If climate scientists (and climate change modelers) are correct that the burning of more than a small fraction of the world’s available fossil fuel reserves will trigger changes that will induce paroxysms of preventable suffering, then prudence, honor, and justice dictate that we should act to prevent that from happening.
McKibben and friends have stepped up their climate change campaign by making it more precise and direct. (His videotaped guests included Naomi Klein, Desmond Tutu, and Greenpeace International’s Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, while his live guests included Anaïs Mitchell, along with many coworkers, some of whom are students at my and McKibben’s universities, his being Middlebury College, 40 minutes south of here.)
Their new strategy is to go directly after fossil fuel company profits. And they will go after them with the threat of divestment — with campaigns aimed specifically at universities, churches, credit unions, and other organizations that invest in fossil fuel company profits.
Divestment was a crucial, and ultimately successful, piece of the anti-South African apartheid campaign back in the 1980s. McKibben is betting on it being much harder this time around — because the enemy is larger and much more powerful — but also that it is possible and necessary.
There’s an air of the religious revival meeting at these 350.org gatherings. And sometimes McKibben’s oversimplifying rhetoric can grate just a little: “end of nature,” “end of this planet,” “crimes against the laws of physics and chemistry”. . . (Zizek will no doubt tear away at these kinds of ideas at his talk here next Tuesday. More on that soon.)
I prefer to speak of avoidable, unnecessary, and probably cataclysmic suffering. Compare that to the suffering of fossil fuel industry CEOs and investors losing some of their profit margins: is it worth all that money spent buying your vast political clout, boys?
(Lawrence Lessig gave a talk in the next building just before McKibben’s event, in which he pretty precisely articulated a strategy for taking that political power away from the moneyed class in this country. More or less from his last book. Watch an earlier version of it here.)
But this turn of strategy is exactly the way to go. As long as fossil fuel companies are allowed to make profits without paying the costs, in lives and in damages, that accrue from their activities, they will continue to do so. Capitalism will require it, and it will guarantee that they remain among the largest profit generators on the planet.
Capitalism won’t be brought down anytime soon (unless it brings itself down), but its rules can and ought to be changed for companies whose activities carry such high risks to so many individuals, communities, and species around the world.
Flooding in Manila, Philippines, in the wake of Typhoon Haikui this past August