Bill McKibben is one of the most endearing speakers you could hope to hear. From his quiet humour to his logic to his message of despair and hope both at once it is so worth hearing. he is funny, bright, strangely humble and making things happen.
This is a short version of what he said tonight in Auckland at the launch of his Do the Maths Tour from a venue in Auckland which was streamed live to 11 other cities. He continues on to Wellington and Dunedin.
"This feels important to me . It feels like the last campaign that I’m gonna fight .Not cos Im getting tired, although sometimes I do feel that, but because the planet is getting tired.
Over the last quarter century we’ve figured out what we need to do .And what we have to do is go after the fossil fuel industry . Some of you may even need to go to jail. I was asked the other day by a journalist as to whether this may be futile a sort of David vs Goliath battle. And I can understand that, but then I thought wait Im a Methodist Sunday school teacher. I know how that story comes out.
Here’s the math- to increase to 2 degrees we can burn 565 gigatons of fossil fuels
That’s about 14 years at the current rate of 31.5 gigatons per year .Its the cumulative emissions of Co2 that set the limit.
But the oil and coal companies already have on their books and in teir reserves 2795 gigatons of fossil fuels . That’s above the line in their financials. It’s 5 times what we can burn but we will burn it
The end of this story is written unless we change the script.
These companies are outlaws-not against the laws of the state cos they have in fact often written those , but against the laws of physics.
Exxon alone has 7% of the carbon needed to take us past 2 degrees. On its own.
Oil companies do know what they are doing .Are we addicted to oil? No. The real addiction is to the profit level of fossil fuel companies. They are making so much money they think they can’t stop.
We know now how to avoid this. 25 years ago environmentalists had their fingers crossed because we weren’t so sure. But now we know. Last summer the Germans drew on some days 50% of their energy from solar.
Its not technical skill that we lack so much as political will. We can’t wait for great politicians to save us . We’ve been waiting for 25 years . The trouble is not some sinister conspiracy. The trouble is business as usual .The scandal is not the scandal . It’s what’s normal that is the scandal.
We need to turn on fossil fuel companies in the same way as we have the tobacco industry. Let’s cost them their social licence. Tarnish them. The divestment campaign is one campaign that seeks to do that . It seeks also to educate people that fossil fuel companies are putting 5 times as much carbon into the atmosphere than what takes us to 2 degrees of warming.
Divestment was a tool used in the fight against apartheid in South Africa
In the US 380 colleges are campaigning to sell their stock and shares in fossil fuel companies. Cities are doing the same And communities of faith . If you are a church group its not okay to be investing in fossil fuel companies that are running Genesis backwards.. Apartheidwas a crime against humanity. And so is climate change. And in that campaign, as Desmond Tutu says the corporations understood the logic of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality.
My theory of change when I wrote my first book on climate change 25 years ago was that people would read my book and change. We need some new theories. We’re not going to be able to outspend the fossil fuel money. We’re going to have to find other currencies.
I found being in jail wasn’t that much fun but it wasn’t the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world.And actually if you think about it, its better that elders take their rightful place as elders and get arrested if necessary. Young people have doen more than their fair share on climate action.
All we are asking for is a planet that works a little like the one we were born on to. That’s actually a deeply conservative demand . it’s the fossil fuel radicals who seek to alter the chemical composition of the planet .Our job is to check that radicalism before it overwhelms every sweet thing on this beautiful earth.
In New Zealand a massive subsidy goes directly from the Government to the oil and gas industry . From a subsidy of $6 million in 2009 that has now grown to $46 million. Of our money going to the very industries that need it the least. So the campaign in NZ will begin with not spending our tax in helping the fossil fuel industry, the richest industry in the world –of all time"