Less the 24 hours after Barack Obama won his reelection campaign on Tuesday, a new kind of campaign was launching in a sold out auditorium in downtown Seattle.
For the climate activists at 350.org, it didn’t necessarily matter who won the election on Tuesday. Their post-election plan—long in the works—was to take direct aim at the fossil fuel industry. The group says quite frankly that to build the movement they believe is necessary, a very different kind of campaign is needed; one that takes the its cues from science and—in a very specific sense—mathematics.
“We’re up against the most powerful industry in the history of the world,” said co-founder Bill McKibben from Seattle ahead of the kick-off show, “But we’re playing to win.”
The fact of the math, according to the group and best expressed in McKibben’s recent Rolling Stone article called ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” is that there’s more fossil fuels (nearly 2,230 gigatons more) that corporations want consumers to buy and burn than climate scientists says is safe to do if people want to live on a planet the climate-wse resembles the one we live on now.
Even the most conservative governments in the world have agreed that global warming should be limited to no more than 2°C. Scientists say to meet that target we can only emit an additional 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. But the fossil fuel industry has 2795 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide in their reserves, nearly five times too much — and everyday they spend millions of dollars looking for more.
“What this math shows is that the fossil fuel industry is a rogue industry,” said McKibben. “You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.”
Because neither presidential candidate nor the major political parties have shown the sufficient sense of urgency demanded by the dangers of climate change, the environmental group decided to take its message directly to cities across the country in a 22 city US tour called ‘Do The Math‘, which kicked off officially in Seattle on Wednesday night.
Part TED-talk, part old-time revival meeting, the tour has already sold out its first four west coasts stops and many on the east coast as well. With a focus on student involvement as part of a newly launched divestment campaign, the tour will also be making stops in big college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, Durham, North Carolina, and Boulder, Colorado.
In a video he recorded for the Do The Math tour, South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the anti-apartheid movement, explained the rationale for turning to divestment as a key strategy to fight climate change.
“The divestment movement played a key role in helping liberate South Africa. The corporations understood the logics of money even when they weren’t swayed by the dictates of morality,” says Tutu. “Climate change is a deeply moral issue too, of course. Here in Africa we see the dreadful suffering of people from worsening drought, from rising food prices, from floods, even though they’ve done nothing to cause the situation. Once again, we can join together as a world and put pressure where it counts.”