Friday, December 28, 2012

Student Voices - #2

Subsidizing Climate Change

On December 4th, The New York Times published a piece that has quickly risen to the top of the “Most E-Mailed” list. Written by Justin Gillis, "To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios," outlines the cross-country tour of Bill McKibben and his organization,  McKibben is a seasoned environmental activist whose new project just might take the environmental movement to the next level.  He just wrapped up his "Do the Math" tour which stopped in over 20 cities across the nation. It mobilized activists, especially students, for this next chapter of the environmental movement.

Environmentalists were feeling pretty discouraged by the end of the presidential elections in November. Throughout all three debates, climate change went unmentioned despite the extreme weather events that perhaps should have prompted a different response from our elected officials. McKibben urges us to “connect the dots,” and observe the correspondence between each year breaking new heat records and hurricanes causing an increasing amount of damage. Further, he urges us to reflect on the cause of that warming. He said, “We should not have called it Hurricane Sandy, we should have called it Hurricane Exxon.” Only the tiniest fraction of climate scientists denies the connection between our consumption of carbon emitting energy resources like coal, oil, and gas.

McKibben and his new campaign aim to not only connect these dots, but to hold the energy companies accountable. Many universities have invested their endowment in the stocks of energy companies, but McKibben and the student activists that he is working with are campaigning to change that. McKibben gave students the information, the tactics, and the pep talk at each of his 21 stops across the country. Now, students are taking this momentum back to campus to continue the fight. Already, Swarthmore College is well into their campaign. They are finding that the administration on campus largely supports the ideas they are working towards, it is just an issue of getting the College to divest from the stocks. Admittedly, this will be challenging. Energy stocks are safe and profitable investments; they are littered throughout mutual funds and endowments. Despite the recovery our economy has made, it is still volatile, and the prospect of re-allocating investments can be daunting.

There are risks, however, that are not being accounted for in the market. Our energy companies may be profitable stocks, but they pose a considerable threat to our nation. We have already pushed our climate past the point of where we might have been able to undo some of the damage we have done. We are already enduring some of the consequences of our fossil-fuel consumption, as we saw with Hurricane Sandy. There were over 100 casualties internationally, entire regions were without power, and many people lost their homes. How much more damage will we do, and how much more damage will we endure, before we realize we must stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry?

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