The Fight to Save the Planet from the Fossil Fuel Industry Heats Up with Divestment Campaign

--Sara Jerving and Mary Bottari

The election is over, but the fight to save the planet from the rapacious fossil fuel industry is just gearing up. Hurricane Sandy reminded us that our slowly warming planet will continue to produce bigger and more dangerous monster storms, coupled with other types of severe weather, until we begin to address climate change with the urgency it deserves.

Bill McKibben, a leading climate crusader and founder of, hammered this point when he embarked on a national "Do The Math" sustainable-fuel bus tour the day after the election. McKibben hopes to hit the fossil fuel industry where it hurts the most, on its bottom line. He will be visiting college campuses across the nation demanding that they divest from an industry which appears hell bent on killing the planet. He will be joined by other leading voices including The Nation magazine's Naomi Klein and Josh Fox, director of the documentary film Gasland which documents the dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for shale oil and gas.

While Obama has a better track record than Romney on supporting renewable energy and has increased fuel efficiency standards for cars, the administration has not tackled the topic of climate change in a serious and comprehensive way and has impeded international agreements to do so.

As CMD has reported the industry saturated the airwaves this election cycle with urgent demands to drill, frack, burn. Hydraulic fracturing is on the rise and the International Energy Agency just announced that the U.S. is set to become the world's biggest oil producer within 10 years, surpassing Saudi Arabia. hopes to reverse these trends and start a national movement to push the White House and Congress to act on climate change.

Hit the Fossil Fuel Industry Where it Hurts Most

We have to go after the fossil fuel companies head on and tell them that they can't destroy the world.--Naomi, along with the Responsible Endowments Coalition, Sierra Student Coalition, Energy Action Coalition, California Student Sustainability Coalition, and more, is launching a divestment campaign to convince colleges and universities to lead the way and pull their endowment funds from fossil fuel companies.

Modeled on the successful effort to get colleges, pension funds, churches, cities, and states to divest from apartheid South Africa, the groups are asking ethical investors to freeze new investments in fossil fuel companies and divest from direct ownership or commingled funds, which include public equities and corporate bonds. The top 500 colleges and universities alone hold endowments worth an estimated $400 billion. Removing fossil fuel investments from this sum, will make "ExxonMobil, Shell, and Peabody sweat," says

The campaign is targeting 200 publicly traded companies which hold the majority of the world's fossil fuel reserves. These firms include Severstal JSC, Anglo American PLC, BHP Billiton, Shanxi Coking Co. Ltd., Exxaro Resources Ltd., Lukoil Holdings, Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, Gazprom OAO, and Chevron Corp. The climate campaigners want these firms to stop exploring for new hydrocarbons and to keep 80 percent of their current reserves underground if there is any hope in turning the tide on the damage already done. While these demands seem extreme, scientists believe this is what is needed to reverse the planet's dangerous warming curve.

Some are already heeding the call. Unity College in Maine was the first to respond to the coalition's call. On November 5, 2012, the college announced that its Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuel companies.

"The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in destructive practices," Unity College President Stephen Mulkey wrote. "Higher education has always been dedicated to the highest standards of honesty and integrity. If our nation's colleges and universities will not take a stand now, who will?"

Kill the Keystone XL

Squeezing the companies themselves is one tactic in the fight, another critical battle is stopping the Keystone XL pipeline which is slated to bring heavy tar sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries to sell on the U.S. market and to ship overseas. Although the Obama administration has delayed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline after and other groups organized over 1,500 peaceful arrests last year, a final decision on the pipeline is pending in 2013, making it a top policy priority for climate change campaigners. They will be sponsoring a rally in Washington, DC on November 18 to convince the Obama administration to finally reject the pipeline. The administration denied the pipeline's northern permit last January, but has allowed TransCanada to reapply for a permit with a new proposal for an alternate route that avoids the Nebraska Sandhills. The extraction related to the pipeline would add 900,000 barrels of oil worth of carbon to the atmosphere every day.

It is important to note that TransCanada, which already started building the Southern portion of the pipeline, is expecting that Obama will approve the pipeline's final link.


With its post-election bus tour, hopes to provide a "launchpad for a new kind of movement" to combat climate change. The tour will be stopping in 21 cities in 21 nights. The tour started in Seattle, but will head to the east coast and places in between before ending in Salt Lake City. The tour will highlight the findings on climate change featured in McKibben's July Rolling Stone piece "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math." Some of the most compelling figures from this article include:

  • The earth's temperature has raised .8 degrees Celsius, which has already been more problematic than scientists had projected. Most world governments have agreed that warming above 2 degrees would be disastrous. One-third of the Arctic's summer sea ice has already melted and the oceans are 30 percent more acidic.
  • If we stopped increasing CO2 levels now, the temperature would still rise another 0.8 degrees. This already lands us at three-fourths of the dangerous 2 degrees Celsius target.
  • The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists, estimates that proven fossil fuel reserves of the industry and countries like Venezuela or Kuwait, which essentially operate as fossil-fuel companies, have five times the amount we can release to stay within that 2 degrees Celsius increase.

The Cost of Inaction

Twenty years of knowledge, but inaction on climate change has only made the situation much worse. The continental United States is on track to have had the warmest year on record, and a summer drought and one of the worst wildfires in history devastated American communities. Even the private sector is taking heed. In October, a German reinsurance company, Munich Re, released a report on severe weather in North America. The report noted that "nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America." The report found "a nearly quintupled number of weather-related loss events in North America for the past three decades," with damages totaling $1.06 trillion.

Obama added climate change to his list of concerns in his victory speech, but is asking that people take concrete action to keep the pressure on Obama and "let the President know we haven't forgotten, and that our conviction hasn't cooled."

To find out when the bus tour reaches your city, click here and join at the White House on November 18.


This is all well and great but the author and activists mentioned are totally ignoring economics. The fossil fuel industry doesn't pollute, the population that consumes gasoline and electricity produced by conventional fossil fuel methods pollutes. And guess what? The majority of citizens will continue to buy the cheapest forms of energy possible, Oil companies aren't to blame for the fact that fossil fuels are cheap. The responsibility for pollution falls squarely on those in charge of domestic policy and the choices of the average joe! Stop demonizing an industry that also owns much of the wind and solar being deployed, its non-sensical!

are you that blind to what's going on around the world. Look at the niger delta, or the gulf of mexico just to name 2 top examples. Big oil doesn't care about the planet, all about profits. Its also a lie to say Big oil is going green with wind, solar energy programs.

You're right. Of course it's not fossil fuel companies, but their customers, that are causing global warming. Likewise, it was people who used spray cans, not the companies that made CFCs, that almost destroyed the ozone layer and exposed hundreds of millions to cancerous radiation. Yet we phased out and then outlawed the sale of CFCs. We should phase out and then outlaw the sale of fossil fuel. A government mandated phase out is what has worked for other environmental problems. Nothing else will work for fossil fuels, because it's cheapest without any kind of price to account for its harm--as you argued in your comment. Stop protecting an industry at the expense of civilization and human suffering, as if it were some sort of idol. You are demonizing fossil fuel by fighting for its unnaturally long survival.

Global warming? Are you people still buying that hoax? It may be hard to change your religion, but this is clearly a false one.

I look forward to the day when they urge people to use much less energy, carpool, drive slower, give up cars, take Amtrak, embrace steady state economics, etc. It's nice to divest but as long as nearly everyone eats food shipped across time zones divestment is unlikely to be much more than a rounding error. I guess it's also asking too much for these groups to notice the Democrats and Republicans are both pushing for more than a trillion dollars in new and expanded highways. Obama even wants to increase funding for more roads above the level that George W. Bush pushed. has details. I bought my first solar electric panel in 1990. Solar energy is great but it's not going to replace our current consumption. I guess the "left" forgot what Mr. Marx wrote about controlling the means of production and they certainly are not interested in the concept of "net energy" / energy return on energy invested. Solar and wind are great but they're not going to fuel cross continental food delivery trucks. How many environmental groups teach their "members" to tear up their lawns and grow food? Mark Robinowitz

An how about the amount of fuel the military uses?

The fastest mitigation to climate change is to severely reduce consumption of animal foods. About 1/2 of human induced warming is attributable to animal agriculture. Methane is 24 times more potent than CO2 and takes only 7 years to cycle out of the atmosphere. CO2 takes around 100 years to come out. Human pursuit of animal protein is the leading cause of methane release and a primary cause of CO2 concentrating in the atmosphere. Check the facts and act! "As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease." Worldwatch Institute, "Is Meat Sustainable?" "The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency." UN Food and Agricultural Organization's report "Livestock's Long Shadow" “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains... the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: and "Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet." ~ Albert Einstein

Sandy was not a "superstorm." Although vast in size, when it hit land, it was a "post sub-tropical depression," had less than hurricane-force winds, and relatively little rain. What made it so damaging was that the storm had a record-setting low barometric pressure and it came ashore exactly at high tide. These factors caused an extremely high storm surge, causing almost all of the damage directly attributable to the storm (i.e., not including damage such as fires that were secondary to the storm). Sandy's course was also unusual in that it was directed towards shore by a high pressure zone in the Atlantic, and inshore it joined another storm system, contributing to heavy precipitation inland (not on the shore where most of the damage was caused by the storm surge). Global warming? Hardly. Global warming actually predicts storms of lower intensity, because there is less difference in temperatures between lower and higher latitudes (global warming predicts a higher increase in temperatures at higher latitudes than at lower latitudes). It is the temperature difference that promotes storm formation. Energy in lower latitudes disperses into areas of lower energy at higher latitudes. This conveyor effect is lessened when temps are homogenized. "Superstorm Sandy" is just hype promoted by global warming extremists. I suggest reading "Climate of Extremes" by two scientists (one a climatologist the other an environmental scientist) who believe in anthropogenic global warming, but who also believe that its effects have been greatly exagerated for political and monetary (grant money) purposes.