoever?”

          I told you exactly why it’s nonsense in #12 above, but you conveniently chose not to respond. Ten years full-time equivalent of fossil fuel combustion during the transition process will drive us right over the cliff. But you, Secular, and the other renewables investors will be smiling in the process.

        • Superman1 says:

          All we are getting from you, SecularA, and the other Carnival Barkers is a sales pitch for CONverting to renewables, nothing more. There is zero evidence that all the fossil fuel that will be expended by the time the CONversion is complete won’t have driven us well over the cliff. Emphasis on CON!

  21. DangergirlHope says:

    If you want your kids to grow up with the same opportunities you had, the time for solving climate change is now. http://clmtr.lt/cb/pyk0ol