Do the Math on Climate Change

by MaryBeth Radeck

Environmental activist Bill McKibben has been writing and speaking about the risks and calamities of climate change for 25 years and he is tired of waiting for us to listen to his well-constructed arguments. McKibben knows he’s fighting an uphill battle. Inertia rules the day especially during trying economic times. But he tries anyway, by winning the hearts and minds of citizens. His message is clear and he confronts the same complacency which Martin Luther King, Jr. confronted. Why change when it’s working for some people and the rest don’t see how utterly hoodwinked they are? He is morally indignant, and rightfully so. What are we leaving for the next four generations?

McKibbenIn the film “Do the Math,” McKibben’s efforts across the United States are endorsed by scientists and environmentalists. His commitment is depicted through rallies and civil disobedience. McKibben decries the fossil fuel industry’s “outsized profit for a few” and actions which will “lay (the Earth) to waste.” He passionately enlists us in an epic battle for survival and makes a compelling argument. He speaks out against silent support of the fossil fuel industry by ignoring that they “are dumping their pollution (emissions) for free” and illuminates us to our folly: “we pay them to pollute”. McKibben provides the steps and then insists we take action to confront those who have the most to gain from mankind’s loss: the oil industry.

Other voices chime in, too, in helping to define that emissions greater than 350ppm are  incompatible with life as we know it or more softly “on which civilization developed and which life on Earth is adapted.”  But it’s McKibben who provides clarity around what is really happening and what cannot. He makes three important points which we all must understand.

1) In order to limit our emissions to achieve less than 2 degrees warming globally and preserve life as we know it; we must

2) limit our global emissions to 565 gigatons annually. If we do, we have a reasonable chance to stay below the 2 degrees warmer target. However,

3) 2,795 gigatons of emissions are already a part of oil companies’ plans to be burned, which is five times more than is safe to pump into the atmosphere, which will accelerate global warming and make life untenable.

Clearly, the fossil fuel industry has the most to gain from business as usual as opposed to any change whatsoever. And they are mighty, too. McKibben explains that the hydrocarbon industry is the most profitable industry in history. Earning $137 billion per year, they receive $6.6 million in tax breaks and spend $440 thousand per day lobbying Congress.  Still, McKibben calls on them to help reduce emissions. He asks them to:

  • Stop lobbying
  • Stop exploring for new hydrocarbons
  • Turn themselves into true energy companies, and
  • Keep 80% of their reserves underground

McKibben rallies citizens, too. He reminds us that efforts to resist business as usual are not too big to tackle by describing what 350.org has done to date: 5,200 demonstrations, civil disobedience against the Keystone XL pipeline and other actions. He asks citizens to join in and divest themselves of oil stocks, make no new investments in fossil fuels and pledge to “wind down current positions.” He reminds us that “we have a moral responsibility to withdraw” and he enlists students to join the efforts by pressuring college administrators to divest themselves of oil industry investments. McKibben calls on the country to “make the renewable leap” and enact new legislation to support green technologies.

McKibben’s “Do the Math” does just that. It provides detailed targets and a tangible plan for reducing emissions, and then insists we all take action to change. He asks everyone, including the oil industry, to participate in our own future, and release ourselves and the Earth from the shortsighted, self-destructive shackles of petrochemical addiction. He and others make an impassioned plea for participation in what he describes as our defining moment. He points out that we deserve a better future which requires conscious choice and firm action. And he even points the way.

So why not then? What are we waiting for?

Radeck MaryBethMaryBeth Radeck is a Sustainability Studies major at Roosevelt University, where she also works as an environmental sustainability associate at RU’s Schaumburg Campus and manages the university’s 2-year-old community garden.

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