The Middlebury College professor founded 350.org with students to spark worldwide awareness and action. Annual campaigns and projects draw international participation. Do the Math is now streaming widely:
Warming crisis: It’s here
The threat from “climate change, water shortages, food shortages and rising energy prices is enormously troubling,” says Gus Speth, co-founder of NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). Human and economic costs are rising.
“We’re no longer at the point of trying to stop global warming. We’re too late for that,” McKibben tells one audience on the Do the Math Tour. “We’re at the point of trying to keep it from becoming a complete and utter calamity.”
The warmest year on record also saw the world’s most extreme weather, says McKibben. That year was 2012.
The number “350″ refers to the maximum ppm (parts per million) of atmospheric carbon that is safe for life as we know it. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide reached 395 ppm in 2013, McKibben notes. Unless we make drastic changes in how we produce energy, it will keep rising.
Fossil fuel industry cheats
Big Oil and Big Coal have paid zero for their carbon emissions for 150 years. “Nobody should be able to pollute for free,” says Van Jones (The Green Collar Economy), CEO and founder of Rebuild the Dream. “You can’t. I can’t.”
“We are paying them to continue to keep polluting,” says Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine). ”It’s tax breaks, it’s loans, it’s the fact that armies protect their pipelines and protect their trade routes.”
The top five oil companies (Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips) made $137 billion in profits in 2012, McKibben notes. That equals $375 million every day. They receive $6.6 million a day in Federal tax breaks. They spend $440,000 per day lobbying Congress.
“These companies are a rogue force. They’re outlaws,” McKibben asserts. “If they carry out their business plan the planet tanks.”
They pollute, we subsidize
“We subsidize the fossil fuel industries,” says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). “You’re helping them stay on top and preventing their competitors like renewable fuels from competing. What we need is a level playing field.”
“What the fossil fuel industry is doing is locking us into a future that we can’t survive,” says Klein. Three conservative groups – The World Bank, the International Energy Agency and Price Waterhouse Cooper – all warned in 2012 that “if we do nothing more but the same, if we dig up those reserves, we are headed towards 4 to 6 degrees warming Celsius.”
“As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will continue to be used. The solution is to begin to put a price on carbon emissions,” says Dr. James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute.
“Game over” for climate and communities
Dirtier and more dangerous methods are being used to deplete limited resources. Tar sands. Shale oil. Fracking. Mountaintop removal. Deep sea drilling. These options are so bad that they make the choice for clean energy that much easier, says Michael Bruce, executive director of the Sierra Club.
“Why would we build a 1,000 mile pipeline, taking almost a million barrels of oil from the most carbon-intensive fuel source on the planet, when wind energy is a whole lot cheaper, and a whole lot cleaner?” asks Bruce. “Why would we drill in the Arctic when we know that solar power can meet our energy needs across the country? Why would we frack our countrysides and our watersheds when we know that energy efficiency would save more energy than natural gas can provide?”
“The planet’s going to be around for some time to come,” notes Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. “What’s at stake now is civilization.”
Divestment movements multiply
Hundreds of colleges, universities and municipalities are divesting completely from fossil fuel investments. Divestment brought down apartheid in South Africa, the film notes.
Industries which once worked to benefit the world are now destroying it, McKibben declares. “They should lose their social license, their veneer of respectability.”
“The long-term solution to climate change is very clear. We need to make the leap to renewable energy and we need to do it quickly.” An immediate freeze on fossil fuel investments is called for. “We could be using that public money, taxpayer money, to make the shift to green energy,” says Klein.
All our big problems have “very local solutions,” says Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx. Local solutions lead to all kinds of environmental, economic and social benefits, she finds.
Can we solve the climate crisis?
Action is the best antidote to despair, McKibben believes. “It’s only when we’re working with other people, as many other people as possible, that we have any hope.” Anyone can get involved. Recent 350.org campaigns have included “A Million Comments Against Keystone XL” and “Local 350: Activist Groups Around the World.”
The film opens in front of the White House during a Keystone XL pipeline demonstration. Arrested that day were McKibben, Jones, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., business leaders, farmers, ranchers, grandparents, moms and dads.
A solution is “by no means impossible,” says Brown. Prior to World War II, the U.S. industrial economy was restructured in a matter of months. “We can restructure the world energy economy over the next decade,” he observes.