Making History with Divestment

Posted on behalf of Alli Welton and Ben Thompson.

In the 1980s, apartheid was an injustice too terrible to be ignored. Today, global warming is the tremendous injustice that demands our generation to unite and take action. Hampshire College made history last Monday when it was revealed to students that its endowment is currently free of fossil fuels after an earlier responsible investment shift, just as it made history thirty- five years ago as the first of many schools to divest from companies that supported apartheid in South Africa. Now the rest of us must join together on our campuses and across the country to fight for divestment from fossil fuels so we can take down the climate crisis as students before us took down apartheid.

Students are already calling for divestment from coal, oil, and natural gas companies at roughly thirty schools, from Lewis & Clark to Cornell. Unfortunately, the administration at many of these schools have not yet followed Hampshire’s example of bold ethical leadership. At Harvard University, for instance, President Faust declared that she would not use the endowment to fight climate change. At Boston University, President Brown all but refused to even meet with students to discuss the proposal.

We see that fossil fuel divestment will not be an easy battle, but it will be worth the effort. Higher education endowments represent $400 billion across the United

States, a substantial sum of money to withhold from oil, gas, and coal companies. Our institutions can send a powerful message to the financial community and the world, signaling to investors that fossil fuels are a dying industry they should divest from quickly because our generation will not stand for a world powered by deadly energy.

Furthermore, divestment campaigns are a labor of love for our communities. Fossil fuel companies are inherently risky investments that higher education institutions would be wise to avoid. As Bill McKibben made clear this summer in his article in Rolling Stone, we can only burn 565 gigatons more carbon before going over the UN-sanctioned 2 degree upper limit for warming, but the share prices of fossil fuel companies reflect the 2795 gigatons stored in their reserves underground. That carbon cannot be burnt– the facade will fall away eventually, society will realize that those gigatons must remain underground, and fossil fuel stocks will tank. Universities lost up to 30% of their endowments when the housing bubble burst in 2008 and stocks crashed, resulting in budget constraints, job slashing, and painful cuts to financial aid. Our schools cannot afford to suffer similar losses a second time when the carbon bubble bursts.

Divestment has the potential to unite us across our campuses and create a national student movement. We are all tired of trying to work within the political system where far too many politicians are the lapdogs of Big Coal and Big Oil rather than the guardians of the public interest. We are all sick of wasting hours negotiating with our administrations to win funding for energy-saving light bulbs only to turn around and see our planet still hurtling over the edge. It is time to directly attack the corporations responsible for the climate crisis. Through divestment, we can start to take away some of the wealth and thus the power of the corporate fossil fuel tyrants. And by uniting students across the country in this fight, we will create a national student movement so powerful that politicians will not be able to ignore us when it comes time to take on Washington.

This will be the chapter in the climate movement’s history when we finally start to win. Join us.

Alli Welton is an undergraduate student at Harvard College and Ben Thompson is a graduate student at Boston University. Both are members of Students for a Just and Stable Future, a student-led organization partnering with Better Future Project and 350.org on university divestment campaigns. Join our national day of action for fossil fuel divestment on October 24th or learn more about starting a divestment campaign at your school at  www.divestforourfuture.org or by contacting media@justandstable.org.

Report Highlights New England’s Green Initiatives

State of the Movement report shows emerging move away from fossil fuels

Posted on behalf of Sam Akiha, Communications and Research Intern at Better Future Project

As a reminder that sustainability is not an annual event, Better Future Project today released The State of the Movement: New England’s Transition Beyond Fossil Fuels, a new report that catalogues sustainability efforts throughout the region. The report details dozens of local projects that are not simply about recycling or solar panels; rather, people investing time and energy to transform their community one garden, one street, or one building at a time.  It demonstrates that the movement beyond fossil fuels is diverse and thriving.

The report is the result of Better Future Project’s Climate Summer program. In the 2011 program, 31 cycling college students toured New England spreading a simple message: New England needs to move beyond fossil fuels. The riders collaborated with local organizations and individuals in the towns they visited. They lent hands to their projects, co-organized events, and connected them to other efforts in the area. These Climate Riders will return to towns throughout New England for the program’s fourth year this June, July, and August.

The State of the Movement focuses on the following categories: sustainable economies, sustainable food systems, waste and materials management, transportation, green spaces, building efficiency, renewable energy, environmental justice, and community resilience. In addition, it includes town profiles that provide information of what specific cities and towns are doing to rely less on fossil fuels.

Better Future Project, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a new, grassroots organization dedicated to moving America and the world beyond energy sources that harm human health, human dignity, and human life. The organization’s first report, Energy Casualties, released in February, explores the public health, security, social justice issues surrounding the fossil fuel industry. With a focus on leadership development, network-building, and engagement platforms, Better Future Project’s main programs include Climate SummerRide for the Future, which will launch in New Orleans in May, and 350 Massachusetts.

Chicagoans Demand Progress from their Hometown President

***This was posted on behalf of Caroline Wooten, a student organizer with the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition and a student at the University of Chicago***

Over 50 Chicagoans gathered outside the Obama Campaign’s Chicago Headquarters last Friday demanding that the President prevent the construction of the Tar Sands Keystone XL Pipeline.  The demonstrators, a colorful mix of students, families, and individuals from Occupy Chicago, came bearing a petition against the Tar Sands signed by over 700 Illinois residents.

Ana Ahmeti, a sophomore at DePaul University, spoke before the crowd, explaining the purpose of the visit, “In 2008, Obama told Americans that under his leadership, our generation would be the one to free America from the tyranny of oil. We are here today to remind the President of his promise.”

The demonstration, like many of the countless Tar Sands actions that have happened throughout the country since August, emphasized the role that youth played in Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. One banner, held by students from Loyola University, read “Can you give our generation the audacity to hope? Stop the Keystone XL.”

The action also drew links between opposing the pipeline and standing up to corporate power.  “Big banks have taken our homes,” stated Ahmeti. “Big oil wants to take the only home we know.”
Although representatives from the Obama campaign refused to meet with the entire group, they did speak with three representatives who presented the petitions on behalf of the demonstrators.

Marissa Lieberman Klein, a student at the University of Chicago, and one of the individuals who delivered the petition, said that in speaking with the campaign representatives, the group emphasized the work that citizens are doing in Chicago to move the city beyond fossil fuels. She explained, “We told them that here in Chicago, a lot of us have been working to clean up or retire the two coal plants in the city. We’re taking efforts to make our city—also Obama’s city—cleaner and healthier. We want Obama to do the same thing for our nation.”

Risking Arrest: a mother’s path

The following is a post written by Vanessa Rule, a community leader, climate activist, and mother from Somerville, Massachusetts.

Monday, April 18th, 2011 by Vanessa Rule

The PowerShift march on April 18th in Washington, D.C, was the culmination of an incredible three days of power building to save our planet.  It all started with a glorious Monday morning, blue skies, green helmets, smiles and “heys!”, the White House to our backs.  We got ready as veteran leaders told their stories of self.  We chanted about the youth uprising and abolishing the fossil fuel culture of death, about climate justice, and then began to walk.

 First stop, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with its big colorful and proud banners, a letter to on each one, outlining the word J O B S, promising American innovation and freedom.   You’d have believed them if you hadn’t known.  The giant paper maché puppets we brought unmasked them though: grinning grotesque caricatures with big heads, and all the right numbers denouncing their financial crimes.  It was all theatrics, and a few of the building’s employees came out to watch as I held up my sign “Make Polluters Pay, Not the EPA” and stared into their eyes and shouted out with all my might “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t speak for me!”

Next, the sinister and glassy BP headquarters building – again a few heads peering out from behind the blinds, trying to hide, but curious and worried — the way Louis the XVI might have when Parisians stormed the Bastille asking for his head.  Did they hear our anger, did they hear that their time is up?

Then onto coal, at the Corporate Headquarters of GenOn, that owns the Potomac River plant built during the Truman administration fired by Appalachian mountain top removal coal.  We learned last night, holding a candle light vigil at the plant, that this monster – which sits in the midst of a residential neighborhood in Alexandria and has been making people sick and killing them for years – runs at 18% capacity.  Ever played Sim City?  Even in that game, that’s bad news.  So in front at the Genon HQ’s we called for GenOFF and laid our bodies down and traced dead bodies on the ground.

The walk went on.  We got some cheers from passersby, but mostly, people looked at us like they’d never seen people speak up before – we shouted: “This is what democracy looks like!”  We walked proudly, we chanted so hard we lost our voices, we smiled at the strangers among us feeling the deep bond of solidarity, true brothers and sister – happy to have each other and be together.

Three hours later, back at LaFayette Park – a DJ was rappin’ away and I started dancin’.  Then the word came that Peaceful Uprising’s march was going to begin – Tim DeChristopher took the mike, and called on us to join, and warned: “This march hasn’t been permitted, and some of you may risk arrest, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to, you can just support those who do.”

Continue reading ‘Risking Arrest: a mother’s path’

What are YOU doing this summer?

Posted on behalf of Margaret Fetzer-Rogers, New England Climate Summer 2010 participant and Massachusetts student leader.

I’m constantly striving to find an outlet to exercise my passion to learn things that really matter and to make a difference in the world. So, every year around this time I ask myself, what are you doing this summer? Forgetting this I’ve found can lead to a summer of minimum wage doldrums.  Luckily, last year I didn’t have to look too far. My friend Jeff recommended that I check out New England Climate Summer, the program he had participated in 2009. This became a solution to the long search I had imagined I had before me.

Climate Summer is an internship in which college students bike across New England growing the climate justice movement and bringing communities together to make local change. Biking everywhere we went, my team and I lived the values that we proclaim and invited others to join us. From elementary school children to grandparents, pastors and business people, the people we met were excited to share their activism and learn more about ours. When I think back about this past summer, of course I remember the towns we visited and the organizations that we worked, but what strikes me the most are the people that I got to know. My teammates with whom I grew so much. Pastors who provided a place to sleep. Mothers who gave us showers and a warm meal. Climate activists who offered counsel. Farmers who donated food. Everyone we met that took a minute or two to talk and listen and share. We often talk about the climate crisis in terms of parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere, but what this summer did was connect me to the people and the communities that suffer from the realities of climate change.

If Climate Summer sounds like the type of change that you would like to be a part of, check out our website <www.newenglandclimatesummer.org> . The priority deadline for applications is January 15th!

Apply Today!

Boston Joins Call to Put Solar On It

Posted on behalf of  Caroline Wooten, student leader with Students for a Just and Stable Future.

Massachusetts wants solar panels on the White House and a clean energy future. This was the message sent by the more than 200 individuals who crowded into Boston’s historic Old South Church on Tuesday night to show their support for 350.org’s Solar Road Trip.

The back story: In 1979, Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White House. In 1986, Ronald Regan removed them. Years later, the White House panels were rescued from a government warehouse and installed on the roof of the dining hall at Unity College in Maine.  Now, 350.org founder Bill McKibben, a group of students from Unity College, and one of President Carter’s panels are traveling in a biodiesel van from Unity, Maine to Washington D.C, where the group will pressure President Barak Obama to reinstall solar panels on the White House. For the past few months, 350.org has been circulating an online petition asking political leaders from around the world to install solar panels on their homes as part of the organization’s Global Work Party on 10/10/10. The petition to the politicians states, “Install solar panels on your roof, and then enact legislation to make it possible for everyone in your country to join you in the clean energy future. We need you to act symbolically—and then we need you to act for real.”

During the Road Trip’s stay in Boston, the reality of the growing climate movement was palpable.  The event at the Old South Church was high in energy. Before the event, attendees enjoyed live music played by the environmentally themed rock band Meolodeego, and joined together to sing “Three Five Oh” with the Rev. Fred Small. Later, they cheered on speakers from local, national, and international organizations, including Interfaith Power and Light, the JP Green House, Students for a Just and Stable Future, Second Nature, Unity College, and 350.org. Attendees signed their names and wrote messages to the president on the sheet of plastic protecting the solar panel. The evening ended with the American premier of the film A Road Not Taken, which documents the strange tale of Carter’s solar panels. Continue reading ‘Boston Joins Call to Put Solar On It’

Why ‘Reducing Emissions’ is Killing Us (Literally)

An argument for abolition.

Every second of every day, we emit climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, threatening the stability of our planet’s climate and the vitality of civilization as we know it.  Mountain glaciers are melting away, threatening the water supply of billions.  Rainfall patterns are changing in unpredictable ways, increasing floods in some places and droughts in others, making it harder for farmers to predict which crops to plant.  Islands are falling beneath the waves, while low-lying lands are threatened.  The world’s poor, who have had a virtually immeasurable contribution to the problem, are being forced to bear the brunt of the effects, as they suffer higher rates and ranges of tropical diseases, more powerful storms that threaten to destroy their structurally unsound homes, higher food prices, decreasing access to fresh water, and forced migrations.

The same activity that is the primary cause of all of these horrible things – burning fossil fuels – is also responsible for countless other calamities.  From funding petro-regimes, like Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, etc, to increasing the rates of asthma, cancer, and airborne illnesses in our communities, to lung cancer and mine collapses for coal miners, to massive spills in oil tankers and on deep-ocean rigs that cause untold destruction to our natural world, fossil fuels are just bad.

They kill people.  They destroy nature.  They make us less safe, less healthy, and deny our children the future they deserve.

And what, after knowing all of this, is our response?

“We should reduce our emissions.”

Excuse me?  Reduce our emissions?

Did abolitionists call for us to reduce the number of slaves?  Did the Civil Rights Movement call for reduced segregation?  Did Gandhi rally the people of India around a goal of reducing Britain’s domination of their homeland?  Did suffragettes demand reduced barriers to the ballot?  Did our forbears call for reduced taxation without representation?

NO!

What successful social movement has ever been formed around the notion that something is so bad that we must have less of it?

Continue reading ‘Why ‘Reducing Emissions’ is Killing Us (Literally)’

MA takes first step to clean energy future with Cape Wind

Posted on behalf of Linnea Palmer Paton, Worcester Outreach Coordinator for Students for a Just and Stable Future.

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approved Cape Wind in an announcement with MA Governor Deval Patrick, a strong supporter of the project. The nation’s first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind is a victory for renewable energy production in Massachusetts and in the United States.  It shows the true potential the Commonwealth possesses, and gives us a glimpse of our clean energy future. Yet while Cape Wind is a step forward towards a just and stable future, it is only a baby step. If we truly intend to prevent rapid climate change, we need to do much more.

Speaking against Cape Wind, the Barnstable Land Trust says that “there is no other part of our community that offers more sweeping vistas, wildlife diversity, and a place of refuge from the steady march of development.” Yet, at the same time, it is our energy consumption here in Massachusetts that has driven coal, natural gas, and other energy development in other regions of the United States.  And it is our consumption – the burning of fossil fuels to drive our single-passenger cars and heat our homes – that is setting the world up for rapid climate change. It seems that we, as Americans, are willing to reap the benefits of development as long as the side effects are ‘elsewhere.’ It is easier to ignore the consequences of our consumption than it is to acknowledge that these fossil fuel power plants are usually located in low-income, minority areas and that these people that are the least empowered to stop pollution in their community suffer the most. It is easier to conveniently forget that it is our energy consumption that is causing climate change that will lead to more droughts and extreme weather events, not only in poor countries where people depend on agriculture to sustain themselves, but here in the United States as well, than it is to take responsibility and act.

When natural disasters struck Louisiana, Indonesia, and Haiti, the world poured their hearts out to help these people in need. But what if the disaster didn’t happen all at once? What if it happened over several decades? What if the changes were slow and insidious? What if by the time it became obvious that something was very wrong it was too late to stop it? That’s climate change: a silent, creeping cancer. What if we knew that with early detection (which we have) and prevention (which we could have) we could avoid the worst? Wouldn’t everyone do all they could to lead the effort? After all, a little prevention goes a long way.

Continue reading ‘MA takes first step to clean energy future with Cape Wind’

Pre-empting Our Future: Why we MUST Defeat Kerry-(Graham)-Lieberman

For the past year and a half or so, I have been largely neutral towards federal climate legislation.  I have recognized that in their various forms, the federal bills have fallen far short of what we need to achieve in order to prevent catastrophe.  At the same time, the consensus among policy experts in D.C. was that this was the best we could accomplish at the time, and we needed to pass something so that the framework was in place, and we can later amend it.

The latest draft of Kerry-Graham-Lieberman has crossed the line.

It’s morally reprehensible to have caps that are below what scientists say are needed to prevent major death and destruction (which all of the bills discussed have had).  Let’s be clear – weaker caps mean more human hearts will stop beating.  People will die.  But the argument was, if we can pass this now, we can guarantee that some human (and non-human animals and plants) will be saved, and we can hopefully amend it later on with tighter caps, and save even more of them; we don’t have enough power to pass science-based caps.  This argument is perfectly sound.

It’s financially unsound to be handing out subsidies to false solutions like ‘less-dirty’ coal, natural gas for transportation, and nuclear.  We are in a deficit and we have limited resources.  We should not be handing out subsidies left and right to industries that are going to make air dirtier and our communities sicker, while further destabilizing our climate and our world.  But, the experts say that if giving out these subsidies is the only way we can pass this, it needs to be done.  We get the framework in place, we build more power, we can roll back the subsidies.

And at the end of the day, from a cost-benefit-analysis, one can argue that these things are ‘allow-able’ in the grand trade-off.  If the only way we can ‘get the right framework’ is by having caps that are too low and subsidizing false solutions, then people can argue in good faith that these are trade-offs we have to give, and that for the sake of progress, we need to swallow our pride, shut off our hearts, and do what needs to get done for the sake of the planet and the people on it.

But pre-empting BOTH the EPA and the STATES is just wrong.  That would make this bill not just the floor of what we will achieve, but the ceiling of what we can achieve.  And that is just plain unacceptable.

Continue reading ‘Pre-empting Our Future: Why we MUST Defeat Kerry-(Graham)-Lieberman’

Stand-in Ends with Phone Conversation with House Rules Chair

Posted on behalf of Katie Chin, New Media Coordinator of Students for a Just and Stable Future

On this historic 40th anniversary of Earth Day, participants in The Leadership Campaign have once again reminded us all of the courage necessary to create the just and stable future called for in 1970. The Leadership Campaign is a Massachusetts coalition of students, community members, and members of the faith community. Together they have introduced legislation demanding that Massachusetts create a plan to reach 100% clean electricity by 2020. Since the introduction of “An Act to Create A Repower Massachusetts Emergency Task Force” on December 7, 2010 the campaign has worked diligently towards gaining support throughout the state for this bold and important bill.

Currently the bill is held up in the House Committee on Rules, headed by Representative John Binienda. Representative Binienda has the power to release the bill. He has claimed that he supports the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2020, but has nonetheless been blocking the bill and thus has prevented it from receiving a fair hearing. Today, the campaign conducted a stand-in direct action.

Continue reading ‘Stand-in Ends with Phone Conversation with House Rules Chair’


craigaltemose


Craig Altemose is the founder and Executive Director of Better Future Project, which engages in movement-building to make communities more resilient and to accelerate a rapid and responsible transition away from fossil fuels. Currently, he serves on the Massachusetts Green Economy and Climate Protection Advisory Committee and on the board of the Mass Climate Action Network. Craig founded and led Students for a Just and Stable Future (MA's state network). He has previously served as a member of the Executive Committee of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Co-Chair of the National Association of Environmental Law Societies, worked with Energy Action as an intern and a fellow, and served on the Executive Committee of the Sierra Student Coalition, a group he remains active with. Craig helped plan Power Shift 2007, and was the Lead Organizer of the Massachusetts Power Shift conference in April, 2008. He holds a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School, a Master in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a B.A. in International Relations and Global Affairs from Eckerd College.

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