McKibben Pushes End of Fossil Fuels

Environmental activist Bill E. McKibben ’82, a former Crimson president, and writer Naomi Klein lambasted oil companies and promoted divestment from fossil fuel companies at Boston’s Orpheum Theater Thursday night.

In particular, McKibben said he viewed Harvard, whose student body is currently considering a divestment referendum, as having a special responsibility to take part in the fossil fuel divestment movement. "Harvard is the place, as much as any place, where we learned what was going on with climate change," McKibben said in a session with journalists before the event. "So where does Harvard, or MIT, get off not following through with that message?" The obligation to divest, he said, is "an absolutely special obligation, because they’re the ones who taught us what was going on."

McKibben also pointed to the pride Harvard takes in green initiatives on campus, saying "If you’re going to green the campus, by what logic do you not also green the portfolio? ...It’s not okay to have energy-wasting buildings, why is it okay to be making money off Exxon?"

Organized by 350.org, a group founded by McKibben and dedicated to cutting carbon dioxide emissions, the event Thursday targeted fossil fuel companies, whose business model, Klein said, "is to declare war on life on Earth."

"It’s the industry that’s trying to wreck the future," said McKibben, pointing to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 Midwest drought as evidence that the problem of climate change was increasing.

McKibben and Klein pointed to three numbers in their event to support their points. The first was two, as in two degrees Celsius. "If the world officially believes anything about climate change," said McKibben," it’s that two degrees is too much" for the earth’s climate. McKibben said that, as of now, the temperature has already risen by one degree due to carbon emissions, and that if the earth puts more than 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere (the second number), the temperature will rise another degree.

The third number, 2,795 gigatons, is the amount of carbon that McKibben said fossil fuel companies had in their reserves. “Unless we figure out a way to intervene, it’s gonna be burnt,” said McKibben.

In order to halt this occurence, McKibben and Klein prescribed starting with divestment. "If it’s wrong to wreck the climate, then it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage," said McKibben.

Although many stark predictions were voiced last night, McKibben pointed to the enthusiastic crowd of volunteers as cause for hope. "I can’t guarantee that we’re going to win, but I gotta say, looking around the Orpheum Theater tonight, I really like our odds," said McKibben.

The event was one of 21 in a nationwide tour organized by 350.org to promote divestment. But, as Naomi Klein said, "it’s not gonna end with divestment. By the end, anybody who takes fossil fuel money is gonna have to justify themselves."

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