“Do the Math” on climate change
Tour encourages universities to divest from fossil fuels
Last Thursday, self-proclaimed “professional bummer-outer” Bill McKibben was at Portland State via a livestream broadcast for the second stop in his 21-city “Do the Math” tour. McKibben, environmental writer and founder of the nonprofit 350.org, is leading a nationwide tour to inspire universities and organizations to divest from the fossil fuel industry, a tactic McKibben related to the divestment of South Africa during the struggle against apartheid.
“As of tonight, we’re going after the fossil fuel industry,” he said.
Bill McKibben simulcast at PSU. Photo by Mark Shearer.
This past summer set records across the globe, and not the kind of Olympic gold medal performances we all enjoy. July was the hottest month ever recorded in the United States, coinciding with one of the worst Midwest droughts in recent history. Arctic sea ice melted to the lowest level ever recorded, and satellite imagery confirmed the shrinking ice caps at the North Pole. Then, a week before the Presidential election—in a political atmosphere where neither candidate had addressed climate change in their entire campaigns—Hurricane Sandy battered the Caribbean islands and put the east coast underwater. Are we starting to connect the dots?
350.org’s “Do the Math” tour aims to bring the science behind climate change to public forums across the country. According to McKibben, the fossil fuel industry has 2,795 gigatons (billion tons) in reserve, nearly five times the maximum amount we can safely emit before our planet’s temperature will warm 2 degrees Celsius. Even the United States has agreed that a 2 degree global temperature increase would be devastating.
McKibben’s lecture wasn’t all fire and brimstone. His most visual analogy to illustrate what the rise in our planet’s temperature would look like came with a unique prop: beer. McKibben equated 2 degrees Celsius to the legal drinking-driving limit of 0.08 blood alcohol. Imagine you have a friend who drinks two beers over the course of a couple hours, raising their blood alcohol level to the legal limit. Technically he or she could still drive, but McKibben likened the fossil fuel industry to your local bartender—if that bartender proceeded to serve your friend an additional thirty-pack of Keystone Light (excuse the pun!) and then walk him out to his car. An industry whose C.E.O.s make $100,000 a day and whose business spends $100 million a day searching for new fossil fuel reserves doesn’t want us to stop after only two beers.
“Hammered, smashed, wasted, torched, ripped,” said McKibben. If we don’t act now, these won’t be the words that describe our friend, but the adjectives that describe our planet.
Grant Neely is a senior English major at Portland State University.