We disagree with the implication that challenging the political stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry is less impactful than making modest reductions in electrical consumption. Lifestyle choices are necessary but insufficient measures to address the impending crisis. Reducing our energy consumption is progressive only if energy sources are being substituted with renewables.
Energy companies are intentionally slowing the transition to a sustainable energy infrastructure, partly through massive spending on legislative lobbying and electoral campaign finance. But time is running out to make this transition.
Current estimations show that emitting an additional 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would eliminate any chance of reversing global warming. Energy corporations currently hold 2795 gigatons in their known reserves, and continue to spend billions annually exploring for the deepest pockets. At our current rates of consumption and growth, the point of no return will be crossed in fifteen years.
The market value of fossil fuels relies on the assumption that known reserves will be extracted and sold. But we know that to combust even one-fifth of those reserves would destroy any chance of slowing climate change, thus jeopardizing human civilization. The discrepancy between current knowledge and the assumptions of the market is referred to as the “carbon bubble.”
Global warming will continue, and ice caps will keep melting, if we do not reduce atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to below 350 ppm, from their current level of 400 ppm. Five million years ago, the last time atmospheric carbon was at its current level, sea levels were 60 to 80 feet higher.
We face a dire situation that necessitates bold action. Divestment is one tactic in a growing worldwide movement to address this crisis of humanity.
When Western Washington University commits to divesting $1 million in fossil fuel stocks, we will be upholding the ethical principle that it is wrong to profit on destruction. Six private colleges and 11 cities in the U.S., including Seattle and San Francisco, have moved to divest. When hundreds of institutions sell off their shares, the message will be strong and heard worldwide, likely to influence shifting market values as well as geopolitical discourse. If the WWU Foundation chooses to divest now, we will become the first public university to do so.
There are two paths before us. One in which we ignore the crisis, and presume that fossil fuel corporations will carry out their destructive plan, or one in which we face the crisis. By choosing to divest, we affirm the belief that the crisis should be faced. Western has the opportunity to lead the way down the path to climate action. We are at a historic crossroads. For us, the right choice is clear. Walk this path with us, and join the movement to Divest Western Now!
To learn more, come to our public panel about divestment moving forward, on May 22nd, 6-7:30 p.m. in AW204, hosted by Students for Renewable Energy.
Edward Ury, Students for Renewable Energy